Author: Louise Santiago

How Leaders Can Facilitate Engagement During Virtual Team Meetings

Woman in a virtual meeting When was the last time you were part of a virtual meeting? If you asked me that five years ago I would have had to stop and think. Today, the answer is easy, I’m either leading or participating in a virtual meeting almost every day of the week. The recent pandemic has definitely had an impact on the number of virtual meetings being held and we all may be experiencing a bit of “zoom fatigue.” 

This trend towards virtual meetings isn’t like to change anytime soon, even when social distancing becomes a thing of the past. In fact, researchers at GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com estimate that we will see 25-30% of the workforce working at home multiple days a week by the end of 2021. The advantages of virtual meetings are that they allow you to develop broader connections, especially within Communities of Practice. Yet, we’ve all experienced some of the disadvantages. For many of us, it feels far easier and more natural to engage with others when you’re at an in-person meeting.

There are practices that leaders can use to promote deeper engagement during virtual meetings. In fact, you might be surprised that some of the results end up exceeding your expectations!

Here are three key practices that will make a difference in the level of engagement your participants will experience:

  1. Focus on outcomes. This is important for every meeting, but when it’s virtual it’s even more important because it can be all too easy to disengage. As a leader, you want every participant in the meeting to feel connected to the outcome. It’s best if they understand the big picture, beyond their area of personal responsibility, so they’re fully engaged in finding the solution.

Make sure to communicate, in advance, the anticipated outcomes, or focus, of the meeting. This can be done by preparing and sharing an agenda for the meeting in advance. You can also co-create outcomes at the beginning of the meeting. The first ten minutes or so of a meeting will often be about the question: Why does this matter? If this hasn’t been clarified by the agenda at the beginning of the meeting, things can quickly break down.

  1. Facilitate dynamic personal engagement. As the facilitator of the meeting you need to avoid the pitfall of hogging the spotlight! This means encouraging communication between team members. If every question or comment is always addressed to you as the leader, you’re not really functioning as a team. Instead, allow for, and intentionally include, opportunities for people to speak with one another.

How can you do this when you’re meeting virtually? I’ve seen it done in various ways effectively. In some team meetings, we go into smaller breakout rooms within the virtual meeting for 15-20 minutes to brainstorm and discuss strategies. Then we come back and report our findings to the entire group. I’ve also had meetings where the facilitator will take a short break and set it up for participants to text each other in dyads or triads to help seed the conversation and maintain engagement.

  1. Keep fine-tuning your efforts. Here’s the most important key to encouraging deeper engagement. Leave a few minutes (I recommend ten) at the end of the meeting to discuss what’s working and what’s not. We are shifting into this new norm together. 

While some groups have more experience than others, let’s not take the old model and wedge it into this new experience. Take this as an opportunity to explore, invent, and discover new ways of engaging that can sustain us whether we work in separate locations or have the opportunity to work in co-locations.

This level of engagement is going to require more effort from you as the team leader. However, the reason for meeting together is to build and tap into the collective wisdom of the group. This cannot be accomplished if your participants are distracted and disengaged. You’ll find that as they engage more fully, you’ll be making better joint decisions that your entire team is excited to implement.

I would appreciate hearing from you about the quality of your virtual team meetings. What’s working well and where are you still struggling?  Please contact me or connect with me via LinkedIn.

How to Establish Guidelines for Virtual Community of Practice Meetings

A woman interacting with a virtual community of practiceMore than ever, the world needs to explore new solutions. Practices that worked well before in business, health care, education, government, may not be working so well now. Which is why we need functioning Communities of Practice (CoPs). A Community of Practice is a space for ideas, the generation of possibilities, and permission to explore out-of-the-box solutions. 

Technology has opened up the possibility of “long-distance” Communities of Practice. There are new CoPs starting virtually, while others are adapting their communities for virtual meetings. It’s exciting to see, all over the world, new Communities of Practice are being created to meet the changing needs of our society. 

In my last post, I discussed how CoPs can continue to have productive meetings during the quarantine. However, I’m finding there are new challenges that need to be addressed. The key to successful meetings is the same as it’s always been: appropriate guidelines or norms. Why is there most likely a need for revised guidelines now? 

I’ll give you an example. In the past months, I’ve been a part of multiple calls during which there were distracting background noises. In some cases, it was hard to hear or concentrate on what the person was saying, and as a result, I became fatigued, distracted, and frustrated. I’m not saying this to make anyone feel guilty about a similar situation, there was simply no guideline in place to deal with this situation. 

With this in mind, let’s go over how to revise your guidelines with a specific focus on virtual meetings. 

1. Technology

Video conference technology is new to many of us, and that’s why it so vital to establish some ground rules. For example, will you be allowing and/or supporting the use of webcams, screen sharing, and breakout rooms? 

With all the added distractions of online meetings, the meeting facilitator has to make sure to keep everyone focused on the job at hand. As the facilitator, the more familiar and comfortable you are with the technology, the easier it will be for you to facilitate a community online. If you’re new to the program you’re using, it may be a good idea to have a trial run with an assistant or colleague before you host your next meeting.

2. Establish a Structure

It’s vital to clarify how to interact in this virtual environment, otherwise, meetings can feel aimless. At the very beginning of the meeting, establish or reiterate your guidelines. You could post a slide with instructions and expectations or spend some time at the first meeting to come up with them as a group. I find that the expectations of a CoP meeting often center around what, how, and when participants should communicate during the CoP meeting, as well as how they should contact each other afterward. 

At the beginning of each meeting, it’s also a good idea to review the overall goals for the virtual CoP meeting and share a short agenda with the group. Many times it can be as simple as proposing a problem or opportunity to help focus your discussion. 

3. Encourage Positive Interaction

Make sure to encourage positive interactions in your CoP (and include them in your guidelines). People are under a lot of stress right now and might be showing signs of fatigue and a shorter fuse! Be specific in your guidelines in encouraging questions, ideas, feedback, and constructive criticism, while discouraging personal attacks, tangents, as well as violations of community trust and privacy. 

In a safe environment, where there are clear norms guiding the interaction, community members will be much more likely to open up about personal struggles or accomplishments. In a healthy virtual CoP, members share strategies, reinforce the bonds they established in person, and connect with others who share similar challenges and can provide creative solutions.

A thriving virtual CoP is exactly what we need in these difficult times. I would love to hear about how your involvement in a virtual Community of Practice is making a difference for you and your communities. Please contact me or connect with me via LinkedIn.

How to Ensure Your Virtual Community of Practice Thrives During Quarantine

A man works with his virtual community of practiceThe world didn’t stop turning when we all went into quarantine. I live in California and we’ve been sheltering in place for several weeks now and I’ve been working for Touro University from home. I’m sure you’d agree that there’s a pressing need for community and the interaction, learning, and problem-solving it can provide in these chaotic times. 

It’s been interesting to watch Communities of Practice (CoPs) spring into existence to meet these new challenges. For example, I’m seeing how educators are seeing the need to remain connected. They are forming CoPs to quickly share strategies on setting up virtual classrooms, reinforce the bonds they established in person, and connect with other teachers who share similar challenges and can provide creative solutions.

The medical field is also seeing the need for Communities of Practice. For instance, the COVID-19 Clinical Council has established 23 multidisciplinary clinical communities of practice across key clinical specialties to support the response to COVID-19. 

Luckily, we’ve acquired technology in the past few years that can help us to move forward, pandemic notwithstanding. If used effectively, there’s no reason why we can’t be just as productive in quarantine as we are in-person. The operative words being if used effectively

It’s difficult enough to have an effective CoP meeting in person, to say nothing of virtual meetings. It’s likely that you’ve had the following experience: Your Zoom meeting begins on a strong note, with everyone glad to see each other again and ready to get to work. However, after a while, the meeting just seems to peter out, as there is no real direction to the conversation.

Here are some tips that I’ve compiled on how we can have better remote CoP meetings. My thought is that these tips will prove to be useful even in a post-coronavirus world. 

Define the problem 

You need to provide a structured opportunity for attendees to engage fully. In order to do that, attendees need to have felt the problem. It’s when your audience engages emotionally with the problem (or opportunity) that they will get involved. You might try to share a shocking statistic, anecdote, or analogy that dramatizes the problem. The group has to realize the importance of what you’re discussing. Because let’s face it, when you are working remotely, it can be all too easy to get distracted. 

Share responsibility 

Due to the nature of virtual meetings, you can become, without thinking, a passive observer rather than an engaged participant. To counteract this effect, create an experience of shared responsibility in your presentation. Give team members tasks in which they can actively take part so there is nowhere to hide. The more members there are in the group, the more important it is that you find specific ways of engaging with everyone. For example, you could break people into groups and give them separate tasks with a fixed time-frame; this way, everyone feels personally responsible for a part of the discussion.

Be prepared and concise 

As I’ve already mentioned, without meaningful interaction, group members will lose focus. To keep everyone engaged, everyone must be prepared. Don’t lose sight of the goal of the meeting, whatever that may be. However, being prepared isn’t the same as being long-winded. The last thing your group needs is an hour-long Powerpoint presentation with only one speaker. Switch it up every five minutes to keep your team engaged; otherwise, your team members will revert back to the role of observers rather than participants, and as we’ve learned, you don’t want that. 

Of course, these principles apply to in-person meetings as well. However, there is a whole new set of challenges when team members are alone and their minds are free to wander. 

Learning doesn’t need to stop during these tough times. In fact, a virtual Community of Practice can help to lift your spirits as you find new ways to help others in your community. I would love to hear about how your involvement in a virtual Community of Practice is making a difference for you and for those you serve. Please contact me or connect with me via LinkedIn.

Equity-Centered Leadership—Change and Self-Care

A team working with equity-centered leadership. “One key to successful leadership is continuous personal change. Personal change is a reflection of our inner growth and empowerment.” — Robert E. Quinn

Would you like to be viewed as a guardian of equity?  The kind of leader who doesn’t create an environment that’s simply “accommodating,” but is actually brave enough to transform the environment.

This is easier said than done. In order for this to happen, we must transform how we operate and learn to acknowledge everyone’s voice. What’s your situation? Whether it’s a classroom, office environment, community event, or some other location, we all struggle with sustainable change. How can we as leaders play our part?

The answer: become an equity-centered leader. That was the topic of my last two posts, where we covered three steps in the “equicentric” leadership model. There are five processes to this model: name it, activate self-awareness, remember the past, commit to change, and schedule self-care. 

Using this model you can become a more adaptable leader. The “equicentric” leadership model was created by Laura Aguada-Hallberg and me with the goal of empowering leaders as they take their journey toward becoming a more equity-centered leader.

Let’s discuss the fourth and fifth steps in this model.  

Step Four in the Equicentric Leadership Model: Commit to Change 

Committing to change in equity-centered leadership.Too often, we’re unknowingly shaped by others in ways that don’t serve our higher purpose. Author Zaretta Hammond, in her book, Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain, says that we each carry an array of narratives that can act like “software” in our brains. These narratives are in place to tell us how to behave in different contexts. 

According to the book, these narratives are often dominated by what she calls a “master narrative,” that is, society’s idea of how a person should act.  Hammond says that everyone needs to form a counternarrative, based on their personal identity and experiences, that rejects any misconceptions in the “master narrative.”

That’s why, in this step, we ask leaders to construct their own counternarrative that acknowledges how their experiences might inform their actions. At this point, we also ask that they make a commitment to lead with equity as their goal. We check in with the leaders over a six-month period to see how their counternarrative has evolved.

Step Five in the Equicentric Leadership Model: Schedule Self-Care

Self care in equity-centered leadership.It’s impossible to be an equity-centered leader without a consistent schedule of self-care, without it, you will only find yourself frustrated and burnt-out. Do you feel like your health, personal relationships, or workload are unsustainable? If you do, then that’s where you need to start. 

Be sure to schedule a time for self-care in your calendar, and honor that time. It should be non-negotiable: that time is sacred. Finally, you should know that the work that you put into your self-care ensures that you can be there for your community in the long-term. How can you encourage others to believe in their self-worth if you consistently neglect your own?

Moving Foward 

In my experience, leaders are often left with very little time for self-reflection, which leaves them constantly in a reactive state. To my mind, that’s the true value of this model: it forces us to think proactively about equity. 

It’s only when we can learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, even when that discomfort is the awareness of our own biases, that we can begin to challenge, and with any luck change long-standing systemic inequities. It takes time and focused effort to learn how to be an intentional leader. 

Equity-centered leadership coaching is an integral part of my work at the Center for Learning Leaders. If you’re ready to make changes and lead with intention and integrity please contact me. 

As leaders, we all want to play a part in creating sustainable practices that have the power to transform our communities. 

 

Equity-Centered Leadership—Self-Awareness and Remembrance

A woman thinking about equity-centered leadership. “Self-awareness is the ability to take an honest look at your life without any attachment to it being right or wrong, good or bad.” – Debbie Ford

Have you ever wondered, “How can I be the type of leader who asks all the tough questions, challenges the status quo, and call out biases, even when it’s uncomfortable?”

The answer: become an equity-centered leader. That was the topic we covered in my last post, where we reviewed the first of five steps in the “equicentric” leadership model. There are five processes that fuel this “equicentric” leadership model: name it, activate self-awareness, remember the past, commit to change, and schedule self-care. 

I believe that, through the effective use of this model, you can become a more dynamic and adaptable leader. The “equicentric” leadership model was created by Laura Aguada-Hallberg and me with the goal to empower and support leaders as they take their self-reflective journey toward becoming a more equity-centered leader.

Let’s discuss the second and third steps in this model.  

Step Two in the Equicentric Leadership Model: Activate Self-Awareness 

Self-awareness in equity-centered leadership.There’s an old truism which points out that in order to change the world you first must change yourself. This is something that all effective leaders must understand at some level. However, before there can be change, there must be self-awareness, and that’s where the second step of the model comes in.

In this step, leaders name their biases and reflect on how they affect their power, privilege, and behavior. In order for leaders to transform a system, they must first identify their own biases and assumptions relating to that system. Otherwise, there can be no real change. 

This doesn’t mean that we should feel guilty about the power and privilege we hold, nor is it about feeling sorry for ourselves or pitying others. Self-awareness is an opportunity to recognize and call out experiences we’ve internalized, as well as understand when we move in and out of positions of power. 

When we ask leaders to engage in this step, we have them share an experience where some bias or privilege influenced their behavior. This step can be difficult. Although we all readily admit that we have biases, naming them and exposing their effects can be painful. But unless we push ourselves and experience some discomfort, we can’t move forward.

Step Three in the Equicentric Leadership Model: Remember the Past 

Remember the past in equity-centered leadership.What experiences have shaped your relationship with equity? This step is about looking back to prior experiences to find what insights they give us. For example, have you experienced a moment of stunned silence, vocal anger, a difficult conversation, or some other reaction to inequity that still sits with you today? What, if anything, do you want to do or have already done about it? 

When we look back to gain insight on how our past experiences have shaped us, we become better prepared to build our counternarrative.

The next steps toward becoming a more equity-centered leader are to commit to change and schedule self-care. We’ll be discussing these steps in future posts on equity-centered leadership. Equity-centered leadership coaching is an integral part of my work at the Center for Learning Leaders. If you’re ready to make changes and lead with intention and integrity please contact me. 

Louise J Santiago, PhD
Executive Coach and Organizational Consultant

Where Leadership is Intentional Work

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