Good meeting vs. bad meeting

In this section you’ll learn:

a) what remote facilitation is; 

b) what are the most common challenges related to remote facilitation; 

c) what the nature of the workshop is like; and

d) which myths should be broken before you start facilitating

Let’s begin by going through a story about Mary. Mary is works as a project designer in a medium-sized industrial company.

Mary's failed meeting

It's Monday, and Mary receives an invitation from her colleague to a remote planning meeting to discuss the milestones of a project. She gets a calendar invitation that include the time and a title for the meeting. She sees that 7 other people from her project team will also be participating in the meeting. 

Mary has no information on exactly what they will be going through during the meeting, other than that it is a planning meeting that will last 1 hour. 

When the meeting begins, she joins holding a mug of morning coffee, ready to hear the agenda for the meeting. Mary keeps the camera off so she can have a breakfast sandwich while the meeting begins. 

The meeting starts with other people having their cameras off as well and a colleague opening up about some scheduling challenges he has had with his work. The invitees show up, but the cameras stay off.

Mary is waiting for the colleague who called the meeting to take control of the situation and lead the meeting, but this does not happen. An hour is spent with four out of eight participants talking about their views and how they think it would be worthwhile to start discussing the project's milestones. 

Mary feels she can't make her voice heard. She writes a couple of her own ideas into the chat, but nobody responds to them. ’Why bother when no-one is paying attention?’ she thinks. 

Eventually, the meeting ends and the participants are not able to come to any conclusion together. At the end of the meeting, the participants are frustrated and decide to set the date of the next meeting a couple of weeks away, since everyone's calendars are already so full.

How could facilitation be used to make meetings and workshops different, so that

  • everyone will be heard
  • everyone's ideas will be listened to
  • your team is able to make decisions 
  • your team is able to come up with clear milestones and share responsibilities
  • and most importantly: so that you are able to achieve results?

Mary's successful meeting

First, Mary sees that there is no clear agenda or facilitator for this meeting. She takes initiative and finds out about the current situation, i.e. at what state the project/initiative/cooperation is at the moment and plans a workshop around it.

She has a one-on-one discussion with the team members to gain a more accurate understanding of what each of them wishes for and thinks of the future. At the same time, she figures out what the participants want from facilitation. 

She has the conversations over a video call. At the same time, she wants to check that everyone knows how to use the virtual whiteboard. Through chat, she sends a link to the platform commonly used at her work, where she has already created a template for this orientation meeting.

She ensures that the participant knows how to use the platform. If not, Mary will give instructions on how to use it before the actual workshop. 

After this orientation, Mary determines the goals for the joint workshop on her own and decides who should participate. 

Mary opens the calendar section of her email, creates a calendar invitation and adds the email addresses of the people she wants to invite. She adds the agenda for the workshop into the calendar invitation’s description field, explaining when the even will take place, why the participant has been invited and what goal has to be achieved during the workshop. This way everyone knows exactly whey they are invited and what’s expected from them. In other words, which question they should find a solution for during the workshop.

The workshop day arrives. 

Mary opens her work computer well before the workshop and goes through the agenda and the workshop template she created on the virtual whiteboard. She has also added the schedule to the whiteboard so that everyone can see it.

She opens up Zoom a few minutes before the start of the meeting and turns on her own camera. When the participants start to show up, she greets them and asks them to turn on the camera. This way, she ensures that she can, on some level, follow people's expressions, reactions and gestures. 

Once everyone is present, it is a few minutes past the scheduled start time. One person has not yet arrived, but Mary decides to start anyway, because she respects the time of the people who arrived on schedule. 

She states the purpose for the event for everyone, the schedule and goal that have been set for it and explains why the group has been invited. Using chat, she then she sends everyone the link to the virtual whiteboard for them to join.

Mary facilitates the discussion using the structure she created beforehand. She gives a quick demonstration on how to use the tool to make sure everyone remembers how it works. 

Together with the team, Mary starts to work through the questions that she identified that need answering during this workshop. She goes them through one by one in a strict timeframe.  

Through the exercises, the participants can share their own thoughts, come up with ideas and vote together on what ideas they think are the best. This is how the team builds progress and consensus for the issue at hand.

Finally, Mary summarises what was done during the workshop, the agreed upon next steps and reminds everyone that they will receive the output in their own email when the workshop is over. 

The workshop ends and Mary thanks everyone for participating. She feels good about the successful workshop, where, for once, they were able to get things done! Finally, Mary sends the summary and the agreed follow-up plan to everyone via email.

Complete and Continue