Clients and colleagues are reaching out about the work challenges they are facing in this unprecedented time. The following represents some of the questions we are hearing and the approaches we are taking.
1) How do we help facilitators and meeting participants get comfortable with virtual meetings?
We’ve found that facilitators who were comfortable with large conference rooms, large sheets of white paper and colorful markers at their disposal, are having various reactions to the switch to virtual meetings. The range is from “I hate this” and “I’m bad at this” to “this is an interesting way to work” and “this might make our work flow more efficient.” The deciding factor we are seeing is one’s attitude.
If there is an attitude of curiosity toward technology and a recognition that practice makes anyone more comfortable with anything, then the reaction will be favorable. We recognize that an unfavorable attitude often comes from a fear of looking inexperienced and a general frustration with technology.
To ease tensions around these feelings, we recommend that facilitators take the pressure off of themselves from the start of a meeting and state that everyone is learning new methods including themselves and to please hang in there if things don’t run as smoothly as they used to with in-person meetings. Setting ground rules also helps keep participant frustration to a minimum. Wording such as “keep an open mind about technology and its flaws, or “approach technology with curiosity” usually helps people roll with it a bit better.
Getting people comfortable with being uncomfortable is no easy trick, but setting up this expectation from the outset of a virtual meeting can help folks be less judgmental of themselves and the technology limitations they will undoubtedly experience.
Coro has been a pioneer in experiential-leadership education since 1948. Well-known graduates, such as Senator Diane Feinstein and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, started their careers at Coro. As COVID-19 hit in March and shelter-in-place restrictions began, Coro centers across the country faced a challenge going virtual and asked The Grove for help. Coro needed to transform a high-engagement, face-to-face way of working to a virtual setting. They were also accustomed to working as independent centers in Northern California, Los Angeles, New York and Pittsburgh rather than as a whole.
The Grove introduced new virtual practices and helped facilitate a cross-center learning cohort by leveraging the group wisdom of Coro trainers. A workshop series emerged, following several rich design sessions with Coro leadership using Mural—an online visual collaboration tool—and other online applications.
Teaming in virtual space is challenging all of us, but recent Grove experience with teaching our Team Performance System online has left us excited and optimistic that real jumps in learning can happen in this format. In a recent certification workshop conducted for a client, participants expressed their sense of improvement in relationship building and team productivity through the use of high-engagement online activities.
Our certification workshop focuses on some key takeaways. We want people to 1) become fluent with the Drexler/Sibbet Team Performance Model® (Model) and the predictable challenges of teaming; 2) learn the Team Performance Survey and its graphic report for team self-assessment; 3) identify best practices for improvement; and 4) experience teaming and relationship building throughout. The virtual version adds 5) directly experiencing successful virtual work.
The El Dorado County Office of Education (EDCOE) reached out to The Grove early this year to assist it in some long-overdue strategic and prioritizing conversations. A plan was in place to conduct a two-day strategic-visioning offsite when the COVID-19 pandemic erupted, effectively stymieing the notion of an in-person process. The leaders at EDCOE chose to push forward and move the process online, and Laurie Durnell, principal consultant, along with Kayla Kirsch, Grove associate, led the organization through an impactful virtual process.
Following is an interview with Laurie about the experience of doing this work online: its challenges and successes.
Q: Did EDCOE come to you with specific outcomes for the session?
A: During a scoping call the county superintendent admitted that the need for strategic planning had been a priority for two years. There was never a good time, and despite COVID-19 implications for an office of education, the time really was now to think ahead for the next five years. Significant changes legislatively around local control of budgets, along with looming budget cuts, increased the importance of having these alignment conversations sooner rather than later.
In the pre-work we asked them what the key strategic questions were that they needed to answer through this process, and almost every single group replied, “What is at our core?” or, “What is the organization-wide direction?” “How do we develop a unified vision with diverse responsibilities?”
Q: What was the biggest challenge in taking the process from what has traditionally been an in-person session into online?
Are you needing to shift your face-to-face meetings to virtual meetings? For more than ten years we’ve been adapting our visual-facilitation techniques to address our clients’ growing need to convene people in the virtual realm. Virtual meetings have come a long way. What used to be awkward, technically challenged interactions have become humanized, technically stabilized, effective gatherings. And yes, The Grove’s virtual meetings are highly visual, making them so much more engaging than talking heads on computer screens.
So, What Do Successful Virtual Visual Meetings Look Like?
Take a peek at a few of our tried-and-true practices that we’ve adapted for virtual meetings.
Setting the Stage for a Great Meeting
We work with clients to design a session that will fulfill the unique objectives of any meeting. With a plan prepped and in place, we orient participants with the Outcomes, Agenda, Roles, and Rules on a shared screen. The above chart is an example from a meeting that spanned two days, with two-hour sessions each. We’ve found it wise to convene shorter gatherings over multiple days, rather than day-long sessions that can prove more taxing than productive in a virtual setting. [For more tips about preparation see our Grove Best Practice: Virtual Meeting Planning.]