Design virtual Meetings effectively and efficiently

Design virtual Meetings effectively and efficiently

​We are doing it… many weeks with the stricter regulations have passed, still a great part of your working time may be characterized by meetings which are facilitated virtually.

Leaders and HR managers from various organisations I work with describe different experiences. These range from „We are more focused in our meetings than before“ to „Our meetings get out of hand because everyone just says what they are doing“ to “Only one person speaks, everyone else is muted”.

So, what does it take to design virtual meetings effectively and efficiently?

In a nutshell: Use all the elements, which make effective and efficient face-to-face meetings and focus on C D I.

C D I stand for

  • Clarity,
  • Discipline and
  • Personal Interaction

Weaknesses and gaps that may have existed in face-to-face meetings are becoming more apparent in a virtual context, so the level of suffering increases.

Here you have some practical hacks to be able to focus more on your C D I:

CLARITY

 

Be clear about the following questions:

  • “What is the specific objective of the meeting?“ Is the meeting the best way to handle the subject?
  • “Which outcome would you like to achieve with the meeting?”
  • Which type of meeting is it?” (e.g. transfer of information, brainstorming, decision-making, exchange of experience)
  • “Why am I in this meeting?, “What is my task, my duty?”, “What can I contribute?”, “What is expected from me?”
  • “Who else should be involved in the meeting?” (e.g. Stake holders, decision makers, knowledge carriers)

Yes, it seems tedious to clarify these questions, but only if there is clarity for the participants, they go into meetings with the same expectations.

DISCIPLINE & FOCUS

 

 

  • Preparation: When objectives and type of meeting are clear, all attendees know what to prepare for the meeting. Lead by example and be prepared!

  • Punctuality and interference-free environment: When a meeting is set for 9:00, then everyone should be dialled in and the required infrastructure and equipment ready to go, so that the meeting can start on time and without interference.

  • Stick to the plan: An hour-long meeting ends after one hour. If at the end more time would be needed, clarify how to continue working on the pending topics.

 

  • Shorter meetings (45-60 minutes max): Have shorter meetings, in which all attendees fully focus. If there are several topics that require more time, make virtual breaks after 60 minutes.

  • Make sure there is a summary of the results and agreement for follow-up activities.

  • … and well known, but not always easily implemented: make sure you really listen to each other and don’t interrupt.

PERSONAL INTERACTION

 

  • So far, in addition to virtual meetings, there usually would be the possibility for personal interaction. Therefore, the focus in these virtual meetings is often “on the matter/topic”.

 

  • Since the possibility of personal interaction is currently very limited, make time and (virtual) space for it.

 

  • If the infrastructure allows it, hold virtual meetings in video mode as it creates further closeness. It gives you the opportunity to engage more with the reaction of your dialogue partners.

 

  • At the beginning of the meeting, consciously plan time for social onboarding. These can be questions such as “What is your current energy level at the moment?”, “What do you need so you can get involved in the meeting in the best possible way?”, “What does it take so we can use the meeting as best as possible?”.

 

  • Generally, use questions more often so that the engagement is increased. In addition to the open and closed questions scale questions are also suitable. You can use it to query various things, from assessment to commitment to experience. For example, “On a scale of 1 to 10, what is your commitment to implement the proposed idea?”. Then ask further questions, such as “What does it take to get from 6 to 7?”. Use one-word questions to quickly get opinions or ideas.

 

  • If social onboarding is needed at the beginning of the meeting, a feedback loop at the end is just as important. Questions like, “What went well today? What should we keep? What should we change next time?” help to continuously improve the quality and efficiency of meetings.

 

  • Recommendation! ROTI = Return On Invested Time as a feedback method. With the scale question “Was the time you invested in this meeting worthwhile – in relation to achieved/achievable benefit/advantage?”, you get feedback on the meeting. The scale ranges from “1 = worthless” to “5 = great benefit”. This is followed by the questions mentioned above.

 

Finally, two more practical tips:

 

  • Make sure that there is a moderator for each meeting who ensures that the essential principles of effective meetings are adhered to.

 

  • … and last but not least: It needs the mindset / attitude of all attendees that virtual meetings are a suitable form of meetings.

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You have lived in Italy for a long time and still work there as a coach today. Currently, you’re living in Switzerland. Has your work as a coach and the expectations of your clients, the executives, changed over the past few years?

 

Alexander: 20 years ago, coaching was not an issue at all in Italy. It was more the opposite: anyone who needed a coach was “sick” in the eyes of the others. Italian companies were usually very hierarchical and once someone made it to the top, the person was quite resistant to any “advice” or coaching. Unfortunately, this has hardly changed in many companies until today. Most of my clients work for international companies, therefore their leadership culture is obviously different. The reason for coaching is almost always a result from feedback, either directly from the supervisor or through 360° feedback. In that sense, my work has hardly changed, even though the expectation of me as a coach is going in the direction of consulting. Some clients are genuinely disappointed when I tell them that they cannot only get some advice from me about what they can do better. They actually have to work on themselves to trigger the desired change.

 

What is the situation in Switzerland, what differences do you see between the two countries?

 

In my opinion, the biggest difference between the countries is the attitude. In Switzerland, coaching is a perfectly accepted tool for personal development. I think that Swiss executives are more actively taking on further training opportunities than their colleagues in Italy. As a coach, you may have less need for explanation, but the topics are usually very similar.

 

A very general question: In your opinion, what are currently the biggest challenges that managers in Italy and Switzerland have to face?

 

Leadership has so many different aspects that answering that question could fill an entire book. Therefore, I would like to direct my answer to one topic – and that is the understanding of leadership especially in the context of differences between the generations. Nowadays, we have up to 3 different age groups or generations in a company. Very hierarchical structures and leadership styles are not up-to-date anymore. Just yesterday, I had a conversation with a client who told me how difficult it would be to have a good friend as an employee. When I asked him why he thought so, he said that he would feel uncomfortable giving him instructions. So I asked him why he thinks that his other employees would like instructions. I think that’s when something happened to him…

 

Executive Coaching in digital times

 

We live in a VUCA world and digitalization has an impact on many aspects of our lives. In your opinion, how do you have to act as a leader to respond to this change? Is that an important topic for you in coaching?

 

What does digitalization bring with it? Change! Changes or rather the fear of it or even the refusal to face it is always a key issue in coaching. Therefore, I do not see a big difference to a merger, a restructuring, an adjustment of the business model, etc. Something I notice, however, is the lack of understanding, which opportunities the digitalization offers for the companies. It is not (more) about the replacement of the typewriter by a computer, but the integration of all digital possibilities in the business process. In my opinion, many internal but also external change managers should do a better job here.

 

Are you using many digital tools in your coaching and how do you see the future of face 2 face coaching?

 

My coaching is always a mix of face 2 face sessions and short virtual sequences. Often it is about keeping the client involved in the process and therefore, Skype or Zoom calls are the ideal tools. But I am a bit concerned about the large number of offers on the subject of speed or telephone coaching. What makes us coaches, is the ability to hear between the lines – and that is not possible without the perception of body language in my opinion. So I think that also in the future, coaching will be a good mix of digital and face 2 face coaching sessions.

Executive coaching

Online tools can, of course, add some value to a coaching session but what makes a good coach is the ability to hear between the lines and this is not possible without the perception of body language.

You have worked in an international environment in sales and marketing for a long time. What was the reason to start working in the field of human resources development and specialize in leadership development?

 

At some point, everyone is wondering if this is it and what the reason is to get up every day. I was able to live out my passion for human development as the head of a European organization. The results were so encouraging that I – within the group – reoriented myself towards leadership development. The establishment and leadership of the company’s Academy inspired me to live my mission as an independent coach after many years.

Where do you see the biggest challenges in leadership development in the next few years? On the one hand for coaches, on the other hand for executives themselves.

 

Leadership development will (have to) go even more in the direction of personality development. Business schools like IMD in Lausanne or INSEAD near Paris have been recognizing this for a long time. They offer a good mix of management knowledge as well as best practice examples and intensive coaching sequences in their programs. In these sequences, e.g. the results of a 360 ° feedback are discussed in small groups. The coach has a rather moderating role here. The participants are taught coaching techniques based on current practical examples, which help them to strengthen their self-perception. I believe that all of us – leaders and coaches – will need to be even more flexible and willing to learn in the future.

Our interview partner
What are your favorite coaching topics?

Life crisis, leadership problems, the lack of (self) motivation, reorientation, location determination and difficult top managers who believe they know everything but still feel that something is missing.

What motivates or drives you in your job?

I have a strong need to work with leaders, to help them find access to their own issues and to keep them involved in the process. I want them to not only think about possible solutions but accompanying them with the implementation of those solutions.

Do you have a personal motto or slogan?

My mission is to support leaders finding their own purpose

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About the author

Inge is an experienced executive coach and facilitator who works with senior leaders and leadership teams across different industries and countries. The most important thing during a coaching session for her are impactful conversations that enable leaders to make some positive changes within their organisations. She focuses on increasing connectedness and impact as well as successfully navigating change. Her work experience ranges from managing complex international projects and programs through to managing culture and change processes and has intimate knowledge of starting up as well as integrating businesses. She has almost 20 years of international business experience and is working together with MDI Management Development International for about 4 years already.

From the individual challenge to a transformational coaching

 

Like almost every business sector, the coaching industry is undergoing major changes as well. The challenges are changing and so must the solutions, we offer as coaches. Many things have changed since I started working as a coach.

In the past, I worked a lot with individuals and their specific challenges. In a coaching session, we focused on current leadership topics and talked about them. Nowadays, we not only work on the challenges from one person but of the whole system the person is connected with. Instead of solving one specific problem or improve specific competencies, I am rather confronted with a complex system of connections, relevant stakeholders, different interests and structures. As a coach, you have to think beyond the individual. You have to think systematically. This skill was not that relevant in the past.

Generally speaking, coaching is changing towards a partnership approach, such as many other business fields as well. The key is that the coach and coachee really work together as a team. As a coach, you must be able to understand the person as an individual but at the same time as a part of a company and society. During a coaching session, you must permanently switch between these two roles. You can’t ask your coachee to tell you the topic you’re working on today. One could simply say: the individuality has increased massively in recent years when it comes to coaching.

But coaching is not only about strong individuality and a partnership approach. It is about changing things. A coaching should not only transform the coachee but as well the economic environment. Coaching is more than just working on the coachee’s skills.

And: as coaches, we must be faster, more agile and we must adapt our methods to the challenges and needs of our time. So far, as coaches, we have worked a lot with 360° feedback and various analyses. This is actually not so effective because you’re looking into the past with those tools instead of working into the future.

Transformational coaching

As a coach, you have to be much more agile these days to look into the future and not the past

Responsibilities as a Coach – Living a partnership approach

 

The partnership approach, we’ve been talking about earlier, involves certain responsibilities. The times where you went to a coach and spent one hour with him/her are over. As part of this partnership approach, you as a coach have to support your coachee as good as possible, also beyond the coaching session. In my opinion and regarding leadership development, this sentence applies more than ever “The heroic CEO is dead, long live the leadership team”. This is the reality and the reason why my work as a coach has changed. I still have coaching sessions with individuals, with senior leaders, but I work much more with teams and groups of people than a few years ago. Individual coachings are more an additional measure from time to time. This development is exciting and challenging at the same time. You cannot coach someone for a few hours, get paid for it and you’re done. But you can achieve a completely different impact and experience successes together with the individuals and with teams. This change is taking place throughout the whole training and development industry. In most companies, more than 50% of the employees are millennials by now. They have different needs and a much more personalized and individual working approach. In my opinion, the time of training programs, as we know and realize them today, will be over soon.

Excursus: Artificial Intelligence in Coaching

 

The Singularity University has built a new app that makes diagnoses, highly complex diagnoses and sometimes even better than most doctors. Some people may start asking themselves: why should I still go to a doctor? Tomorrow we may be sitting at home, uploading our data via a chip and someone will tell us what to do. In my opinion, this will be the reality in less than 20 years.

AI also affects the coaching industry. If you ask Alexa or Siri “How should I deal with my conflicts?” they will have a lot to say. One effect: you no longer have to tell your coachee all the basics because they can find them on the internet. Another effect: many average coaches will probably lose their jobs because they have been replaced by Artificial Intelligence.

What moves executives today

 

Nowadays, we have this interesting phenomenon that children learn a lot in school they don’t need later in life. Meanwhile, other skills remain on track. For example, the ability to quickly work together with people you’ve never worked with before – beyond nationalities. That’s a skill you cannot cover or replace by the internet or AI – unless we will all be robots at some point. This is a key challenge for today’s leaders. Everything has to be fast, you face a new situation with new teams and stakeholders and you do not even have 6 months to incorporate. You immediately have to get used to the new situation. In this case, we as coaches, can support them with questions such as “Who am I?”, “How do I affect people?”, “What kind of impact can I have?”

Transformational coaching - Interpersonal level

We learn so many things in school, but one of the most important things we don’t – for instance, the ability to work together with different people from different countries.

Nevertheless, the interpersonal relationship is still the focus of the coaching – in all possible forms. Of course, that has a lot to do with communication, whose challenge has increased with the complex systems, we live and work in. People no longer work alone, isolated in their personal “silos”. There is always a connection with partners, not only within the company but also on the outside. This is the reason why everything about cooperation is one of the most important topics during coaching.

Equal to the interpersonal challenges is the time, we currently live in, and all the challenges it brings. Complexity, overextension, the flood of information, aggressive competition, and constant disruption are just a few keywords. So many things are happening at once nowadays. As a leader, you must make sure that your business is running. At the same time, you must be aware of the changes which might come. The speed of change is enormous. Not too long ago, people were starting to talk about VUCA – now it’s here!

When working on a senior level, the question of meaning is central and more present than ever. People are wondering and asking themselves if their work really adds value to the world. “If my life comes to an end, will I be satisfied with what I did in my life?”

 

Coaching in times of disruption – a conclusion

 

We all come from areas where it is said over and over again “This is the agenda.” Based on this agenda, things get told, questions asked and on certain actions will be agreed on. But we all know that many of these actions are never put into practice – whether in a meeting or a leadership program. Now, when we think about what makes coaching meaningful and successful, it’s the following: the moment you take part in coaching, something must happen. We must change our mindset from “I am asking a few questions” to “I am doing interventions right now!” Such an intervention does not have to be big, it can be – for instance – just a sentence that triggers something in the coachee. What’s important is that something is happening and that you try to make a difference in this exact moment.

As long as this happens, as long as coaching creates impact, it will persist – still in times of AI – but at a different level with higher quality.

Dear Inge, where do you see the purpose of your work?

 

Firstly my work is enormously exciting and complex and consistently an adventure. Methodological I always start to work with the principle “We start with the end in mind”. This means that I always try to find out where we have to go. Actually, we never know where the journey of development will bring us and what will happen. That all happens unbelievably fast and this is what fascinates me. I like the complexity and I like working intensively, starting the journey anywhere and find out what it needs to support a person, a team or a company on their way. Most important for me is knowing to have an impact on people and the organization I work with and to make some change. Especially when I think of my kids and their kids. Primarily, I work in the organization sector, in government as well as in non-government and I would like to leave not just chaos for the next generation. I am trying to support the people as good as I can so that they can advance the organization in their way. Therefore, we are all helping to create a better world.

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