The Best Virtual Team Collaboration Is Built On These 3 Easy Principles

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. I’m getting more and more comfortable with it, but many claim that trying to achieve virtual team collaboration feels like herding cats!

Virtual meetings definitely bring on a whole new set of challenges. Do you have members of your team who don’t want to be seen on camera or feel like it’s a waste of time, because they feel like in-person connection is the only way to communicate effectively? Then when you do get your virtual team logged into a meeting, you inwardly groan to see unprofessional clothing, distracting activities in the background, and interruptions by pets and family members. Others are completely checked out, looking at their phone instead of engaging in the conversation. What can you do to keep everyone engaged?

 

As a leader, you have to address these challenges because the trend towards virtual meetings isn’t likely 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 Social Learning Spaces.

Three Social Learning Principles that Lead Virtual Team Collaboration to Excellence

Social Learning Spaces promote deeper engagement during virtual meetings, by stimulating attention and motivating action. In fact, you might be surprised that some of the results end up exceeding your expectations!

The three key practices that fight distraction, increase engagement, and assist your virtual team collaboration to shine are…

  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 and personally invested in the outcome. Help them to understand the big picture, beyond their area of personal responsibility, so they’re excited about 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. Have you tried co-creating outcomes at the beginning of the meeting? It really works! Make sure the first ten minutes or so of a meeting answers 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. Using smaller breakout rooms, within the main virtual meeting also enhances virtual team collaboration. Have smaller groups join a breakout room for 15-20 minutes to brainstorm and discuss strategies. Then that part of the team comes back and reports their findings to the entire group. I’ve also had meetings where the facilitator takes a short break and sets it up for participants to text each other in dyads or triads to help seed the conversation and maintain 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.

  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.

Virtual team collaboration with a high 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.

Are you new to Social Learning Spaces? I believe they are the new architecture for team building. They’re based on what researchers have discovered about how people grow and learn, giving leaders, like you, the tools to build an environment that fosters excellence among all members of your team. Learn more by signing up for my ongoing email series, Social Learning Spaces for Teams. It delivers proven, ground-breaking strategies to your inbox in easy-to-digest intervals.

Productive Team Meetings

Louise J Santiago, PhD
Executive Coach and Organizational Consultant

Where Leadership is Intentional Work

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