Don’t get lost in the noise. Here, virtual leadership expert, Dr Penny Pullan, outlines a clear blueprint to ace playing host at your next virtual meeting
Now that virtual meetings have replaced meeting in person, everyone in the franchise community needs to step up to virtual leadership and learn how to run great meetings, using technology to connect. This will remain helpful into the future, even as some people return to workplaces and we adjust to a new hybrid working world of some in the office and some remote.
It’s important to keep a level playing field for those who are remote and those who are in the office, which means that it makes sense to hold meetings virtually with everyone in front of a screen for some time to come. That gives everyone the same restrictions and possibilities for interaction, meaning that there really is a level playing field. Until every member of your team can return to the office, it helps to consider your team as a virtual team.
Ask any new franchisee what makes a successful virtual meeting and they are likely to talk about the technology. Yes, tech can be great, whether you are using Zoom, or Skype, or Microsoft Teams, or anything else. As long as it works well with your team, make sure that it is stable and that everyone knows how to use it. I consider technology as an enabler of meetings, rather like the electricity supply to a house. You can’t make a house into a home without a supply of electricity, but as soon as it is working reliably, people focus elsewhere. That’s what we should be doing with virtual meetings, and that’s what we’ll do now.
People who are attending virtual meetings crave clarity. One way of providing this is to use my Magic SixTM statements (see picture). Let’s go through each element in turn, based on the example of Sarah, a fictional franchisor, meeting with ten of her Midlands-based franchisees. They are meeting to consider how to market their activities in the East Midlands this year.
1. We are here to:
This provides the purpose of the meeting. It answers the question: ‘What’s the point of our meeting?’ For Sarah’s meeting, the team agrees that ‘We are here to gather ideas about marketing’. Ideally, this element will have around 7-10 words, as any longer would likely give too much detail.
2. Today we will:
This lists more detailed objectives, often four to six big chunks that will form the bulk of the meeting. For Sarah’s meeting, these chunks include:
• Review the state of the market;
• Brainstorm ideas;
• Decide three ideas to investigate further;
• Review actions and agree on next steps
• Review the meeting – ‘what worked well?’ and ‘what do we wish we do differently next time?’
Sarah asks different members of the team to lead each objective, to help them develop their own virtual meeting facilitation skills. She takes on the final review session, as she knows that each meeting can be better than the last by spending some time learning lessons.
3. Our plan:
Here Sarah sets out her time plan, showing the start and end times, breaks, and more. She knows that virtual meetings need a break about every hour or so. She decides on a 9:10 am start, with a 20-minute break at 10:10 and finishing at 11:30 am.
4. Who’s doing what:
Sarah knows how important it is that her franchisees are feeling engaged and interested in what they are doing together during virtual meetings. She finds it very effective to give others as much of the work as possible, by sharing out the roles and responsibilities across the group. Chris agrees to be the timekeeper and Alex agrees to record actions and decisions as they come up. Remember that individuals are facilitating different parts of the meeting in addition to these overall meeting roles.
5. How we work together:
These are the team’s ‘ground rules’, only it works better to avoid that terminology! Here, Sarah works with the team to agree on how they will work together that morning. While some of these ‘ground rules’ can be agreed for a team in general, it is good to revisit them quickly for each meeting. They choose the following:
• State your name at the start of whatever you say so that everyone knows who has said what.
• Mute if you’re in a noisy environment. (This is especially important as Alex has a dog who is inclined to bark at crucial moments!)
• We agree to respect each other and have only one conversation at a time.
• The group agrees to expect check-ins every now and then, in random order. (They know this will help them to keep focused, in case they are asked to check-in when they had drifted off a little.)
• ‘Spellling dusn’t mater’ This helps George to contribute and not to feel embarrassed if he can’t remember how to spell a word, as he has dyslexia.
6. What’s next:
Sarah briefs the team on what will happen next and how the actions will be followed up. At the end of the meeting, they review these together, using the summary from Alex, which is visible on the screen.
Can you see how this clarity will help Sarah and her franchisees work together really effectively even when they can’t be together? Sarah finds that, by using the Magic SixTM, she enjoys running virtual meetings. She’s fallen into a new way of working – more collaborative and more facilitative and it suits her.
As your own franchises meet virtually, try using the Magic SixTM for your own meetings, both virtual and hybrid, to provide the clarity that helps everything run smoothly.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr Penny Pullan, virtual leadership expert at Making Projects Work Ltd, and the author of Virtual Leadership: Practical strategies for getting the best out of virtual work and virtual teams.
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