Meetings often carry a bad reputation; after all, there are so many ways for a meeting to go wrong. A meeting with an unclear purpose might not advance the project an inch, a meeting where a senior colleague dominates conversation might leave many good ideas from other team members undiscussed, or a meeting without a diligent notetaker might render next steps unclear.
Now, in the era of COVID-19, those of us fortunate enough to work from home have transitioned to virtual meetings where the existing risk factors for unsatisfactory meetings are magnified – power dynamics, habits, and personalities are only amplified by technology and these times of profound stress. On top of this, we have to maneuver around a whole host of new pitfalls, ranging from dropped Zoom calls to barking dogs to errant children wandering on screen.
Enter relational virtual meeting management, an approach the Primary Care Progress team uses to foster personal connections between team members in pursuit of making remote meetings as effective and fulfilling as possible. Like a conventional in-person meeting, the cornerstones of virtual meeting management are, on their face, rather simple, but we have found that they can quickly yield powerful results.
Download our one-pager for some concrete practices to help your team stay connected in tough conditions, and read on for some tips from our staff:
Make a Plan
Hillary Szczerbinski, Program Manager: “Meetings can serve a lot of purposes, and folks can enter the meeting with different ideas of what that purpose is, so it’s important to decide and communicate in advance what kind of meeting you’re having. Is the video call to connect and see how everyone is doing? Or do we absolutely need to reach a decision by the end of the meeting? Be sure to let team members know what level of decision-making is entrusted to the group during the meeting — is the meeting just a venue for sharing a decision which has already been reached with the broader team, or will those on the call be empowered to reach a decision?”
Vahídeh Rambaud, Operations Manager: “Whenever possible, we try to share an agenda in advance spelling out the general context for why we are meeting, the meeting’s specific objectives, and what, if any, preparation is required. While this takes some work on the front-end, this early investment helps streamline the meeting itself and ensures that we’re making the best use of our limited time together.”
Agnes Morelos, Development and Communications Coordinator: “We kick off every meeting with a brief ‘check-in.’ This is a 5-to-10-minute opportunity to hear where folks are mentally, which can be difficult in person and even more so virtually. Even though it can be tempting to launch into the more immediately actionable parts of the meeting agenda, carving out this time to connect at the start is a long-term investment in your team’s sense of trust and psychological safety, both of which are essential to meeting your ultimate goals.”
Tony Fontana, Associate Director, Marketing and Communications: “Have fun with the check-in. If this is a team that meets frequently, you can be brief and creative. We sometimes ask folks to describe their mood by shape and color. For example, I might be an orange squiggle today. The prompt can also be longer and more searching, which can be more appropriate in some situations. You might ask folks to share what’s brought them the most joy over the past month and really take some time to dig into reflections. It all depends on the facilitator’s gut sense of where your team members are at the start of the meeting.”
Jane Cooper-Driver, Director of Leadership Development: “At PCP, we do our best to ensure everyone on the call is engaged and having their voice heard. Sometimes during a video call, I will get a sense something is off with the meeting’s trajectory. Maybe we haven’t heard from some team members in a long time, or there appear to be unspoken tensions simmering. Whenever I get this feeling, I like to check in to assess how things are going in real-time and see if we want or need to shift gears.”
Ariela Knight, Development Manager: “In a virtual setting, existing power dynamics can be further entrenched, making it particularly important to create space for all team members to be involved. One way to do this is to assign and rotate meeting roles like timekeeper, scribe, and facilitator at the start of a call to ensure more equitable participation.”
Joanne Jan, Senior Project Manager: “Virtual meetings can get a little stale, especially if you’re in one meeting after another all day. I recommend folks consider using collaborative decision-making tools to vary the format and activities of your virtual meetings. These tools range from the straightforward (think brainstorming or voting) to the more involved, like collaboratively filling out a criteria matrix in a Google Doc.”
Brian Souza, CEO: “This may sound obvious, but at PCP we like to use video whenever possible, even if it’s just two folks connecting. Something as simple as seeing the other team member(s) can promote interpersonal connection, which is so vital right now.”
Document and Share
Dori Mazor, Learning and Development Manager: “After a conventional meeting, you might have a whiteboard full of next steps, but this is rarely the case in virtual settings. To ensure that everyone is clear on decisions and next steps, we recommend sharing meeting notes. Post them in easily accessible locations for future reference, or simply circulate them over email. Sharing notes — and inviting feedback from attendees and other stakeholders — can generate buy-in, prompt useful feedback, and help team members feel more included. In addition, because raising questions can feel especially intimidating in virtual meetings, follow-up notes can be especially useful. Assume that some team members are reluctant to speak up, and identify other ways for them to share questions or concerns.”
We hope these tips help not only with productivity during virtual meetings, but also in being more relational in interactions with each other. How do you approach virtual meetings in a relational way? Have you tried any of the tips mentioned above? Anything you would add?
PCP staff members share quick and simple action steps they take to make their virtual meetings more relational, effective, and fulfilling for all involved.