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Hybrid Meetings: 8 Steps to Success

| June 1, 2021

by David Sweetman

Hybrid Meetings: 8 Steps to Success

[Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Rachel Napoli, Chief of Staff in the Office of the CIO at the University of Iowa.  She is a MOR alum.  Rachel may be reached at [email protected].]
Our future workforce will be a mix of co-located and remote workers. If meetings are hybrid, with some participants co-located and others remote, how will we, as leaders, ensure a worthwhile and inclusive experience for all?  Here are eight ways to set yourself up for success leading hybrid meetings.

1. Know your purpose. Why meet? What outcomes are you looking to achieve? Generate new ideas? Solve a problem? Create an action plan? Make a decision? Build trust? Once you are clear about purpose, ask yourself if the outcomes can be achieved by working asynchronously. If so, give people the time back and don’t meet.

2. Invite with intention. Who should be included? Running a meeting both in person and online enables you to transcend the physical barrier of how many chairs can fit in a physical space, but think carefully before you expand. Consider who helps fulfill the meeting’s purpose? Who threatens the purpose? How will expanding the number of participants impact the flow of interactions?

3. Look at the workflow holistically. How does this synchronous activity (the meeting) connect with asynchronous activities in the overall workflow? How is meeting content shared with participants, and are you using appropriate collaboration tools to enable participant interaction with the content before, during and after the meeting?

Informal conversations, such as the ‘meeting after the meeting’, can quickly create a gap between co-located and remote participants. How will the outcomes from informal conversations feed back into the workflow so this information is accessible to all? Documenting this type of interaction may not come naturally in cultures that have relied on in-person communication, but not doing so creates a barrier to inclusivity.

4. Set expectations. Ask all co-located participants to bring a device so they can contribute to shared documents and virtual whiteboards.  Consider having co-located participants sign into the zoom meeting, with camera on so everyone can see each other individually. Use audio in the conference room to avoid feedback.

Be explicit with participants about their role in ensuring an effective, inclusive meeting. Many unspoken rules are made and reinforced when people come together, and the norms associated with meetings permeate organizational culture. Shifting from all remote to hybrid creates a natural interruption in these norms and provides a great opportunity for reconsidering the rules of engagement and getting everyone on the same page. You might set the expectation that participants should raise a hand when they want to speak, or when there’s a need to hear from everyone, the remote participants go first, for example.

5. Consider how much facilitation and production help you need. To facilitate – or to ‘make easy’ – means your work as leader should be invisible to participants.  Facilitating hybrid meetings takes more effort than either in person or remote. Think of hybrid as three meetings in one: the in-person meeting, the remote meeting and the bridge between the two. Making these seamless and integrated is the art of both facilitation, and production – the fluent management of both meeting content and technology platform(s). A meeting you facilitated solo either in person or virtually may require involving more people in facilitation and production, especially if you are looking to maximize participant interaction. Consider doing a dry run or creating a production cheat sheet if you have others helping.

6. Use interactive techniques and tools.  If it’s important to hear from everyone, plan how to accomplish that. Use polls to involve everyone quickly, ask all participants to respond to a low-risk question in chat or have them provide input on a shared document. Use in person and online breakouts to keep the pace up and give everyone a chance to contribute.

Spontaneity feels different in meetings with both co-located and remote participants. Grabbing a marker and drawing on a physical whiteboard, flipchart or post-it notes excludes remote participants. Consider using a virtual whiteboard and have both co-located and remote participants add content on their own device. Experiment with new tools.

Choose a space for co-located participants that has the right technology, including audio & video capability, to enable full and equitable participation for all.

7. Evaluate, learn and adjust. During meetings, keep track of who is participating and who isn’t, who is interrupting or dominating, and who is actively bringing others into the conversation. Compare engagement between co-located and remote participants. Evaluate both the achievement of meeting outcomes, and the participant experience. Building in time for pluses and deltas at the end of each meeting is one way to do this. Adjust your next meeting accordingly.

8. Learn from each other. Leading hybrid meetings effectively will take practice.  If it’s worth bringing a group together, it’s worth planning and facilitating effectively to make the best possible use of participants’ time.  Some have been leading hybrid gatherings effectively for a while – including our faculty. What can we learn from them?

If you’re learning the art of leading hybrid meetings, let’s connect and we can learn from each other.

References: The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters, Priya Parker, 2018