While the COVID-19 pandemic has put a halt to our preferred, in-person interactions, the world continues to spin. As community leaders, we still have to confront and address challenges across a range of issues—and the challenges are more urgent and consequential than ever. The good news is that the virtual tools (Microsoft Teams, Zoom, and the like) that are enabling business and social continuity can also support group facilitation and problem solving.
Here’s a look at how our team is effectively applying our proven group facilitation methodologies into the virtual realm.
The Stratiscope approach to virtual group facilitation
1. Design for success.
Designing for engagement is the key to the success in remote facilitation. The principles that enable, enhance, and reward engagement underlie the facilitation methods and meeting agenda we employ.
For example, we work with our clients to make sure they have clear outcomes from the online facilitation. We design a program to match that vision and then we iterate again with the client, incorporating input from participants. This iterative design process is the same we’d use offline, but it’s even more important, powerful, and necessary when the facilitation is virtual.
2. Maximize the “venue.”
It’s been well demonstrated that virtual meeting environments can successfully support discovery, collaboration, and decision-making in both group and break-out sessions. Remote workshop facilitation is an ideal distributed environment because the “venue” maximizes productive engagement while providing each participant with full access to his or her own resources.
The challenge is keeping the focus on the work at hand and not letting participants be distracted by their resources of email, the internet, and worse: social media! Keeping discussions short and varied on the platform is essential to keeping attention.
(Added bonus: A virtual workshop reduces the stress of commuting and allows for brief interruptions for necessary duties or inquiries their organizations require.)
3. Plan around engagement.
Further, virtual platforms are not just merely digital meeting rooms. Managing technology and personal preferences and instilling engagement and true participation require protocols that recognize the deficit of remote conversation.
This important difference hones a new set of skills that amplify empathy and compassionate listening and other valuable interpersonal skills. You have to “read” people’s eyes and head position as the only body language that indicates their level of engagement, interest, and comprehension.
Critical micro-expressions are less visible on a video call, and those cues are essential for the facilitator to move the group and conversation forward. The facilitator must work overtime to ensure they are using every cue possible to them to replace (but not replicate) off-line, in-person engagement.
An unexpected upside of remote meetings is that they provide an equality of contribution, as “turn-taking” is easier to manage. Thus, the goals of inclusiveness are more easily reached. (Compare with the “loudest voice wins” environment often found in physical meetings.)
You still have critical work to do. Can we help you get it done?
In-person, indoor, off-site meetings are likely off the table for the near future. That needn’t stop you from convening the necessary people to advance your goals.
If your organization needs to convene stakeholders, SMEs, or executives, please reach out to discuss how we can customize a facilitation for you.