For one of our clients, the annual event that once was a fly-in, annual planning session involving dozens of people collaborating in the conference room became a challenge under COVID-19 restrictions. It became obvious that something needed to be done to ensure equal participation, engagement, and effective contribution – even from remotely located participants.
Helping to ensure engagement was the onsite RLG coach with the remote support by RLG virtual facilitation team. Effective collaboration was enabled by applying remote facilitation techniques and utilizing virtual collaboration platform that became widely used by RLG to support the clients across the globe
Instant surveys, polling and other virtual engagement tools rounded out the technology, keeping the session engaging, and progressing.
Speaking specifically facilitating large scale events that include participants in conference room as well as remotely located, four tips helped us and may help you in your upcoming sessions.
Remote facilitating of virtual meeting design is more than agenda planning
Virtual meeting design requires more designing. Facilitators need to link together in advance the purpose, roles, meeting norms, materials, up to minute timed agenda (especially if online collaboration tools are used), technical aspects of online collaboration tools, timing, and communication options. This doesn't mean it's too difficult, but additional setup, especially for first-time users, is needed to make the meeting flow effectively.
Effective and equal collaboration between in-person group and remote participants needs to be orchestrated.
The much-too-familiar feeling of being not included is well known for remote meetings. Meeting room physical whiteboards, which are typical for face to face meeting visuals, are difficult to follow by the remote group and their use isolates the remote participants from the in-room discussion. In contrast, virtual whiteboarding applications (like iObeya) used in conjunction with the conferencing software (Teams, Skype, Zoom, etc) help to keep the content visible and engaging to all participants, and even allows active participation through their input and entries into the virtual canvas.
Remotely conducted facilitation of virtual teams CAN be effective if:
- Adequate preparation is made into applying appropriate virtual collaboration applications. This might bring in polling, whiteboards, sticky notes, data charts, action trackers, voting, etc., enabled through one or many separate systems.
- The facilitator is skilled in facilitation of virtual meetings, as well as confident in working in a technology driven environment
- An adequate remote support is provided by co-facilitators in the background.
We found that with high-stakes meetings like annual planning sessions, the session leaders and facilitators need to be flexible and prepare several possible options for meeting flow based on the energy in the group and possible hiccups, including in technology. Having prepared several options for the meeting in advance, especially when technology failures that are a given and will cause interference with the meeting flow, will not derail the meeting.
Virtual facilitation allows many benefits, and the facilitator can take advantage of these with some extra planning and preparation.
- Improved engagement from seamless integration of live surveys, polls and Q&A from the wider group into the meeting flow. We believe that guest speakers with clever Q&A and polls can readily add a new dynamic not often found with in-person meetings.
- Better Brainstorming driven by facilitator planting the tailored questions in advance and collecting ideas over the time by utilizing virtual whiteboards, sticky notes, virtual action cards and breakout rooms. We believe that virtual whiteboard apps are a key support to generate new ideas.
- Improved focus by utilizing flexible agendas that can allow rearranging discussion topics, virtual boardroom layouts, balancing numerous exercises and breakout teams.
- Use an ideation focused, structured process by applying tailored meeting and workshop templates to canvas ideas, build up plans, vote on alternatives, risk rank options, establish actions and showcase accomplishments are all effective uses of virtual platforms.
If you want to talk to one of our virtual facilitation coaches or talk about how we can support your organization, contact us – we would be happy to help.