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How to Lead Effective Virtual Team Meetings

Amie Laura Parnaby
March 18, 2022
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How to Lead Effective Virtual Team Meetings

The world of work has transformed over the past few years. And mostly, it has been for the better with flexible working and hybrid employment models. That’s not mentioning the benefit to employers and the ability to source talent from a much deeper pool. It’s an exciting time. However, managing effective virtual team meetings is one upside we have not experienced.

Managing team meetings and keeping everyone engaged and active participants has never been easy. The sudden introduction of the “virtual” part has not improved matters. Moreover, the remote nature of these virtual team meetings has given attendees a great excuse to check-out rather than check-in with their colleagues.

Consider What it Takes to be an Effective Virtual Team Leader

Being a team leader requires specific skills that you might have already mastered over several years. However, that doesn’t mean you have the skill set to be an effective virtual team leader.

Some characteristics that virtual team leaders display are similar to those who manage an office-based team, but they have a few extras that you might have to gain to continue in a virtual team leader role.

Effective virtual team leaders:

  • Build trust across boundaries
  • Hold team members accountable
  • Can motivate teams and members
  • Introduce proactive policies and processes 

And they manage all of this in a virtual environment – potentially without ever meeting their staff in person. Translating these abilities across a digital connection is a particular skill that not everyone has.

The Challenges of Virtual Team Meetings.

Even if you’re a relatively young person with a lifetime of video calling and technology in your experience, you’ve probably never had any specific training for virtual team meetings. It never really became necessary until a few years ago.

If we’re being entirely honest, most managers and team leaders have never had any training to lead a regular, in-person meeting, never mind a virtual team meeting. 

So for someone who has never managed a virtual team before, what challenges are they facing when trying to lead effective virtual team meetings?

Distractions & Multi-Tasking

When you have nothing of any import to share in a team meeting, or conversely, no defined interest in the content, it isn’t easy to focus on what is happening. If people have deadlines or targets to reach, wasting time on a seemingly pointless meeting is not on their to-do list.

People are much more focused on the job they have to do, rather than the minutia of a weekly catch-up or finding out what everyone is doing.

Lack of Feedback

If you’ve ever been on a group call, you have probably noticed that half of the people on the call have muted their mics. This is not always a bad thing. Sometimes they might work at home or a coffee shop with loud noises in the background. They might be a particularly heavy breather, and it sounds like static on the call.

However, whatever the reason people mute their mics, it can lead to a feeling for the people talking that no one is listening. That lack of feedback can be very disheartening for the person speaking. Yet, it might not be that no one wants to respond, but leaving mics muted means that people aren’t heard. By the time the person who wants to comment has unmuted themselves, the meeting has moved on.

Disconnection & Dissociation

When you work in a distributed team across country borders and maybe even time zones, there is a feeling of disconnection. It can be very challenging to equate what you do with what someone else does in the same team.

For example, a marketing team for a global company has localised specialists in particular markets and languages. While everyone is on the marketing team, what the local specialist in the Asian or Indian markets does, is distinctly different from the video content creator. Yet, information from both specialisations benefits the group.

Leading Virtual Team Meetings With Intent, Inclusion and Best Practices

Leading effective virtual team meetings requires a two-pronged approach.

  • Implementing Meeting Etiquette
  • Following Best Practices

No, they are not the same thing at all.

Virtual Meeting Etiquette

I’m not going to go all “Miss Manners” on you, but etiquette is important. Most of us learn etiquette throughout our formative years without even realising it. However, the technological age has thrown some of those manners and politeness out of the window. So many of us need a primer on virtual meeting etiquette.

Preparation & Mindset Change – 

Remember team meetings before 2019? You usually had everyone in an office conference room. Everyone would stop work five minutes earlier and mark themselves as away from their desk. They’d grab a quick coffee, pick up a notepad (or presentation notes), collect other colleagues along the way, and start some small talk with friends and colleagues.

It was a way of clearing the decks and letting the day’s baggage go while preparing for the meeting. No one brought their daily work into the room or carried on chats during the session. In short, there was more attention paid to the speakers and the host.

Virtual Equivalent: A reminder 5-10 minutes before the meaning should give attendees time to grab a drink, schedule a bathroom break, and close any unrelated screens or chats

Dressing and Grooming Appropriately – 

It might be one of the unspoken benefits of working from home, but attending a virtual team meeting in your pyjamas is inappropriate. Likewise, uncombed or unstyled hair is also not on.

Unless there is a client or higher manager in your team meeting, no one expects a vision of perfection. However, dressing as if you are present in the office (if there ever was an office) is just good manners and shows respect for your colleagues. Business attire, smart casual, or casual – none of these dress codes includes pyjamas or 

Don’t be like Jane, the woman who led her team meeting with toothpaste on her spots and wearing a bathrobe because she forgot she was on video.

Virtual equivalent: As long as you dress appropriately where you show on video, that’s fine. Just be sure not to cross your legs and flash your flannel PJ bottoms.

Be a Good Host –

Introduce yourself when you sign in to the meeting and take time to introduce any new members or people joining your team meeting.

It’s not just bad manners to fail to acknowledge people in your meetings, but detrimental to team cohesion—particularly in a virtual environment.

Sneaking into a virtual meeting room without announcing yourself is just rude to your team. You wouldn’t get away with it in a regular meeting, so don’t try it virtually. Likewise, you wouldn’t allow a new team member to attend a team meeting without introducing them. 

Virtual Equivalent: Announce yourself and say hello when you join a call. Address all members directly and ensure everyone feels seen. New members can feel left out in a virtual team until they are formally welcomed to the team – make time for an informal event or chat to ensure everyone is comfortable with the rest of the group.

Best Practices for Leading Virtual Team Meetings

If you want your virtual team meetings to be as cohesive and effective as your office-based ones, you need to implement best practices that promote team bonding and politeness and be helpful.

Include an Agenda

Every virtual team meeting invitation should include an agenda. If you don’t have a schedule in your team meeting invites, prepare yourself for your virtual team to push back and request one. Performance quotas are often the benchmark by which we evaluate people in remote working environments. They can’t afford for you to waste their time in a meeting without knowing exactly why.

In the same vein, if you want your meeting to be effective with valuable input from all attendees, you should let your team know what the meeting is about to prepare and consider their potential contributions.

Select your Software Wisely

If you have a “video-on” policy, you need a video calling platform that is reliable and consistent and not too resource and bandwidth-hungry. Supposing people regularly turn their video off because of bandwidth issues. In that case, it’s tough to push the video-on policy with the entire team, especially if some team members have consistently poor internet connections. 

You should also ensure that the platform you choose is accessible for all team members and shouldn’t have too many complicated processes. When you might need to share presentations, vote on something, “raise your hand” (yes, this is an option on some platforms), these should be easy to achieve.

“Video On” Policy

If you have a “video-on” policy, you need a video calling platform that is reliable and consistent and not too resource and bandwidth-hungry. Supposing people regularly turn their video off because of bandwidth issues. In that case, it’s tough to push the video-on policy with the entire team, especially if some team members have consistently poor internet connections. 

You should also ensure that the platform you choose is accessible for all team members and shouldn’t have too many complicated processes. When you might need to share presentations, vote on something, “raise your hand” (yes, this is an option on some platforms), these should be easy to achieve.

To Mute or Not to Mute

There is some debate about whether you should mute your mic by default. However, the lack of feedback on virtual team meetings is one of the significant downfalls of virtual meetings. Even a stifled snigger or a thoughtful “hmmm” can be all that’s required to make the speaker feel like they’re reaching someone.

Conversely, there are some specific situations where it’s good practice to mute by default.

  • There are more than ten people in the group call.
  • There is a lot of ambient background noise (coffee shop, heavy traffic noise, family home noise, etc.)
  • If you hear a feedback whine 

Otherwise, don’t mute.

Make Connections

Leading a virtual team can be difficult, especially if it is a new situation. Yet, it doesn’t have to be a problem. Make connections with your team – not necessarily in a team meeting – using the same tools as you would in an office environment. The key ingredients are empathy and genuine concern for your team. Anything other than genuine connection will feel forced and won’t achieve the desired result of a cohesive team.

By making connections with individuals outside of your team meetings you can help to bring your team together in a meaningful and collaborative way.

Welcome & Encourage Participation

Make time in your meeting to engage with all members of the team. If no one has anything extra to add, you have finished the meeting early, and it still feels like a win. However, if people do have things they want to talk about, you have made the time for them to get it all out within the team.

And At the End of The Meeting…

Scuttlebutt, gossip, rumour mill, watercooler – it all boils down to one thing, team interaction. Without work as a topic and without the team leader in constant earshot there is a greater connection between people. With the greater connection between your individual team members, you have better cohesion as a team. So with improved connection and team cohesion, you get a better chance of people communicating and working together effectively.

Formalise the watercolour gossip and allow for post-meeting breakout rooms for virtually social gossip.

February Newsletter – More Developments & User Feedback Responses
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