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Researchers suggest a number of indicators that make for successful virtual teams. One of them is referred to as “electronic courtship.” For example, prior to conducting a teleconference, it's suggested that team members take a few minutes to talk about things unrelated to the business at hand. To compensate for the lack of connection virtual teams often experience due to the lack of live contact they have with one another, this intentional sharing helps to foster familiarity and comfort with otherwise “faceless” team members. Of course, the more comfortable we are with one another, the more likely we are to trust them and work effectively with them. A client recently shared this e-courtship idea:
“We begin every teleconference with five minutes of good news. Each participant shares something positive that they have experienced since the last meeting. Not only does this promote a connection among team members, it gets the meeting off to a positive start!”
Setting Ground Rules
Ground rules can be a life saver in a meeting that's getting out of control. When properly defined at the beginning of a session, ground rules provide a means to rein in off-topic conversations, interruptions, distractions, or other behaviors that undermine the purpose of the meeting.
However, often times, ground rules are never addressed. Perhaps its because we feel awkward to lay down rules—especially if there are individuals in higher management positions in attendance. Or, we feel it childish or punitive to ask colleagues to adhere to certain rules during a meeting. To mitigate some of these concerns, make sure you articulate ground rules in a positive way. For example, instead of phrasing the ground rule: “No laptops allowed during the meeting,” change the wording to: “Laptops are allowed during breaks, only.” By spinning the message to what we want people to do rather than what we don't want them to do, participants will be more receptive to the message.
Before your next meeting, experiment by rewording the ground rules and see if it contributes to a more productive, and pleasant event.
Maximizing Participation—10 Tips to Engage Participants
Have you ever led or facilitated a meeting where the participation was minimal but didn't know what do about it? People tend to participate in group conversation when they have something to say, they can trust what their input will be taken seriously, they have a safe environment in which to express their ideas and/or opinions, and when they are given opportunities to participate. Here are some quick tips that you can use to help you maximize participation in your meetings or facilitated session.
- Develop an agenda with participant input (this will increase participant buy-in into the purpose, goals, and outcomes of the session).
- Have participants share in jobs (divvy up the work—one person takes notes, one is a timekeeper, another arranges for food, etc.)
- Use various facilitation techniques that encourage participation—brainstorming, ice breakers, small group activities, etc.
- Engage the participants in developing the ground rules for the session that will enhance participation. Ask everyone to vote on them to establish accountability.
- Separate the generation of ideas from the selection of the ideas and the corresponding action plans.
- Conduct small group exercises as well as large group exercises. People are often more comfortable to participate in smaller groups, than in a larger group.
- Acknowledge participants for their effort and the value of their contributions.
- Provide people time to think (give quiet time for introverts to think by writing ideas down individually first, before conducting group brainstorming—something extraverts love to do).
- Intervene quickly on any personal attacks that occur.
- Talk to participants on the side or during a break and invite them to participate. Let them know that their area of expertise and perspective is critical to the success of the group effort.
Remember—silence does not mean non-participation. Give people time to think. A participant may be waiting to speak.
How to Get the Most of Your Ground Rules
Ground rules (or operating norms as I like to call them) can help set the behavioral expectations of a group. Often conflict and frustration arise because people have differing sets of expectations of each other. Making the acceptable group behavior more explicit can minimize some of the frustrations that occur because of behavioral issues in the group.
- Have ground rules for reoccurring meetings or for a meeting that is at least ½ day. You often don’t need ground rules for a 1-2 hour meeting unless you think there may be some behavioral conflict or misunderstanding.
- Have the group determine the ground rules/operating norms that are important to them. This way the onus is not on the facilitator to be the “do as a I say” teacher, but a guide who make sure the group adheres to the behavioral wishes they decided upon as a group. You will find that the group will often monitor themselves since they created the ground rules.
- My suggestion would be to have only 5-6 key rules. In most cases, ground rules with similar themes can be rolled up into one. Most people will usually not remember more than that number and having a huge list becomes too onerous to manage and may too restrictive for the work the group needs to do
- Post them either on a wall or in the agenda for every session so they are observable
- Quickly review them at the beginning of the session
- Adhere to them yourself, be the model of behavior they expect
- Make sure everyone understands the ground rules in the same way.
- If the rules are violated, as a facilitator make sure they are brought to the groups attention. At this time, the group has a number of options. They can conform to the ground rules they created and agreed upon and move on, or the ground rules can be changed or deleted.
- Add new rules as the group feels they need an additional rule to accommodate the current situation. Often the ground rule around “confidentiality” comes up later due to a new conversation. Always get consensus from the group before putting up a new ground rule to the list
Facilitation Skills Key to Project Success
Facilitation is an essential project management (PM) and business analysis (BA) skill. PMs and BAs facilitate sessions throughout the life of a project as they gather requirements, identify risks, resolve conflicts, etc.
The key to effective facilitation is “neutrality,” which may be difficult to claim, especially if you are heavily invested in the project outcome. However, neutrality is more critical for some sessions than others. For example, “lessons learned,” is often a situation where it is very helpful to have a third-party field thoughts about how a particular phase or project went, especially if participants are not feeling too warm and fuzzy about what happened. When things go awry, it may be difficult for the Project Manager or Business Analyst to ask “So, what do you think?” and expect a sincere answer.
Some organizations provide facilitation services either through a project management office or other corporate resource. But what if you find yourself in a situation where you don't have access to a professional facilitator? One option is to partner with colleagues within your own organization and trade services. Offer to facilitate someone else's session if they conduct one for you. The benefits of this are two-fold: First, you will achieve that necessary degree of neutrality which will yield better project results. Second, by facilitating someone else's session, you practice your own facilitation skills—making you a better facilitator. Bartering “skills” within your own company not only offers you a relatively “safe” place to hone your facilitation skills, you increase your chances of achieving project success.