Virtual Meetings Are Like Broccoli: 8 Tips for Better Virtual Project Meetings

Last Updated Jan 14, 2011 11:24 AM EST

Running good meetings for remote teams is like eating our vegetables: we know we should do it, we know how to do it, it's critical to our health in the long run and we rationalize our way out of it every chance we get.

Just as the secret to a healthy diet isn't much of a secret (if you burn off more calories than you put in your piehole you lose weight ) ,there isn't some magic potion or mystery to running a good webmeeting or teleconference. But just like being nagged about eating our broccoli, a good reminder doesn't hurt to keep us honest.

The ProjectWeb blog by Chris LeCompte offers 8 tips that, while blindingly obvious, are often ignored at the peril of your project, your team and your sanity:
  1. Only hold necessary meetings- just sharing information is not a sufficient reason to get people together, especially if time zones are a problem. You can use email, shared file sites, recorded webcasts and other tools to put information out there. Meetings are designed to accomplish a purpose. You can often boost productivity by not pulling people away from important tasks.
  2. Have a clear purpose- "It's Monday and we always have a status meeting on Monday" is not a compelling purpose.
  3. Clearly list your objectives-Is this a brainstorming session? People should come prepared to discuss the matter at hand and have ideas ready. Do you need to make a decision? Then read the attached material before the meeting. Knowing what your meeting is designed to achieve does two things for a leader: it allows you to help people prepare (and hold them accountable for their role in that preparation) and tells you when the meeting is over. You've either accomplished your objective or you haven't. When you have, you're done.
  4. Know who really needs to be there- There's nothing more frustrating than being forced to attend a meeting that you don't have a stake in. Other than getting some email answered, the only thing it accomplishes is building resentment and sucking up time. An effective meeting leader knows who the stakeholders are based on the desired outcome. If you want team members to feel valued but not pressured, let them know the meeting is occurring but their attendance is optional and that you'll send out a report with anything they need to know. As long as people don't feel like they're left out, it's amazing how many will choose to do other things- actual productive things.
  5. Prepare an agenda- This is maybe the biggest "eat your broccoli" component of all. A clear written agenda tells people how to prepare for a meeting, what their role is, what needs to be accomplished and why they're giving up their precious time. it can even help people decide they can spend their time elsewhere, if that's appropriate. You know that. Quick, when was the last time you sent out a real detailed agenda ahead of the meeting? Yeah, that's what I thought. You know better.
  6. Enforce the agenda- As the meeting leader, develop some backbone. If your meetings have a reputation for getting sidetracked, running long and being counter-productive you'll have an increasingly difficult time making them work and getting enthusiastic participation. Don't be afraid to limit discussion when it becomes repetitive, table items that aren't getting you closer to your outcome and watch the clock. If people feel like you're valuing the time they spend with you, you'll get higher quality input.
  7. Identify and state action items- People have two reasons for attending most meetings- they want to give their input, and they want to know what they'll have to do as a result. It's also vital that the team build trust by knowing people will deliver on their commitments. People need to know the specific action items as well as the criteria for success in order to develop strong working relationships. If Jane is to have a first draft complete by Tuesday, I know whether I have to help her, what her turnaround time is, and when she makes that deadline she's someone we can depend on. That has long-term benefits.
  8. Follow up- These stated outcomes, action items and deliverables are only useful if they actually come to pass. As the team leader, it's your responsibility to help make that happen. Do people need reminders? Do they need resources? A meeting isn't' successful until the outcome is achieved. That's how people will judge you, not by the slickness of your facilitation skills.
Yes, running a good virtual meeting is like eating your veggies. You know what to do, you know how to do it, you just have to suck it up,hold your nose and do it.

Read more: Photo by flickr user Darwin Bell CC 2.0
  • Wayne Turmel

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