This informal CPD article Virtually there: Setting boundaries in online meetings was provided by Hannah O’Sullivan of Host Media Consultants. Hannah is a specialist personal impact and presentation skills coach, media trainer, and communication specialist for leading organisations including The Bank of England, John Lewis & Partners, Tesco, P&G, Nestlé, and the Department for International Trade.
You may have been working alone but will still need to be connected to your team. I believe that with challenge comes opportunity: Our new ways of working have upended organisational hierarchies which may have obstructed ideas and innovative thinking. If we see this as a spring clean; an opportunity to re-think how we are organised, then certain skills can have more currency, and a collaborative way of doing business can emerge that values acute listening skills, clear communication and motivated teams who are engaged with each other in a totally invigorated way. This can be an excellent catalyst for growth.
These insights have been gathered through working with teams and leaders across a wide range of sectors during the pandemic. As our world begins to open up, many organisations are considering a hybrid approach of working from home and face-to-face where appropriate. Let’s not be satisfied with coping. Let’s be more ambitious than ‘business as usual’. Let’s see this step-change as an opportunity to enhance our engagement with our ‘work family’ and strengthen those bonds further.
Setting boundaries is crucial to virtual influencing: It is very important to make time for pastoral calls to check in on how colleagues are feeling generally. These check-in calls are very distinct from team meetings with business goals. Without this distinction, colleagues will be left feeling ignored and insignificant. When the lines are blurred, it feels rude to grind through the agenda without catching up with someone you may not have spoken to in weeks and the agenda can go off track. It is only natural to want to connect with your colleagues in this way, but the first boundary is that a team meeting is a space for clear, concise communication, as we all have a limited concentration time.
Boundaries are essential to effective virtual meetings, especially ones with multiple participants: Without boundaries and clarity, running a virtual meeting will feel like wrestling an octopus into a string bag.
- So, in terms of setting boundaries as the meeting begins and throughout, the first principle to observe is that the Clock is King: Be disciplined about the length of the meeting at the beginning and gently remind colleagues of the focus of the meeting when the conversation goes off-piste.
- Be clear at the outset who is chairing the meeting. This person does not have to be the most senior person in the team. In fact, it is good practice to rotate this role to develop facilitation skills and get buy-in to the discipline that is required in this context.
- Be clear and get agreement on the objectives at the start. This makes it easier to facilitate colleagues in a less confrontational way if they have agreed to the clear focus at the beginning.
- It is also useful to agree what you will not be discussing and why. Again, this clarity will help pre-empt any irrelevant points before they are made, ensuring a less confrontational meeting.
- The Chair should warmly welcome everyone by name and lay out the format of the meeting, referencing the invitation outcomes and roles of ‘decision-makers’ or ‘informative’.
- Once the introductions are over, decide whether you will ask everyone to give a 1 min summary of their input at the top in an agreed order. This avoids people speaking over each other, which is the pandemic of the virtual space.
- Be clear when questions are welcomed. Some online platforms have a signal to show when someone wants to ask a question. Again, clarity is key at the beginning to avoid people crashing into each other.
- Finally, expect your boundaries to be challenged. Try not to take offence but ask questions for clarification instead: Did they get the invitation with the boundaries shown? Did they agree with the agenda at the start of the meeting? Do the rest of the team believe the challenge has merit?
New insights and information should be acted on. You may even suggest that the meeting is reconvened with a new agenda and outcomes based on the challenge. There is a consistency of approach in doing this that shows you are open to re-setting the boundaries with new information.
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