Avoiding the virtual round-table of death – #MakeMeetingsWork

by | 20th October 2021 | Uncategorized

For many people the jury is still out on whether homeworking, office working or hybrid working is the future. Of the many angles through which you can view the debate, the effectiveness of virtual meetings can be considered a biggie. The good news is that the technology has vastly improved (although if your home is in an unstable internet area you will always be the Normal Collier faulty microphone gag contributor).

Meetings with many participants can be trying at the best of times, and one of the most difficult aspects of a large, regular team meeting is the round-table of death. This is when the meeting starts with Person A who goes through their list of things one by one, before moving to Person B who does the same and, well, you get the idea. If you are unlucky Person Z and have an urgent decision that needs to be made, you are likely to get nowhere this week and instead have to hope that you will be lucky Person A next week.

Take the same example online and person Z will be sitting (perhaps unbeknownst to them) in the bottom right spot on the chairperson’s screen without a hope of being heard.

Not only is this particular method inefficient, it is dreadfully dull for most people and the temptation to do some sly emails during the meeting can become overwhelming (as well as easy to get away with).

If team meetings are actually important* there can be other ways to #MakeMeetingsWork. Here are four simple tips:

1.    Agenda naming conventions:

This is a simple yet powerful way to shift focus, energy and effectiveness. Anyone coming to the meeting with their list of things to cover just needs to prioritise according to some parameters (like those below).

1.    Approval – This is something that I just need to get approved so I can get on with it.

2.    Discussion & Decision – This is something that we need to discuss and then decide on as a group

3.    Resource – This is something that is going to require more resources (time, money, people)

4.    Info only – This is an update for information only

With the above examples you don’t do a round-table of death. Instead those that have urgent needs get those things addressed quickly at the start of the meeting and the bulk of the time is spent on rich dialogue and creative discussion.

2.    Have an (open-minded) point of view:

When seeking a decision from a forum, it is easy to throw your dilemma onto the virtual table and see where things head. It seems obvious to say that you should have a point of view on what course of action to take, but often we don’t do this. Maybe we have an opinion but don’t want to risk being shot down or be seen to be dictating, or maybe we just haven’t been organised enough to think it through.

Having a clear perspective and suggested course of action can help give the discussion context and focus the debate. But the most important part of this tip is to bring an open mind with your point of view. Ensure you express it as a suggestion, not an instruction and be ready to change your perspective according to the discussion and information brought forward.  

3.    Be in the same (virtual) room:

If you are operating a hybrid model, the likelihood is that you will have some folks in an office together and some folks dialling in remotely. This is really hard to make work. If it is critical that people are face to face for the meeting then make sure everyone is face to face. If some people won’t be physically present then it can be more effective for everyone to be dialling in (even if it is from their office desk). This avoids unhelpful side conversations, differences in volume, and people struggling to hear or be heard.

The same etiquette should apply virtually as well. Chat functions can be great way to communicate during meetings, but chat should be visible to everyone. Side conversations between two individuals are often driven by a shared disagreement with the person speaking. Not only can this quickly become corrosive, there is also a terribly real risk that your comment about Gemma’s choice of cardigan will be mistakenly shared with all.

4.    Problem solve together

Not all generic tips will work for all meeting types so my final tips is to get your heads together and problem solve for the issues which will make the biggest difference. Ask the right questions for your team but you could include:  

  • What is it about our meeting that makes it hard to get things done?
  • What would meeting success look like for us?
  • What one thing can we do make someone else’s life easier in the meeting?

Having worked remotely for a number of years either with teams in other countries or as an outsourced HR Consultant, I have seen how virtual meetings can be truly effective. The opportunities for transforming ways of working are huge (now that even the strongest cynics have had an enforced trial period). That said, as with any face to face meetings, #MakeMeetingsWork online will always involve some well directed investment in time and preparation.


*If they are not important don’t do them.