Facilitating Online Meetings
Facilitating Online Meetings
How to ensure online meetings are productive
Facilitation in traditional meetings assumes the participation of delegates in one physical place.
The facilitation process involves two key stakeholders mentioned in the facilitation manual (“Facilitation. Develop your expertise” by Tony Mann):
1. Task leader – the person responsible for the definition of the meeting’s goal e.g. Project Manager, Team Leader, Director, CEO,
2. Facilitator – responsible for the workshop process.
The role of the facilitator is to create the agenda together with Team Leader (the person introducing the facilitator) and to introduce certain points of the agenda in the meeting.
The facilitator is also responsible for introducing interventions, when participants of the meeting seem not to be involved. Possible through keeping an eye on behavior, body language and facial expressions of participants.
Traditional vs. on-line meetings
Online meetings have quite different dynamics.
Traditional meetings are usually limited to one place that’s why they would be usually restricted geographically, whereas online meetings can involve participants from different countries, continents and timezones. Lifting geographic restrictions helps increase the diversity, different cultures participants represent.
It also makes the role of the facilitator more demanding, as he/she needs to understand cultural differences to properly interpret behaviors of participants.
Different communications channels
The participants can use different communications channels:
- Video conferences allow for the participants to see each other,
- Teleconferences allow them to hear and speak only.
Different numbers of participants
The number of participants influences which communication channels can be in use as well:
- For the meetings up to 10 participants it’s possible to use cameras,
- Meetings with more than 10 participants make the interactions limited.
It’s more difficult to keep the attention of participants of online meetings uninterrupted as sitting in front of the computer screen increases the likelihood of getting involved in paralel activities e.g. checking and responding to e-mails, creating documents or chatting with others.
Even if participants look into cameras it’s still very dificult to confirm they are engaged, as they can be doing other things in the same time.
How to facilitate online meetings
It’s the multitasking which online facilitators must take into consideration when managing the meetings. The facilitator can use different formats to increase the concentration of participants. We call a ”Format” the way resources are used during the meeting:
- One to all – one person communicates with the rest, e.g. when they have the experience, knowledge to share,
- Group – means that the stakeholders involved will work together in groups,
- All – means that everyone will work alone,
- All to one – it will cause all people to work together with one medium .e.g. one flipchart.
One to all
Whereas the “one to all” format is quite popular in meetings it’s not very engaging for long periods of time. When one person talks and other people listen the facilitator can not make sure the message is getting through, or even when it does it’s not certain it has been properly understood. That’s where facilitators can recommend to the presenter to ask questions and use the chat box for answers to confirm participant’s understand the concepts presented.
The “Group” format can be quite interactive but the facilitator should limit the number of group members. Usually 3 to 4 members allow for good communication and participation, 2 people groups can also be quite successful. More than 5 group members make communication difficult in online settings, as well as they can intimidate introverts.
When the majority of meeting members are introverts then the “All” format can be successfuly applied. It helps to gather the thoughts and work individually. It also shifts the responsibility for the solution from the group into individuals, therefore attention is exclusively focused on the task. Participants can write down their own solutions into word processing software.
All to one
In online meetings, the “All to one” format helps to work together with one medium. Whereas in traditional meetings you would usually use flipcharts, whiteboards, pieces of paper to create solutions together. Online meetings limit the number of media used, but the simple screen sharing option on video conferencing software is sufficient to work together, share ideas or identify solutions.
Some of the models/techniques/tools used in traditional meetings:
- The paraphrasing Feedback Model,
- Four box,
- Summarise, Propose, Output (SPO)
- Process Iceberg® Model,
- Symptom, Cause, Action (SCA),
can as well be used for online meetings, but software applications supporting the proces can be applied to facilitate their use e.g. voting with dots.
Extraverts and Introverts
Experienced facilitator can also apply different communication chanells used in online meetings for the benefits of different Myers-Briggs Type Indicators (MBTI):
- Extraverts will be satisified with discussing different options aloud,
- Introverts should be as happy using the chat box to submit the answers without confronting other colleagues.
Ensuring the style of working matches the preferences of participants increases participation and the quality of solutions.
One of the biggest benefits of applying the facilitation in traditional meetings, namely that the participants can devote undivided attention to the task while working with others, is actually at risk where online meetings are involved. It’s because employees working at home in front of their computers, can rarely focus on one activity at the time, which introduces multitasking.
The research of psychological studies confirmed that 15 minutes of time are lost per workplace distruption. Working in such an environment decreases the efficiency of employee and increases the stress levels. Facilitated meetings managed by qualified practitioner can decrease multitasking of employees and increase the productivity of meetings.
That’s where facilitation in on-line meetings can bring the benefits of: saving the time spent on meetings and achieving the goals faster by increasing the involvment of employees.
Tomasz Nedzi has been facilitating meetings since 1993 and he became a Facilitation Approved Trainer in 2015, teaching others to facilitate effectively. Tomasz is the Lead Trainer for Facilitation at the skills® group of companies (skills® 2004 UG in Germany and skills® sp. z o.o. in Poland). Tomasz Nedzi LINKEDIN profile
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