Virtual Facilitation – Only flying is more fun!
In German “Facilitation” means “making things easier”. It also describes a particular form of facilitation of human gatherings in which we invite, inspire, encourage and shape change together. And what could our meetings need more than lightness right now? The metaphor of flight matches this perfectly. It describes the phases of taking off, flying and landing in a meeting. If we pay attention to a few things in each phase, we can communicate more easily, pick up speed together, take off and land where we want to go.
A good start
To get started in the virtual space, I first have to be clear about what it means to work virtually. Things that happen or are understood as a matter of course in a face-to-face meeting require more explicit communication, technical prerequisites must be created, participation must be consciously activated. From an early age we have learned that we relax, lean back, consume in front of the TV screen. Later we learned that we work silently in front of a computer screen, reading or hitting the keys. So this behaviour is to be expected as soon as people sit in front of screens. If I want shared responsibility and active participation for a meeting, I will have to create conditions for it that will use what I have learned or facilitate relearning.
Three key tracks for a good start:
1. Prepare the setting
“The basic assumption that technology works is wrong to begin with.” (Marc Chmielewski). Based on this, I carefully prepare the virtual room, schedule time for a technology check, send YouTube links with short tutorials (e.g., before using new digital tools), have the camera at eye level and ensure lighting from the front so that the participants can see me well.
2. Build a relationship
The invitation to the meeting already builds the relationship. If I want to use new tools and forms of participation, I can already announce this in the invitation. If the participants are to leave the camera on during the meeting, which is recommended for good interaction, they should know this beforehand and be prepared for it. A small preparatory task or the request to bring something (ideas, questions, objects) activates the participation already before the meeting. As a facilitator, I dial in early, greet the participants in a friendly manner, help with technical questions, invite them to use the camera and make sure the atmosphere is relaxed. A good meeting starts with a check-in that picks up the participants at the relationship level. Ideas for check-in questions with different focal points can be found at icebreaker.range.co or checkin.daresay.io.
3. Enable work readiness
A check-in can also be used to focus the content. As is so often the case, the most important thing is to find a suitable introductory question that sets the mood well for the goal of the meeting. A check-in can be designed with a talking object, e.g., a teaspoon, which is passed on through the screens. A question is visualized, the time (e.g., one minute) or the form (e.g., name two words, symbol) for the answer as well. The first person is allowed to take the spoon, then the participants nominate the next person and pass the object on until everyone has had his or her turn. Explicit instructions and a “time-out” signal, e.g., with a pleasant sound, help to learn the methodology.
People participate more constructively when they feel safe, are interested in the topic, know what is expected of them, what they can expect from the others, which topics and which working methods have been agreed upon. At the beginning of a meeting, we should therefore create orientation and transparency about the following areas:
- Agenda, time, person allocated for each topic.
- Arrangements for virtual etiquette (e.g., “We leave the camera on”, “Speak so I can see you…”)
- Rules of the game / practices of success (e.g., “Personal stories stay here – knowledge goes out into the world…”)
- Roles that different people take on in the meeting (e.g., moderator, chat guard, timekeeper, information, protocol…)
- Depending on the situation, also overview and location of the meeting: “Where are we in the process right now?”
How to fly
There are millions of approaches and methods to navigate a meeting well. Here is a selection for more participation, purposeful discussions and a few quirky ideas for highflyers:
- Less is more: Be brief and ask others to be brief as well
- Use as few slides as possible in presentations, interrupt screen sharing often, listen if there are questions, ask questions
- Limit presentation time to a maximum of 15 minutes. No one listens for longer
- Give the floor very explicitly, agree on speaking times
- Agree on and use a show of hands or a speaking object as a signal to take the floor
- Stop talking at length, summarize contributions, address silent participants directly
- Use the chat, e.g., to collect ideas or to ask questions
- Always ask purposeful, activating questions
- Deal confidently with silence. Allow for silence, explicitly name the time for reflection, ask what the silence means, tell participants how I interpret the silence, introduce the 5-second rule (“If there are no questions/answers from you after 5 seconds, I assume that…” from Caroline Lewis).
Use interactive whiteboards, MIRO or MURAL as virtual pinboards.
Gamification, use creative scales (www.pinterest.de/trudywoo/mood-scales)
- Use polling tools such as Mentimeter, e.g., to assess the quality of the decision made
- Have an elevator pitch on the core issues (= one minute, as long as a long match burns)
- Appoint a court jester or an advocate diaboli, preferably with an appropriate virtual background
- Use a talking object and an audio stop signal, e.g., with a cymbal or singing bowl
A pleasant landing
A meeting ends pleasantly when the agreed time frame has been adhered to, I know what the next steps are, I have been able to take something away and / or contribute and I feel I have had an appropriate send-off. For a good landing we should therefore:
Close contents well: Summarize the most important results and agreements, give space for concluding questions (also plan the time), give hints on the next steps, clarify who will do what by when or talk to whom.
Collect feedback: What do I take away? What do I want for next time? Share answers in the check-out or in the chat, rate the quality of the meeting on scales or with survey tools, either directly in the meeting or afterwards by message.
Say goodbye on the relationship level: The classic check-out question “How do I leave this meeting?” always works, but can also be supplemented and modified with creative scales, symbols and metaphors. A calm, warm farewell with thanks for participation and commitment ensures a soft landing.
How does my #favouritemodel help you?
If you are facilitating virtual meetings and find them tough, sluggish and not very interactive, the flight metaphor can help you and the participants to change this:
Start: How can I prepare the setting well? What can I control and what can I just accept and let go? What language suits the people in the meeting? How can I pick them up well? What do the participants need to be able to work? How can I invite them to participate more?
Flying: How do we shape the processes of information, decision-making and problem-solving? Which patterns should we interrupt? Do we rather ask more questions or limit the speaking time? Which tools do we want to try out? Which one today? How can we deal well with silence?
Landing: What questions need to be asked during the landing phase? How do we get feedback? What does a pleasant farewell look like in our setting?