Here’s a sad fact that I see confirmed in my work with global leadership teams. Not everyone is contributing their best ideas and feedback in meetings – even the people with the most knowledge or innovative ideas. In a recent survey cited in Harvard Business Review, even though participants may feel they have an important contribution to make, only 35% felt they could do so routinely. It’s even worse for virtual teams.
I recently coached a virtual team whose sole purpose is to identify innovations to grow the business. The participants come from India, Europe, and the U.S. During this meeting, the leaders of the team, several who were co-located, charged ahead with brainstorming. While they animatedly bandied about ideas, several virtual members were silent. Even when I knew they were the experts on a topic, they weren't making their voice heard.
Why aren’t they speaking up if they have a great idea? Let’s take a look at what happened when they did offer input. They were frequently talked over or interrupted. Once they got a chance to fully give their input, their ideas radically changed the direction of the project they were working on – for the better.
Our virtual meetings may be moving projects and plans forward, but are we getting the best ideas to meet our desired business outcomes? Your business depends on changing this dynamic. Here are three common sense actions to improve your virtual meeting results now.
1. Give team members processing time.
Make sure you give everyone time to come prepared. If you know you have some deep thinkers in your group, who ponder the data before offering ideas, send the meeting purpose, relevant data, questions to consider, and desired outcome to them early. This is crucial for virtual team members who may have information delays due to time zone or language challenges.
During your meeting: Direct questions to individuals to draw out their thinking. This is a must if they are remote from other meeting participants.
2. Don’t leave anyone out.
A common challenge is having a mix of in-person and remote participants in a single meeting. Co-located attendees tend to take the lead and forget about their virtual team members. If those remote team members are more introverted, are women (sad to say, evidence confirms), or have language challenges, their input can be overlooked.
During your meeting: At evoke virtual, we feel strongly that you need to visualize everyone seated in the same room with you. Make certain you check in regularly with your remote attendees. Use everyone’s names and have a list of everyone in the meeting in front of you. As above, direct questions and/or go to everyone and get their feedback.
3. Stop the steamrollers.
One of the big challenges in virtual meetings is talking over or interrupting one another. The situation is even tougher for women and introverts. Evidence clearly shows that interrupting is a measurable behavior that impacts this demographic. You’ve got to put the brakes on the talkers and get them to listen.
During your meeting: Set ground rules for behavior right up front. Stop the interrupters and make sure the speaker finishes their thought. Implement virtual best practices like muting phones and no table talk in the in-person group when remote colleagues are speaking. Be aware of how culture can impact someone’s approach to contribution.