Facilitating your online meeting: notes from experience

Effective facilitation online

A coach friend asked me to join her online meeting this week and give feedback for how to improve it. I sent her some thoughts after the meeting and you might find them useful too. 

I’ve been delivering a successful course, Agile Fundamentals, virtually and in-person since before the Coronavirus pandemic started.

These were my comments to my friend, in no priority order. I hope you find them useful.

  • Setting working agreements (we used to say ‘ground rules’). Online meetings need to have working agreements made explicit at the start. It’s even more important with people who aren’t used to having meetings online. How to ‘raise your hand’ – using the Raise Hand button in Zoom, or your actual hand – when you want to speak is really important because we can’t talk over each other in online meetings. It becomes like nails on a chalkboard quickly. Also how to give feedback like ‘you’re on mute’ (hold up a handmade sign on a post-it) or ‘I agree’ (thumbs up).
  • Have ways to make people feel heard in the meeting right from the start. To get them interested and keep them interested so they don’t multitask. Create engagement right from the start by asking people to say their name and answer a silly question. Or the last person to speak nominates the next person to speak (forces everyone to stay on their toes and listen to every introduction). 
  • If we’re ‘going around the room’ to hear from everyone, every speaker’s time should time-boxed to a pre-agreed time. ‘1 minute’ cards or hand-made post-its are important to give warning of ‘time up’. I picked this up from Paul Z Jackson who recently delivered an Advanced Facilitation course. They work just as well online as in-person. Thanks to Lisette Sutherland for a great recent example of that.
  • In the meeting invitation, let participants know what tools you’ll use in the meeting so participants can practice in advance. How many of your workshop participants (meeting invitees) know how to use all of the tools? 
  • Purpose of online meeting should be made really clear so that people know why they’re joining, what they need from it, and if/how they can contribute. 
  • Facilitator should use breakout rooms for larger groups – we just about got away with not having breakout rooms with 5 participants [in the meeting that my friend hosted]. Any larger and we should have had three breakout rooms with a clearly defined task for each group. 
  • How will meeting notes and take-aways be captured and shared with everyone during and after the meeting.
  • This meeting was loosely structured because the group didn’t need to do any real work in the timeframe. That was understood from the meeting invitation. If the group had to reach a decision or find a way forward, what facilitation process would have been appropriate to help the group do the work, eg brainstorm, prioritise, vote, discuss pros and cons. 
  • What online tools could be useful for facilitating the group to do the work of the meeting/workshop/course? A couple of my favourite tools are Lean Coffee Table, Trello, and Google Docs. I’m learning more about Mural. What if some group members don’t know how to use the tools? What contingency can we have in our back pocket to help the team move forward? Even better – let each small work group decide for themselves what they use. That will be quicker than asking them to re-learn how to work with the facilitator’s favourite tool.

Looking at some of my notes above – most of these ways of working are important for effective in-person meetings but are now super-important for online meetings.

Thanks

I’ve learned loads from others in recent weeks about remote facilitation, having interviewed Judy Rees a few weeks ago for my book on agile coaching. Thanks to all of the great online facilitators that have helped me add to my facilitation toolkit.

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