“My remote team members are terrible at virtual meetings. They’re multitasking and not participating, and when they do take part they talk over each other and generally don’t get much done. What can I do? How can I coach better remote meeting etiquette?”
I can’t tell you how often I’ve had a similar conversation with clients. The problem is that changing a group’s behavior takes time and coaching. In other words, it takes work on behalf of all parties, including the leader. Just saying, “Do better,” doesn’t work very well.
Essentially, meeting behavior is no different than any other performance problem. You need to agree on and set expectations, then coach to that expected behavior.
Here are some ways to help improve the participation, engagement and productivity of your web meetings and conference calls:
• Send out a real agenda well in advance of the meeting. You can’t hold people accountable for not being prepared if you haven’t given them time. You can’t hold people responsible for not participating if they didn’t know they were expected to participate. A good agenda tells attendees what the meeting is about, what’s expected, what the outcome is and how to show up prepared. (Oh, and it doesn’t show up five minutes before start time.)
• Start the meeting by expressly (and jointly) setting expectations for participation and engagement. When was the last time you and your team had a real conversation about how these meetings should go and what’s expected of them, including giving their full attention? First, sometimes the conversation itself nudges people into being better participants. Most importantly, once an expectation has been set, you can have ongoing conversations with individuals about their meeting participation. (“Alice, I notice you’ve been awfully quiet on the last couple of meetings, what’s going on?”)
• Make interaction a part of every meeting. People take their cues from you. If most meetings are one-way snooze fests, nobody gets called on, and there’s no interaction except for a couple of minutes of Q and A at the end, why are you surprised that’s how people think every meeting will go? Make a point of engaging people early and often in every meeting. That way you’ll change people’s expectations.
• Manage the participation during the meeting. If expectations have been set, don’t be afraid to hold people to ground rules around muting their phones, speaking up, using chat and contributing. If people are talking over each other, step up and “direct traffic”, and if individuals are dominating the conversation, step in and help others get heard.
• Help people be accountable in your one on ones and other coaching conversations. Don’t let poor meeting etiquette become a habit. Address undesirable behavior when you’re speaking privately to people. Behavior that isn’t addressed, isn’t likely to be changed.
It’s tempting to treat meetings as necessary evils, and just forget about them when they’re over. These meetings are a critical part of your team’s work, and if you allow them to be time wasters and/or causes for resentment, they’ll create bigger problems in the future.
You’re the leader, lead on!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.