Meeting Facilitation Training – Leading Global Virtual Meetings

Leading Global Virtual Meetings

Dear Dana,

I’ve recently been asked to lead a virtual team.  My team members are located in three countries and several U.S. locations.  Although I have some experience leading teams and team meetings, I’m somewhat concerned about leading virtual meetings.  It just seems so complicated.  What advice do you have?

Alvin in Panama City

Dear Alvin,

Well, you’re certainly correct that leading virtual meetings can pose some unique challenges, but they can be facilitated quite effectively.  In a virtual setting communication in general becomes more difficult as you don’t have the benefit of those critical non verbal cues.  Also, if you’re leading multicultural groups, it’s important to maintain a level of sensitivity around diversity issues. The good news is that there are a few simple tips that can help you lead these meetings successfully!

Tips for leading virtual meetings with multicultural groups:

  • Make an effort to learn more about the cultures represented on the team. Your team members will appreciate your effort, and the knowledge will equip you to make more culturally sensitive decisions.
  • Gain group consensus early on about when the group with meet. Select a meeting time that seems fair to everyone.  If your group spans the globe, you might initially select noon as the meeting time and then rotate the time every few weeks or months to ensure that one region isn’t always having to get up very early or stay very late to participate in the meetings.
  • Establish a ground rule that everyone should be dialed in at least 5 minutes prior to the start time. This practice helps avoid the phenomenon of latecomers chiming in sporadically during the first five minutes of the call.  If participants get in the habit of dialing in a few minutes before the start time, the leader can actually start the call on time!  (With my last group we actually established a slight punishment for anyone calling in late.  If you hadn’t called in before “roll call”, you had to sing a stanza of “God Bless America” on the call.  The technique worked like a charm with my tight knit group.  I was actually late to a call once and had to sing.  I was never late again J)
  • Don’t backtrack for latecomers. Get participants used to the fact that if they call in late, they will have to catch up after the call.  When you constantly review previous discussion for latecomers, it caters to that behavior and irritates the rest of the team.  Try to build a norm of punctuality for your calls.
  • List all invited participants on a sheet of paper and use that to “call roll” at the beginning of the call (placing a check mark by all attendees). Once the call has started, place a dot by each speaker’s name when they make a comment.  Periodically, glance down at your list to see which names have no dots by them and sporadically pose questions to those individuals or ask them to comment.
  • Establish a ground rule that anyone on the call should hit the # sign whenever they think the discussion has veered off topic or has gone on too long. This works WONDERFULLY because no one knows who hit the # sign but it serves as a great way to reign in the conversation and avoid rambling discussion.
  • Take 5 minutes at the end of the call to debrief and ask participants to share some feedback on what worked well during the call and what could be improved in the future. This is a great way to highlight issues that might be holding the team back or even bring to light very minor points of concern (e.g. call times are too early for those on the West coast, spent too much time on a particular issue, etc.)
  • Try to limit calls to one hour or definitely take a break after an hour if the call must be longer.
  • Structure the call so that you’re engaging as many people as possible throughout the call. (This discourages multitasking.)  Do this by sporadically calling on participants or conducting quick round robins where you ask each person to make a brief comment.
  • If someone is only needed for a portion of the call, structure their issue near the beginning or end of the call and allow them to just call in for that portion.
  • Consider using virtual meeting technologies that support polling, file sharing, instant chatting, etc. to increase participant engagement levels.

For additional tips on leading conference calls with confidence, view this video that shares tips from our meeting facilitation training.