How to run a virtual team status meeting well?24 May 2022
Is your immediate answer to the title's question something like: "it's nothing hard, just jump on a video conference call and get the participants to say what they're doing!" ? If so, we'd guess you either don't run such meetings too often or have an extra powerful hold over your team members, one demanding absolute discipline without having to say a word.
It's common for team members to bog down in the details on unimportant matters, stray off the path of their status into unrelated problems and ideas, and finally, raise personal issues. That is almost sure to happen if your team used to be close and lacks direct contact since being moved to mostly remove work. It's all understandable, and no one should deny people their freedom of expression. But the point is that a status meeting should be short and factual, ideally - a few minutes per person. So, how to keep the conference short and have it cover the points of interest of both the manager and team members?
Have a standard, strict and short list of talking points and questions for others. The most common and easiest ones will be: what have you been doing since we last talked, and do you need any help?
Organize a common visual focal point
Have a visual anchor to the conversation, i.e., a task board to which all members have access. Using a shared tool will help you overcome the feeling of detachment between people since they can all look at and interact with the same task board and see each other's changes in real time.
Expect as full a presence as possible
Demand all members to enable both camera and mic to drive engagement and listening. It's easier for people to engage when they can see each other while being able to speak is a must. No one likes silent eavesdroppers sitting idly in the background.
Make it a stand-up meeting!
Instead of the standard status meetings, consider experimenting with holding virtual stand-ups. The main advantage of stand-ups over status meetings is the quickly approaching fatigue of having to stand. It can be a very high motivator of keeping one's status description short and of nudging others to be quick. Give it a try! While it probably won't work if your meeting takes place less often than once a week, for week-to-week status meetings, it can be a great time-saver.
The fewer participants, the better
Always limit the number of people that need to attend to the necessary ones. And, if you're planning to hold a meeting with over 15 participants, make it as short as possible since the likelihood of keeping everyone's attention is very low.
Divide talking time equally
It will be crucial to keep tabs on "big personalities" monopolizing the meeting. It's natural for some people to feel like they have more to say than others. But if it's a team status meeting, each member should get more-less the same amount of time to speak, and it's the host's responsibility to ensure that.
Make it interesting
Consider adding a fun ritual to the meetings to let people have something cool to look forward to. An example might be getting the team to take turns in telling funny/scary or otherwise engaging anecdotes, or in introducing their pets or kids, or perhaps saying what's happening in their area, providing that the team distributes, location-wise. You can also run long-term assignments, like editing a random team member's photo or doing Secret Santa year-round.
Take special care of the newest team additions
Because they don't know the rest of the pack too well, remote meetings may be most stressful for them. Try to help them feel more like a part of the team, and don't forget to ask for their opinions or ideas. Although it may go against the general rule of keeping things short, it will go a long way to help them get connected with the rest of the team.
Note down what's been decided
If, during the meeting, you'll not only sum up the status but also make decisions for the next week, make sure someone takes notes. The simplest way to do it is to add new task cards to your shared board. That way, you'll later be able to check if things got done as was discussed, or not.
Adopting some or all of the above ideas stand a high chance of making your team status meetings more efficient, shorter, and - possibly - fun. Try them out!
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