We cannot anticipate every problem facilitators might encounter in synchronous distributed meetings, but some are fairly predictable. And we can manage some of these problems more easily either by limiting their incidence, or by establishing protocols for them in advance. Here are three examples.
- Identifying the speaker
- In face-to-face (F2F) meetings, identifying the speaker is usually easy. We can either see the speaker, or we can recognize the voice, or tell which direction it's coming from, even if the facilitator recognizes the speaker by inaudible means such as a slight gesture.
- In the distributed context, especially audio-only, identification can be problematic. To address the difficulty, the facilitator can recognize the speaker by name, and the speaker can begin by stating his or her name. And before the meeting starts, we can make available a podcast with attendees introducing themselves in their own voices.
- Managing complex technologies
- To support their telemeetings, some groups use complex technologies that go beyond telephone or videoconferencing. Tools for sharing drawing spaces, displaying slide presentations, and even manipulating physical objects all require special skills.
- Although these technologies are at the frontier of remote facilitation, some useful practices have emerged. First, ensure in advance that all sites have operative installations. Pushing ahead when it's known that some sites don't have functioning installations risks corrupting meeting deliverables. Second, ensure that any participants who must use the technology have had adequate training. Third, have technical support staff standing by during the meeting for advice or repair if necessary. Finally, be prepared to halt the meeting and reschedule it if essential technology doesn't function correctly.
- Dealing with interrupters
- In F2F meetings, participants
who interrupt others create
problems, but facilitators
can handle them
- In F2F meetings, participants who interrupt others create problems, but facilitators can handle them fairly easily. And when interruptions do occur, everyone can usually sort out what was said. In distributed meetings, especially over the telephone, we can't always identify the interrupter and we often can't sort out what was said.
- "Zero tolerance" for interruptions is probably an impossible goal, but you can adopt practices that reduce their incidence. In advance of the meeting, establish a norm that prohibits routine interruptions, and establish a protocol for emergency interruptions. Circulate news flashes before the meeting or as a first agenda item to reduce the need for people to inject news during discussions. Interruptions that come about during heated debate are another matter; deal with repeat offenders privately.
Often, meeting size itself is a difficult challenge, because we don't want to risk offending people by excluding them. Making available a podcast of the meeting, and offering "podcast attendance" as an option for some people in advance, might tempt a few to attend by podcast. Unfortunately, as the facilitator, podcast attendance is not an option for you. First in this series Top Next Issue
For an examination of some issues that arise in synchronous distributed meetings, see "Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: I," Point Lookout for March 26, 2008. For suggestions for facilitating highly charged distributed meetings, see "Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: II," Point Lookout for April 2, 2008.
Is your organization a participant in one or more global teams? Are you the owner/sponsor of a global team? Are you managing a global team? Is everything going well, or at least as well as any project goes? Probably not. Many of the troubles people encounter are traceable to the obstacles global teams face when building working professional relationships from afar. Read 303 Tips for Virtual and Global Teams to learn how to make your global and distributed teams sing. Order Now!
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenOytdYayvsPiJXUspner@ChacWjmCoCGDJcvILzHpoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Trips to Abilene
- When a group decides to take an action that nobody agrees with, but which no one is willing to question,
we say that they're taking a trip to Abilene. Here are some tips for noticing and preventing trips to Abilene.
- Decisions, Decisions: I
- Most of us have participated in group decision-making. The process can be frustrating and painful, but
it can also be thrilling. What processes do groups use to make decisions? How do we choose the right
process for the job?
- Why Sidebars Happen
- Sidebar conversations between meeting participants, conducted while someone else has the floor, are
a distracting form of disorder that can waste time and reduce meeting effectiveness. Why do sidebars happen?
- Meets Expectations
- Many performance management systems include ratings such as "meets expectations," "exceeds
expectations," and "needs improvement." Many find the "meets" rating demoralizing.
- How to Get Out of Firefighting Mode: II
- We know we're in firefighting mode when a new urgent problem disrupts our work on another urgent problem,
and the new problem makes it impossible to use the solution we thought we had for some third problem
we were also working on. Here's Part II of a set of suggestions for getting out of firefighting mode.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 18: Missing the Obvious: II
- With hindsight, we sometimes recognize that we could have predicted the very thing that just now surprised us. Somehow, we missed the obvious. Why does this happen? Available here and by RSS on October 18.
- And on October 25: Workplace Memes
- Some patterns of workplace society reduce organizational effectiveness in ways that often escape our notice. Here are five examples. Available here and by RSS on October 25.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenwrsSLaxJYOQRSjWZner@ChacfrnbAksbXTxDCdrkoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, USD 28.99)
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- Ten Project Management Fallacies: The Power of Avoiding Hazards
- Most of what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We'll explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:
- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.