Lest we drop a key thread in this blog (by virtue of my "other passions"), here's a bit of collaborative advice that I published a while back in Line56, which apparently is being rehabbed at the moment. If you've been on a conference call that caused more yawns than yabbers (possibly you're on one as you're reading this), read on...
Teleconference Boredom? Five Steps to Relief
The reminder above to avoid hideous noises while on a teleconference call, though primitive, rings true.
Witness yesterday: “First let me promise you there will be no trains coming through on this call.” Dave Rimmer, a Shell U.K. Exploration and Production Information Manager, was recalling a previous teleconference with us in Aberdeen, Scotland, and him in Lowestoft, England.
When Dave’s on a teleconference and a train goes by, as it does every half hour or so in the U.K.’s most easterly town, it sounds like the engine is full throttling out-of-control down the phone line, rather frightening if you’re unprepared. Much like the screech of the dragging phone, it does damage to our overly-exercised eardrums.
Getting the sound at the right db level is only a pre-requisite for a virtual meeting, not a promise. While effective virtual meetings are gratefully acknowledged and result in better communication, the more frequent bad ones add to the organizational grumble and contribute to distraction. Even face-to-face meetings are unpleasant enough; now we have to suffer through even worse virtual ones?
What to do, oh, Virtual Beatrice? (I once wrote an advice column.)
Agree to the few following big basic rules — and follow them. They are essentially common sense. Until good virtual meetings are as second-nature as good phone calls, never deviate from the basics.
Hold all meetings in a virtual team room where only best practices prevail — even if you’re meeting face-to-face. Yes, hold all real-time meetings from within your team’s virtual room. What is a “best-practices” virtual team room? Key successful methods for virtual work inform the room’s design. Follow the “instructions” by populating the room’s walls, and your team is on its way to effective virtual meetings.
Keep everything the team needs in the virtual team room. Mission, vision, charter, tasks, actions, discussions, deliverables, agendas, meeting notes, attendance lists, documents, presentations, spreadsheets, accountabilities, contact information, links, operating principles, norms, decisions. Everything.
With all of that available, now have your virtual meeting using a teleconference with real-time web conferencing and:
- Follow a realistic, timed-out agenda that you follow
- Get everyone’s “voice in the room” at the start with a check-in question — fun is better, but go serious if necessary for the party-poopers
- Have one person facilitate while someone else takes notes
- Skip the status reports (post them ahead to the team room where people can read and prep for the meeting; use the real-time for the hot stuff--decisions, disagreements, and other dastardly things
- Close the call with a “self-propelling ending” (so-named by Shell Information Consultant Fiona Windle). Hear everyone’s voices again to address what was learned that you can apply immediately.
It’s work, yes, to do all of this, but so is the alternative with poor communication and grumpy team members. With the approach above, meetings do get better. You can “hear” smiling faces. And, it’s highly unlikely that anyone will allow a train to run through your meeting while dragging the phone across the table.
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