• Hermen Lutje Berenbroek

How to improve collaboration during online meetings


With back-to-back online video calls collaborating may feel time-consuming and less productive than before. Many are trying to adapt and manage the present during the many time-pressured one-hour meetings. Current goals are questioned, while we are on the lookout not to miss any new threats or opportunities. Throughout this post, we'll explore three common meeting pitfalls and how to overcome them with specific tools and techniques to collaborate better.


Common Pitfalls to Collaboration


Rabbit hole conversations

Managing uncertainty without tools and techniques can be challenging. We run meetings to ideate and suggest ideas, and then kill them before even exploring them. Discussions can run suddenly and intensely in too many directions. When we climb back out of the rabbit hole, we realize we have just burned another hour without making any progress. Or worse, we have confused ourselves further before we join the next meeting.


Untapped potential



The second pitfall is overlooking the value of our diverse skills, experience, and personalities. Solving complex challenges requires drawing on a wide range of knowledge and expertise. Any person rarely has all the answers, and it can also be rare for "experts" to have new ideas. During online meetings, disengagement is a common risk. By not engaging a team's depth effectively, the full range of possible solutions is left unheard and unexplored. Said another way, the (virtual) room can be smarter than any one person in it.


Idea avalanches



The third risk is to generate more ideas than we can actually explore and make decisions about. We flood more and more suggestions onto the table, and then we feel overwhelmed by the mix of ideas. The result is good ideas go unconsidered, leaving people feeling disheartened and no further along in reaching a solution. 


Preparing for better collaboration


When we explore goals that are complex, ambiguous, and not clear yet, we need a point of reference to be able to set a course into the unknown. Separating the information we know from the areas we want to explore helps us create a shared understanding of the current situation, it's challenges, and possible opportunities. Understanding your current state enables you to define an objective. It is helpful if you make the aspiration as tangible as you can. Perhaps you want to create a project plan, or simply develop a list of steps? Be open to your objectives changing during the exploration! 



Now you know where you are, you can set a course forward. Structure this path in three phases: opening, exploring, and closing. This structure provides you the control you need to work towards your objective during your team meetings. Rabbit hole conversations and idea avalanches no longer stand a chance!


1.) Open

Create as many ideas as possible during the first phase. Don't be critical at this stage, get the opinions flowing! You want the broadest possible spread of perspectives on your challenge. Make sure everyone understands that this phase is about creating thoughts and not about their assessment. (Tip: ask participants to prepare a list of ideas before your meeting, so you can use the actual meeting time more effectively). Embrace diversity and create a safe environment where different personalities can contribute and build further on each other's ideas. Here you lay the foundation for implementation by involving the entire team in shaping the solution. People who contribute to solutions will most likely feel engaged and support further development.  


2.) Explore



Now that you have a broad spectrum of solutions, it is time to critically assess all opinions. Identify all stakeholders involved to ensure solutions meet the needs of people and society. Determine the criteria that the desired solutions must comply with your team. Evaluate and rank your ideas based on these criteria. Compare answers and research emerging patterns.




3.) Close



All plans must be evaluated and closed before we end the meeting. Closing can be as simple as making a decision about whether a specific idea is feasible or not. Select the most promising solutions and connect them to the objective of your meeting. Make sure that outcomes and follow-up steps are action-oriented so that everyone in your team can get started. At this stage, you set a new objective for the next meeting. This way, you can navigate step by step efficiently to the future.


Note: this article is based on many ideas from the book Gamestorming by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown, and James Macanufo. If you like the article, I'd recommend reading the book!


More information on gamestorming:

http://gamestorming.com/

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