As we navigate our new world, how can we learn to continue our important work without face-to-face meetings and work sessions? Even more importantly, how can we provide support to each other, share our fears, and help each other figure out how to meet our needs — even though we cannot be in the same room.
I am convinced that we can use this time to make some of those big system shifts that need to happen. This is a time of opportunity as well as one of tragedy.
In the shift to the virtual world, we can come up with new ways of working and being together that help us move out of white supremacy culture and create communities that are good for all. Let me try out some of these ideas with you….
We can organize our online meetings in new ways. But as Nancy White points out, * (my paraphrase) “Let’s not take bad meeting design online! Let’s start with healthier, more fun, and more productive ways of meeting.”
- Use collaborative tools and processes to determine your meeting agendas. Set up a single google doc for all your agendas and meeting notes and send out the link before the meeting to everyone coming so they can make suggestions. This shifts power in setting the agenda from management to the entire workforce or network.
- Set up a facilitation pool open to all staff. This group builds their skills at all types of group facilitation and learns the ins-and-outs of facilitating online. Pool participants then take turns facilitating meetings. Setting up such a structure will have multiple benefits as your projects will now have access to skilled facilitators who can help meetings be much more effective.
- Reserve zoom sessions for interaction: updates can be shared by email or in a Slack channel ahead of the meeting.
- Virtual meetings need to have long check-ins especially during this time of stress. If your group is more than 6–8, you can set up smaller breakout rooms in zoom so each participant gets more time to deal with fears, family sickness, childcare issues, etc. Also encourage people to have fun and be silly! You can do this by asking questions such as “Share something about you that few people know.”
- Use breakout rooms to enable people to deepen relationships. In many workplaces or networks, it’s surprising how little people know about each other. In breakout rooms, people can share about their non-work life, their dreams, their challenges, and their interests — and can practice asking for help!. We all need to shift to a new way of being, and this is most likely to happen when we support each other in our change and try out new ways of interacting in small groups (see values checklist).
- Virtual meetings offer several innovative tools to engage people in the meeting content and/or encourage relationship building. The chat function in zoom enables people to share resources, thoughts, and appreciations without stopping the flow of the conversation. Encourage the use of chat as soon as people get on and they will quickly discover its usefulness. Zoom has a polling function which can be quickly set up to check the pulse of the meeting. Many people use google forms for surveys. In both cases, the responses can be shared immediately with the whole group.
- Bring embodiment into your meetings. Every 30 minutes stop to do stretches, tai chi or some other movement practice.
- For smaller meetings, especially for new teams, encourage people to share something in their home (or garden) that they love. The person carries the phone or laptop around their home or yard to show their treasured item (or pet).
- Virtual meetings are great for getting things done! You may have one question or task that all the small groups work on, or you might divide up a task into parts, with each small group working on a different part. Have small groups in breakout rooms capture their work products in a google doc. Just put a link in the chat. It often makes sense to have all the work from the small groups written in one document so that people can scan each other’s work and look for synergies.
- Take time for reflection and learning. Reflection needs to be more than a minute at the end of meetings to discuss how the meeting went. I recommend that at least a quarter to a third of your meeting time be spent on reflection on things like:
- 1) What are teams learning from their current projects? How can other teams benefit from that learning?
- 2) How is the organization or network shifting to more network values? What are the biggest challenges? How can the staff work together to address those challenges?
- At the end of meetings, encourage people to share verbally or in the chat commitments they are ready to make to take some sort of action.
- Your organization or network can benefit from developing a set of communications protocols — agreements about how to share what happens in team meetings with the rest of the staff or network. For example, several networks I work with have someone, after a team meeting, share 3–5 sentences about the meeting, especially pointing out items that would be of concern to other teams.
- Virtual meetings are often needed between two or more teams to integrate and align their work with each other. For example, a communications team might need to meet with a project team to discuss how to involve participants in the co-design of communications for that project.
If you have questions or practices you have created, please share in the comments below.
In our next post, we’ll discuss how zoom can help your community self-organize for support and transformation. We’ll be sharing lots of examples of innovative communities doing this now. If you have examples, please describe them in the comments.
Primer on zoom:
- Get an account at zoom.us (They have free accounts for 40 minute calls but the pro costs only $150 a year). This is an almost foolproof platform.
- Watch their wonderful videos.
- If your staff or network have little experience with videoconferencing, offer 1 or 2 30 minutes time slots when they can get on and make sure everything works for them.
- People can use smartphones to get on — see zoom.us for more details — so lots of bandwidth not needed.
- Facilitate in pairs: you will need one person to help people with technical problems, set up the breakout rooms, and put important links in the chat while the other person focuses on facilitation.
- Once people get on, have them open the chat and introduce themselves. This gets them using chat which is a great way for them to share resources, respond to others, etc during the session.
- Make sure they put on their video — makes meetings much more nurturing and productive. (Exception if they have very low bandwidth)
- You may want to do a check-in with everyone if you have 12 people or less where people talk about how they are being impacted by the pandemic. Encourage people to reach out for support — people may volunteer to be available for more listening time after the session. People can self-organize this kind of mutual help in the chat.
- Spend LOTS of time in twosies and small groups: people need support and time to deal with their feelings about this crisis; breakout rooms are super easy in zoom. There are videos to help you learn and I encourage you to set up a practice session with a few friends.
- You can get lots of work done in small groups: set up a single google doc with a page for each group. Have questions or tasks preloaded into each group’s page. Have people select a facilitator, a timekeeper, and a notetaker.
- Encourage the small groups to set up another time to continue their work if appropriate.
- Take time every 30 minutes to do embodied practice. Have someone lead stretches, Tai Chi etc.
- If you have a full group discussion, make sure you set some guidelines that give space to those who are less likely to speak up quickly (POC, women, introverts) and encourage those who usually speak up to wait
- Make sure you record the session so that people who missed the session can catch up. Videos are super easy to edit so that people don’t have to slog through an entire meeting to get the sense of what happened.