Setting the Tone: Team Culture in Virtual Meetings

I think it’s fair to say that months ago, or even weeks ago, none of us thought we’d “be here”… Sometimes change happens incrementally over time or with specific intention. Sometimes it happens all at once. Change that is thrust upon us can create panic. Change we initiate can be deeply positive and renewing. The sudden season we are living through has inherent anxiety, “social distance”, and for all of us – a huge interruption of “normal” patterns, resources and comforts.

Now that many of us are working at home with kids out of school and an active global pandemic disrupting our lives in unprecedented ways, we are in a moment that requires vigilance, attention and much more energy in almost every aspect of daily life. In our work – industriousness, flexibility and care will be required on levels we never imagined… how do we navigate it all?

I agree with NICK MARTIN in his article Against Productivity in a Pandemic (March 17th, 2020) that this is a time to sustain, to find ease where we can – not to push ourselves to be massively productive.

With that in mind, we are in the beginning of the ultimate systems disruption/ transformation of our lifetime. When our patterns are interrupted, we pay attention differently. We have a chance to see with new eyes, hear with new ears and act in new ways. We are in a unique window of time in which we can set a new “tone” of what “normal” will look like over the coming weeks or months. How do we base our new normal on what we value?

As my friend Vanessa LeBordais wondered on the phone yesterday: “How do we stay human together?” What does that look like for you, your team, your organization? What does “in-person” mean now that it’s a collection of Brady Bunch videos on a screen with you doing your best to focus and “work together”, at home?

Internally facilitated meetings have certain “norms” – a certain kind of culture depending on how things “normally go”. Externally facilitated meetings are an interruption to the usual day to day work habits that inevitably set in around the office. Special meetings take place off-site – an invitation to arrive somewhere else, to be present and participate in meaningful conversations, build trust and make decisions with folks in new ways. You get to know each other outside our sometimes cruise-control familiar reality.

This is a prolonged kind of interruption – the move to all-virtual meetings.

Below are some lessons to support you as you “set the new tone” with your team – drawing on the best of in-person meetings I lead, and translating them into markers for how leaders and participants on Zoom calls can create healthy culture together.

  1. Form new “keystone habits” with your team that put human connection at the start of your meeting so you can know how your people are doing. Help them “arrive”. What is top of mind for them beyond the topics you’re meeting to discuss? This doesn’t have to be a group therapy session – simply a touch-base check in. You could share first to model what you’re inviting in – just a few sentences about reality – whatever you feel willing to share based on the level of trust on your team.
  2. Prioritize wellbeing on your team. Invite team members to share what’s helping them get through this time – walks or activities outside, mindfulness, meditative or breathing practices, calls/FaceTime with friends and family, helping neighbours etc. We all need help remembering creative ways to be well when we are told to “stay home”. This could be a good way to close a meeting on an uplifting note.
  3. Be clear about the purpose and outcome(s) of your meeting. Being on camera is exhausting in a unique way for many of us (myself included), even if it’s with your co-workers – and having your cameras pointing (now) inside people’s homes creates a new lack of boundaries in real-time. Be clear about what you’re meeting to do, what outcomes will result and stick to the time you set. Ensure you (all) have a clear sense of action items and responsibilities coming out of the meeting.
  4. Pay very special (new) attention to participation and privilege. Some folks are talkers – some are listeners. Some of us have power/privilege that will show up on Zoom in new ways. We all need to attend in a new way. If you are the one leading the meeting – track carefully how much time participants are using and the energy of the group. Invite your team to be extra aware of their impact on each other in this newly vulnerable space. We are all in added levels of exposure and stress right now and we all need care and compassion. We don’t know what our co-workers and families are dealing with outside “the office” that’s now in their living room, bedroom, kitchen etc. Err on the side of respect, humility and kindness.
  5. Have a conversation with your team about what they value in the time you spend together. How each of them perceive meeting time being well-spent is valuable information. We have ALL heard folks say “we have too many meetings”. If you can have fewer meetings – have fewer meetings!
  6. Include others in leadership – don’t try to do it all on your own. When you as a leader need to participate differently in the conversation, delegate or hire an outside facilitator (Ahem). Give yourself the chance to be a part of the conversation, rather than always leading. Taking turns facilitating gives your team a chance to “step up” and gain valuable new skills.
  7. Make the meeting visual in new and exciting ways. If hiring an external facilitator, you also have the option to hire a digital graphic recorder as well – screens can be shared and the meeting can take on an added creative dimension. Your team comes away with a dynamic beautiful artifact to anchor memory and actions and catch up team members who may have missed the meeting.

I’m including graphics (below) from my favourite digital recording collaborators. Each of these women are highly skilled, reliable professionals, who will add significant value in real-time and after your meeting ends.

Corrina Keeling is unparalleled in her online experience and artistry, providing sensitivity and highly tuned listening and documentation.

Yolanda Liman brings a world of experience, depth and skill as well – and is available for dynamic facilitation services in addition to digital graphic recording.

Avril Orloff and I have been collaborating and teaching together for years – she got me started 12 years ago! She is among the best graphic recorders in the world (IMHO) and is also a high octane creative design partner, co-facilitator and facilitator in her own right.

Check them out when you’re thinking about your next meeting!

Hang in there, everyone. We are all in this together!! If you’d like to have a conversation with Stina about what an external facilitator can do for you and your team in this new reality, she can be contacted by emailing Stina at stinabrown dot com. Stay home and well.