Dear Baird’s CMC,
I am part of a virtual team and find that our frequent meetings are a bit of an ordeal. Some people are shy and awkward; others ramble on and on. We also seem to vacillate between long pauses and everyone trying to speak together. The meetings are inevitably unproductive. What can we do to turn this situation around?
– Mystified by Meetings
Dear Mystified by Meetings,
Meetings are often considered unproductive even when all the participants are in the same room – add the “virtual team” aspect into the mix, and it’s no surprise that the meetings do not have the desired result! Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take to turn failure into success.
Most importantly, clearly define the participants’ roles and responsibilities for the call. Since the structure of a remote meeting is so loose (people are sitting in their homes or offices across the globe in different timezones), it’s important to let each person know their role in the meeting and what is expected of them.
1) Meeting Organizer. The organizer is in charge of – you guessed it – organizing the meeting. This includes:
- Finding a time and call platform that is suitable for everyone.
- Arranging to record the call, if necessary.
- Compiling a clear agenda, with ever participant’s role outlined. For instance, who is going to lead the call? Is Mike expected to present a five-minute update on the new project in Ghana? Is Sonia supposed to introduce the new consultant who has joined her team?
- Sending out an email to each participant with the agenda and ALL the details required to call in. (There is nothing more irritating than confused participants frantically calling people who have already dialed in to get call numbers, IP addresses, codes, etc.)
- Coordinating with the call leader to make sure that any documents or visual aids for the meeting can be accessed by each participant.
2) Meeting Leader. The leader is in charge of running the meeting. The leader is the key to making sure the call stays on track, so pick someone who is friendly enough to break the ice yet firm enough to rein in digressions. The leader’s responsibilities include:
- Making sure everyone is present at the beginning of the call.
- Greeting all the participants, introducing new members, and briefly outlining the agenda.
- Passing the virtual “baton” on to the person in charge of the next segment.
- Making sure everyone provides feedback for important sections. (“Does anyone have any questions?”; “This is important news. Let’s get everyone’s thoughts. Maria, what do you think?”)
- Transitioning to the next segment. This includes asking participants to conclude and move on if too much time is being spent on one topic.
- Verbalizing what documents/visual aids the participants should be seeing on their screens during the meeting.
- Sending out a summary of the meeting the day after the call: who attended the call, key discussion points, decisions taken, actionables, timelines, responsibles, etc.)
3) Meeting Participants: Yes, the rest of us play a role too! The meeting agenda should also state what is expected of the call participants. Responsibilities include:
- Dialing in five minutes before the call to make sure they’re not facing any technical difficulties.
- Having the agenda and all relevant documents open in front of them before the call begins.
- Preparing for a short presentation if the agenda requests it.
4) Meeting Note-Taker: This is an optional role. If the call is being recorded, the meeting notes can be compiled later. If not, the note-taker needs to note down meeting participants, important points, decisions, actionables, timelines, responsibles, etc.)
Finally, remember less is more. Don’t set up too many meetings that involve all and sundry no matter what the agenda. Conference call fatigue is a real phenomenon. Have meetings only when you actually need them, and invite participants based on the agenda.