Part 3 - Run Virtual Meetings as Effectively as Possible
One unique management challenge you have to learn to handle when working in an international business, is managing global teams over multiple time zones, particularly with respect to team meetings, which are usually held virtually. Having worked in multinational businesses for 30 years, I’ve picked up a few tips and techniques for working with and leading global teams and thought it worthwhile sharing some of the things I’ve learnt along the way.
On the surface, running a virtual meeting over Skype, GoToMeeting, Google Hangouts or other virtual meeting platform, or even over speaker phone, should be little different to running a face to face meeting, you still need an agenda, you still need action planning, you still need time keeping, etc. But there are three aspects of virtual meetings that require specialist focus compared to face to face meetings;
Involve Everyone – when running face to face meetings it is important to try to get everyone involved, especially the naturally quieter members of the team. But this is a much more challenging thing to achieve when your meeting is run over the internet. When running a meeting in English, if you have team members who have English as their second (or sometimes third) language, then the challenges for them of keeping up with the conversation face to face are amplified significantly when the meeting is virtual, and these people in particular can go silent. It is important to talk during these meetings in a slow, methodical tone, and avoid colloquialisms. Meetings which have a mixture of face to face people, plus others calling in on speaker phone or via internet are particularly challenging, as those in the room naturally take over the conversation and speed up their speech when they get enthusiastic about a topic. So you need to pay extra attention to stopping occasionally and asking for a contribution from those on the other end of the phone. How different team members choose to contribute and interact can also be a cultural thing, so watch out for this behaviour. Video conferencing is always a better alternative to phone calls because at least there is a partial physical presence of the person in the room, but only if you can reliably action the IT, otherwise the connection issues can bring down your meeting.
Reliable Communications – schedule the meeting agenda to expect some IT down time, because there are always connection issues to deal with. The more people dialling in, and the more countries involved, the more the bandwidth will be challenged. Even recently I have had to close down more than one Skype meeting because of this and get everyone to dial into a telephone conference number, so always have a telephone conference account as a backup to use in emergencies.
Use Appropriate IT Tools – virtual meetings can be enhanced with collaboration software to facilitate things like remote brainstorming and document sharing in real time, of which there are many products on the market, and they are always getting better. The challenge with introducing new software is that there will always be a period of learning required when it is clumsy to use for the team, and if you introduce too many new software tools, too often, then people just get confused. Frequently, new software is just not used to its full potential, and the team end up only using the most basic functions of collaboration software. You really need to consider picking one or two and doing offline training on these tools, otherwise the clumsiness that ensues will quickly give them a bad name within the team and they will start to hinder the meeting flow instead of helping. This is an area that I am confident we will see some great strides in over the next few years. The difference between video conferencing today versus even 10 years ago is enormous, so I am sure we will see the same with these software collaboration tools.
Dr Andy Wynn
Managing Director, TTIP Consulting
Adapted from the book ‘Transforming Technology into Profit – a guide to leading new ideas through the complexities of the corporate world and transforming them into successful new products’, available now on Amazon