Last week, Andrea Kihlstedt and I did a reprise of our Guidestar webinar, “Healthy and Productive Meetings” as a learning session for Guidestar staff. Guidestar has multiple office locations, so this session was done as a virtual meeting using a platform and apps that offered features like chat, desktop sharing, polling, white board, sticky notes, and audio and video conferencing. As trainers, Andrea and I both know the value of “modeling the model,” so we wanted to use and model best practices for designing effective meetings on their preferred platforms. I also wanted to experiment with translating some facilitation techniques I use for face-to-face meetings (like sticky note facilitation) to virtual meetings.
Here’s what I learned about facilitating online meetings with sticky notes and incorporating standing/walking into video meetings:
This diagram is one that Andrea adapted from Sam Kaner’s book, Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making that gives you the anatomy for a productive meeting – whether it is face-to-face or virtual. Design must comes first. You need an agenda, time, location, background reading, and participants. At the actual meeting, you start with an icebreaker or what Andrea calls the “hook” to get people thinking about the topic. Then you are ready to tackle confirming the topic before combustion, which is the discussion and work around meaning-making and decisions. Finally, you identify next steps and follow up.
Designing A Participatory Hook for a Virtual Meeting
As a trainer, a best practice for any training is to get participants to do an icebreaker to get to know each other and to think about what they already know about the training topic. A meeting hook does the same thing. In a face-to-face training, I might do an exercise with sticky notes where I get participants to write down answers to a question or two related to the content on sticky notes. Next, as a group we do a theme analysis.
Depending on the number of people in your group, there are different ways to facilitate the report out. With more than 20 participants and a larger number of sticky notes, it can get difficult for sense-making if everyone posts their sticky notes on the wall at the same time. This creates a tsunami of sticky notes. If you ask people one-by-one to share and post their sticky notes, it can take a long time and get tedious. One method is to ask someone to share first, and then ask for similar themes. It is between the two methods.
For this meeting, we asked two questions:
- What makes a meeting a good, productive use of your time?
- What is the “meeting from hell,” a meeting that is a complete waste of time and frustrating, like?
We used a virtual sticky note app called NoteApp. The features include being able to easily create different color sticky notes and type in notes and move them around the board. Everyone with access to the board, can edit, move, add, or delete sticky notes. Since we had a large group, we asked people to take a minute to quietly think about the answers to the questions. I facilitated a verbal report out, while I had someone act as “scribe” and type in the responses on different sticky notes. This helped us do a better job of sense-making.
What was nice about this exercise is that it unpacked many points that Andrea and I would be making in our presentations and we were able to refer back to what people in the group had mentioned. This helped make the meeting more interactive and also helped participants think about what techniques they wanted to try after the session.
Walking Meetings and Video Platforms
My presentation was about walking meetings. Guidestar has a history of doing walking meetings, especially one on ones and at its Williamsburg location. Although, when we used PollsEverywhere to ask everyone if they were using walking meetings on a regular basis, only 20% said yes. Like many organizations, I heard some of the same challenges to incorporating walking meetings:
- We often review digital information at our meetings so it is hard to walk
- Team meets virtually and uses video platform, so difficult to do it as a walking meeting
With walking meetings, one may not be able to incorporate them into every meeting. But there are health and productivity benefits to incorporating walking around your space to avoid sitting too long. I heard from some participants that they there was another benefit to taking brief walking breaks inside their office. The serendipity of being able to have an informal conversation with a colleague that you might not normally run into if you sat at your desk. This was helpful because you could discuss an issue that might be coming up at a meeting – and this contributes to new ideas and more efficient meeting time.
When teams need to view or use digital information or be staring at screen to make decisions, it might be helpful to design the meeting so there is a brief walking break during a brainstorming or “combustion” portion of the meeting (see Andrea’s diagram above).
When you have remote locations that rely on meeting virtually, some options might be to use a video conferencing platform that has a mobile app and do the meeting as “remote” walking meeting. It can be tricky to have the video on the whole time because it is hard to keep the phone still while walking.
One thing I noticed during the meeting is that I was sitting more than I normally would because of the video and the cultural norm having the video on the whole time. At one point during the meeting, I took myself off camera so I could pace as I was listening to Andrea’s presentation. So, one option might be to give permission for participants to take themselves off camera during the meeting if they want to stand or walk.
End on A High Note, End Early, and Identify Takeaways
Andrea’s tip for an effective meeting is to end it early. So many times we book an hour meeting when we don’t need the whole hour and then we fill the time. Why not just end early? We ended the meeting a few minutes early. Another tip from Andrea is to end on a positive note, making sure people leave the meeting feeling good.
As our wrap up, we asked people to do two things. The first was to write down one action step and share it. For extra credit, we asked them to write an email to themselves post-dated to the future on futureme.org describing what they will implement to make meetings better.
As we did our wrap up, one participant observed that meetings are where an organization’s culture plays out – and that they have the opportunity to make the meetings better by leading a “meeting revolution.” Has your nonprofit taken active steps to create more healthy and productive meetings? How have you changed your organization’s meeting culture to be better?