GETTING THE BEST OUT OF LARGER GROUPS ONLINE
The coronavirus Covid-19 situation has developed perhaps faster than anyone anticipated with new – and some quite drastic – changes to every day working and home life all over the world. With more people working from home there’s a heavy reliance on online communications for day to day activities.
The good news is that at JA Consulting we’ve been working for a while now to hone how you can get the best out of teams when you can’t be physically co-located, and getting good at this now will reap you dividends in the future – the skills you embed in the organisation and your people will no doubt bring greater efficiency, improved environmental output and even some cost savings when we’re all free to go back to ‘normal’.
Over the next few weeks we’re going to be sharing some tips from our experts about how to keep your business running remotely.
Today, Caroline talks about running workshops with larger groups of people and getting the best out of them, efficiently.
So, what about when you want to get a larger group of people together to discuss an issue, come to consensus or build strategies and plans? Can you run workshops as effectively online as in person? Caroline says, “The good news is yes! Don’t think you need to cancel these gatherings during lock-down, just follow our top 5 tips for running excellent workshops remotely.”
- Be clear about what you’re trying to achieve. We all fall into the trap of combining multiple objectives into single sessions, and under ‘normal’ conditions we often get away with it. But this is exactly the kind of thing that remote sessions show up. So be clear what your outcomes are, and if there’s more than one try splitting the session into separate sections (or run a separate workshop) – the techniques you use will be very different dependent on what you want to achieve.
- Get a facilitator. It’s almost impossible to run a good online workshop without a clear leader, and it’s even more important online that the lead isn’t the person who’s the topic expert or wants to use the output. Someone must be focusing on process, approach and on making sure you’re getting the best out of the people attending. Time keeping is critical; it’s all too easy to get to the end of the allocated time and then realise that only part of the agenda has been covered – a facilitator can watch the clock to help everyone stay focussed. In remote sessions there’s a tendency for people to talk over others before they’ve finished speaking. Sometimes this is due to the tech being used, but you need to allow people to finish speaking, and this is probably easily resolved by having a facilitator to stop the interruptions.
- Have a structure. As soon as there are more than 5 people on the call you need to have a tightly defined structure that you work to. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s all scripted, but just that you need to think about how you’re going to get feedback from attendees, and the flow of the session. Try to make the structure and the questions you’ll be asking available to people in advance so ‘reflectors’ can think in advance, and you can gather feedback most efficiently from people as you go through. Don’t fall back on general discussion after a PowerPoint presentation, it just won’t be as effective as when you’re in a room together (actually, I’d argue it’s not even effective then, but people get away with it!). Don’t be afraid to spilt down into smaller groups and reconvene in plenary, as you would in a standard workshop, it can be a powerful way of giving people a chance to talk in parallel to each other.
- Use the tools. If you run your workshop as a briefing followed by single person verbal feedback you aren’t going to get through much in the time. Use the videoconferencing and networking toolsets available to you in order to gather as much asynchronous feedback as you can (that’s comments in IM, notes jotted onto OneNote, or logging of questions through webinar feedback). Ideally also try to have someone who’s nominated as the capturer of comments into either a digital whiteboard or just a word document, so you can show them up at the end. If you’re really smart use graphic facilitators to capture something more visually appealing as you go.
- Be strict! Whoever’s in charge, must be in charge. They need to manage the process, make sure everyone’s getting a chance to speak, stay on top of time (it’s even worse to run over when people are operating remotely). You’ll also need all the usual facilitation tricks of diverting discussions from disappearing down rabbit holes. It’s difficult to do that, so let the technology help you – however, the ability to ‘mute’ participants is the sort of power that can go to anyone’s head! The best trick to building and maintaining attention? Call on different individual participants for feedback at break points, even if it’s via the messenger function. And do that from early on so people stay on their toes and keep awake and away from Amazon online toilet paper ordering!
And a final thought – whatever you do, don’t think you can take something that worked in a meeting room and put it onto the online environment, it just won’t work. You have to start at the basics, break it down and build it up entirely focused on the online world. Shorter sessions, more formal calls for feedback, more structured ways of building consensus. There are lots of techniques out there for how to do it and getting an expert to lead it is an important first step.
About Caroline Gowing – Caroline is an expert programme change management consultant working across Defence, wider corporate business, and the charity sector for the past twenty years. Caroline is a highly competent strategy and change management facilitator able to work with an individual or group to draw out their understanding of a problem and solution and then take this forward in a way that can be easily understood, persuasively communicated and attractively presented.
Our experiences suggest you can still run teams that need to work together regularly, you can still hold large workshops and events, and you don’t need to stop business development and sales calls – you just have to change how you do them!
So, if you’ve got something coming up that you’re thinking about cancelling, don’t cancel it until you’ve spoken to us! We might be able to help you work a way around of how to still run it, whilst also building your people’s skills on how to do these things for themselves going forward.
If you have any questions, our team can assist you as usual via phone or email.
Look out for more hints and tips coming soon.