I run a virtual organization, and although it sometimes presents challenges, it has been a great learning environment for our consulting team to gather great information for our corporate clients who are now challenged to lead multinational groups without ever meeting in person. Over the next month I’ll be posting a few tips on managing virtually, and this week here are some tips for virtual team meetings! Virtual teaming requires a few simple principles that engage participants in an ongoing sense of shared purpose and collaboration.

Principle #1 - Knowing Each Other
When we work in person there is a different rhythm of getting to know each other. We observe each other in action, see family photos on someone’s desk, and chat about the weather. When those conditions don’t exist, we need to create ways of connecting personally as well as connecting to the job at hand.  Knowing each other means having a sense of people’s skills and talents, but also something personal that connects us to their life story. When people can connect to each other as human beings they tend to focus more and have higher levels of engagement.

Principle #2 - Use Technology that Works
When time is spent deciding what technology to use and learning new systems it disrupts the flow of the group. Decide on a way to meet and stick to it for an agreed upon duration. In this case, finding the right platform that includes video, filesharing and desktop sharing and then learning how to use it is the key! We’ve been experimenting with Webex, Fuze, and Go to Meeting as well as proprietary platforms at client sites - if you have more please post a comment and let us know!

Principle #3 - Use Focusing Exercises at the Beginning of Every Meeting
Focusing exercises get us grounded and stop our tendendy to multitask during virtual meetings. Focusing exercises can be as simple as a personal check in from each individual.

Principle #4 - Make Information Available to Everyone Real Time
Everyone should be looking at the same thing at the same time. And if possible, records of action items and progress against goals should be shared in a secure online environment. We’ve used TrueShare, GoogleDocs, and Box.net - any others to share please post!

Principle #5 - Know What Your Objectives Are
Virtual teaming requires rituals, and one of the simplest rituals is stating your objectives up front in your agenda. There are a number of different types of virtual meetings:  Meetings to forward action, Meetings to brainstorm ideas or envision the future, Meetings to make decisions, and Meetings to celebrate milestones and learn from what’s gone before. Stating what type of meeting you’re convening and what outcomes you want to achieve is the first step to achieving the outcomes you want. For more insight into planning a great agenda check out Interaction Associates workshops on mastering meetings.

Principle #6 - Close Every Meeting with Action Steps
Action steps require three components: What, Who, and By When. They also need to be recorded somewhere where they can be updated.

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