For a few, remote working is a given, and has been since long before the pandemic, while for others it has been a fast paced learning curve. Whether this fits you, or you are somewhere in between, one consistent theme prevails, we are continually given the painful task of attending remote meetings that fail to engage us. So, how do we stop it?
Redvespa and IIBA collaborated on a remote overseas partnership, combining experience from the UK and New Zealand to find out what we can do to make remote meetings an engaging, enjoyable success wherever we are across the world.
Eight IIBA volunteers and myself (Martin Simmons) took part in two structured Lean Coffee sessions, our goal:
“Provide applicable insights from NZ and the UK around what makes a remote meeting successful and how to avoid unsuccessful ones.”
Our first observation is that the UK and NZ have an extremely similar meeting structure with only minor differences to consider, meaning any insights are highly transferable between these two regions.
In New Zealand a handful of external factors such as natural disasters (earthquakes), heritage (singing a waiata), and a cultural disposition to ‘softer talk’ at the start of the meeting are all to be factored into a successful meeting
In the UK, a clear structure is preferred and while ‘small talk’ is welcome, it’s well received when it comes with clarity and planned in. For me, there’s a sense of reassurance in knowing that many remote ways of working are truly global and we’re all still learning to get it right together.
The underlying reason for having a remote, as opposed to a face-to-face, meeting informs what a successful and engaging session looks like. We created a traffic light system (below) to guide us in making the right decision and approach to our remote meetings.
We can correct a remote meeting when it’s not going according to plan, it starts with spotting the early warning signs, some of which may seem familiar. We asked three questions to spot the signs of successful and unsuccessful meetings.
If, as an attendee or host, you see any of the signs of an unsuccessful remote meeting try applying some meeting roles to convert the session into a success.
Now that we know the signs of successful and unsuccessful meetings, we can look at the 14 remote meeting roles (for role information, see elevating roles) identified by our UK and NZ partnership, to find out how to make any meeting a success.
We found striking similarities between the UK and NZ, including in the value of each role and the frequency of its use. Whether you’re hosting a remote meeting or an attendee, consider if these roles are present and ask ‘how might we’ introduce, elevate, or remove a role to add value to the meeting.
Could unfulfilled roles be a reason why a remote meeting is unsuccessful?
The roles of timekeeper, co-host, and chat facilitator, amongst others, are rarely used yet high value. This could mean these roles are only useful in specific types of remote meeting such as kick off, briefings or retrospectives. It could also be an early warning sign as to why some meetings fail. Try out a selection of the 14 roles in your next remote meeting to find out when they add value the most value for you.
Challenger. DO – Be curious, insightful, relevant. AVOID – Untimely, inappropriate challenges. TRY – Sharing challenges before the meeting, listening for an extra 30 seconds, building in time to reflect.
Chat Facilitator. DO – Use the chat for minutes, share experiences. AVOID – Just relying on verbal responses, side conversations. TRY – Volunteering for the role, add the topic to the chat to track the conversation later, share a story of your own.
Co-host. DO – Support the host, read the room, enable conversation. AVOID – silence, speaking over the host. TRY – Volunteering for the role, asking impartial questions, using non-verbal cues to gain the stage.
Decision Maker. DO – Gain clarity on remit and needs, actively listen, make timely decisions. AVOID – Hidden agendas, indecision, over reaching, being unreceptive. TRY – Bring all decision makers together, understanding needs and wants, visualising all of the perspectives.
Disruptor. DO – Be purposeful, strategic, clear on opinions, ask to share. AVOID – Antagonising, being personal, going against everything. TRY – Articulating the ideal outcome before challenging, using impartial language.
Driver. DO – Build and keep momentum, focus on people and outcome. AVOID – Too tight a schedule, untimely interrupts, sapping the fun. TRY – Setting the scene early on, allowing time for team building, using coaching techniques.
Facilitator. DO – Engage, listen, welcome and create a safe space. AVOID – taking over, inequality of conversation. TRY – Challenging bad behaviours, praising good ones, setting clear guidelines. Using the roles.
Inspirator. DO – Be emotive, believable, transparent, optimistic. AVOID – Being too conceptual, unachievable, forcing the issue, pitching at the wrong level. TRY – Findings what’s in it for them, showing the how, using their language.
Moderator. DO – Be topical, considerate, have situational awareness. AVOID – Hoarding power, unequal treatment, mixed messages/rules. TRY – Setting guidelines early, providing rationale and stories.
Observer. DO – Take notes, listen, write down questions. AVOID – Interrupting without permission, sharing outside of the meeting attendees. TRY – Using the chat, counting to 30 seconds before asking, book time in with people before and after the meeting.
SME (Subject Matter Expert). DO – Bring domain/business knowledge, offer timely and appropriate insight. AVOID – Taking over, staying quiet, pushing an agenda. TRY – Asking curious questions to offer alternatives, refer back to the outcomes, allowing time to prepare.
Timekeeper. Do – Add timings to the agenda, give early warnings. AVOID – Cutting people off, letting things over run. TRY – Explaining how you’re going to ‘interrupt’ a topic, offering options to discuss further or move one with clarity of the consequences.
Visualiser. DO – Draw the conversation, show all perspectives. AVOID – Using the pen to take control, adding content that’s off topic. TRY – Asking if it’s ok to visualise, using words in mindmap form, letting others contribute to the visualisation.
Wallflower. DO – Follow Chatham house rules, ask in the chat to speak. AVOID – Gossiping and interruptions. TRY – To remain on mute, find/share your purpose, attend specific segments. Catch up with people before and after.
Following on from understanding and elevating the roles, try the five options below to apply them in the next remote meetings that you host or attend.
Assign team roles. In your meeting, consider making a role into a team activity. Be sure to explain clearly what the role involves and help people adjust into it. The six hat model is a great example of how to apply this.
Assign breakout room roles. When using breakout rooms try assigning individual roles. This is great for problem solving, timekeeping and adding structure to conversation, whilst finding opportunity to think differently. Be sure to brief people on what the roles entail.
Assign individual roles. Before the meeting, ask participants if they’ll play a specific role. If someone is confident and talkative, ask them to be timekeeper and scribe, if someone is reflective then ask them for some challenger questions to bring to the meeting. This is great for avoiding groupthink and challenging individuals out of their comfort zone.
Remove unwanted roles before the meeting. If you’re removing a role because it’s inconvenient, challenging or ‘slowing things down’ then reconsider the section on elevating roles. When removing a role ensure individuals are still engaged outside of the meeting, enabling you to receive another perspective and preventing disruption in the further.
Remove unwanted roles during the meeting. Refer to the outcomes you’re trying to achieve and provide a maximum of three, ideally two, options to the group for how to proceed. You might offer to turn the issue into a timeboxed team role or book a follow up with the people involved to enable you to move on with the meeting.
Any meeting, remote or face to face, requires preparation, application and follow up. We’ve unlocked one element (the roles) of a successful meeting. The content below gives a range of additional ideas and techniques to consider how you might elevate the meetings that you attend and host.
Thanks to our participants for their open minded and creative approach to these sessions, while giving up time in their evenings and mornings. Should you wish to be involved in the conversation, or share your own insights, send me an email at email@example.com.