I was recently asked for advice by a teammate about how we run our meetings. Like many others, we’re all working from home and catching up on zoom.
As I’m working on an Agile style project with many contributors it’s often hard to get any sense of connection or engagement. People are quiet, no one talks, and work calls can feel awkward and lacking in any sense of coherence.
Prior to my advertising and design career, I worked in the corporate world. I work on many projects with international teams, long before the days of video calls. So over those years, I’ve learnt — by trial and error — how to get more out of those conference call and now video call ways of running projects.
Hopefully, some of these are useful.
It’s important to remember on a call that without naming someone no one know’s next. None of those none verbal cue’s can be picked up. Such as head nods, raised eyebrows, or glances across the room. They’re all subtle things that we don’t think about. But on a call, they’re all missing. Therefore people don’t often know who a question is addressed to. So we need to make our sentences accountable. You need to make sure you address a specific person when you talk. If you address a group everyone else will think you are talking to someone else.
Someone needs to lead the meeting. As positive as it sounds saying things like “this is your meeting”, someone needs to be accountable for making it run. You can’t expect someone to step forward and take ownership of an open forum. And pointing it out just makes people feel more awkward when doing so.
One thing I’ve learned from writing radio ads is that you’re speaking to one person. The same applies to calls. If you address “the group” then that’s not specifically “me”. If you don’t address a specific person then in the listener’s mindset you’ve definitely not addressed them. So if you want engagement from everyone you need to call out everyone. Even if it takes longer, ask each person to say yes. In addition, get people where possible to turn on their camera. When everyone’s cameras are on you tend to get more engagement naturally, as it’s harder to hide. But it needs to be all or nothing and you may want to find out why people are reluctant to put their camera on. Do people feel awkward about how they look on camera or is it that they’ve just gotten out of the shower? It’s worth finding out… but again not as a group.
Why are we here? (Agenda)
It’s a dumb thing but if most people don’t know what a meeting is for then they’re not going to be talking much. Either for fear of sounding dumb or because they don’t believe this is really for them. We need to reiterate what this (and every) meeting is for and why you are here. In very very specific “explain it like I’m 5” terms. Eg, We hold stand up every morning so that we can go through every card and check their status. Having a clearly stated goal from the leader of the call, at the start, it actually tunes you into the purpose. Then when you go through each card. make it like an agenda item. People on calls may only be giving 50% of their attention. So you need to clearly announce each item you are talking about. So rather than saying, “next item” actually call it out. Eg “We’re done with card 5, now onto Card 6 “How to launder money into a Swiss bank account” or whatever the title.
If you’re using a Trello board, open every item up or zoom in. Again so it’s easy to see which item we are up to
On projects in my corporate days, whether virtual or in-person, we would start all meetings by going around the table with a check-in. A Check-in is a quick signifier of where your head is at so that others are prewarned of your mood, mental state, and stresses. Eg Dan: It’s Monday and I had a big weekend so I’m a little tired today. If you need me at my best contact me after 11 am. Stu: I’m feeling refreshed, but I’ve got a very important meeting today so my head is a little distracted Damo: I have no idea what a day it is, I have a 12-week old baby Josh: I’m bouncing with energy and enthusiastic AF.
A check-in means everyone has to talk and gets them used to talking and we also know how they feel.
Hopefully, you get something out of this, let me know.