3 Leadership Skills for Effective Team Meetings over Skype, Google Hangouts, Slack and other Virtual Tools

Even the best managers should take the time to learn new leadership skills for effective team meetings in virtual settings

As more companies go with a remote worker model, even the best managers are finding it critical to adapt their skills. Leading a remote team has its special set of challenges. And near the top of that list is understanding the differences between leading a traditional meeting in a conference room and leading one remotely.

Lee E. Miller, influencing trainer and author of UP: Influence, Power and the U Perspective: The Art of Getting What You Want, explains the problem: “The rules are different because people respond differently when they are interacting virtually.”

The good news is that learning new leadership skills for effective team meetings with your remote team isn’t that difficult. Take it one step at a time, follow these few golden rules and allow yourself to see your job in a new light. This will relieve stress not only for you as a leader, but for your team.

3 Essential leadership skills for effective team meetings

Golden Rule #1: Choose your technology carefully

There are many tools available for hosting virtual meetings. Skype allows everyone to actually see and speak to a live person; GoToMeeting and WebEx allow attendees to share their computer screens; and tools such as Google Hangout and Slack require typed input from anyone attending the meeting. Meetings intended to be regular team updates, or brainstorming sessions, are particularly well-suited to typed input, while giving presentations requires something like Skype, WebEx or GoToMeeting.

“The first thing we do before deciding what technologies and software will be needed is to decide who the participating audience is and what information is being shared,” says Drew Bowers, a research psychologist in the University of Dayton Research Institute’s Human Factors Group. “We have found that it’s best for presenters to either design their data or presentation according to the environment they will be presenting in, or to choose the best environment to represent the data they have.”

In addition, experts advise that you limit the technology to exactly what you need. Extra bells and whistles can be fun, but also distracting or confusing to meeting participants.

Golden Rule #2: Engage in extreme preparation

Leadership skills for effective team meetings have always included careful preparation, but there are special details to consider when you plan a remote meeting. First, keep the attendance list tightly focused: Too many people at your remote meeting not only make it hard to manage, but also encourages boredom and frustration in attendees who are sitting silently at their computers.

It’s also helpful to take time zones into consideration, and limit participation to people who won’t have to get up in the middle of the night.

Along with attendance, keep your agenda tightly focused on one or two topics. “If you must cover more items, then give people time to stretch, take a bathroom break, or replenish their coffee,” says Rick Maurer, author of Beyond the Wall of Resistance and Why Don’t You Want What I Want? “Keep each segment of the meeting short – no longer than 30 minutes.”

It’s critical to send log-in information at least a day in advance, ask your team to log in early to check connectivity, and give everyone a way to reach you in case of technical problems. Send your agenda, as well, to allow everyone to ask questions or comment before the meeting. This not only saves time, but also helps everyone understand who’s responsible for speaking on a given topic – an important consideration when you’re dealing with many people who could otherwise engage in awkward silences – or start talking over each other.

It also encourages attendees to come to the meeting with ideas already in hand, instead of spending precious time at the meeting coming up with those ideas.

Most importantly, as the leader, you must keep your eye on that agenda – which, again, is easier to do if it’s limited to a few topics – so you can recognize discussion rabbit holes when they pop up, and rein in participants before things get too far off topic.

Golden Rule #3: Encourage participation and engagement

It’s not always easy to get everyone involved with remote meetings when everyone is sitting in a different room and is afraid that if they speak up, they’ll talk over someone. And it’s all too easy for participants to turn to other tasks on their computers and zone out.

That’s why it’s important to identify yourself and everyone else at the meeting, whether it’s a verbal or typed event. This keeps remote attendees from losing the thread of the meeting and letting their attention wander.

Be sure to assign meeting follow-up action items to specific individuals. Not only does this encourage attendees you can’t see to not let their minds wander, it also falls under the highly effective Directly Responsible Individual (DRI) management technique made famous by Apple Corp. The buck stops with that person, and it’s up to that person to get it done or find the resources to get it done – there’s no ambiguity, no matter how far-flung your team members are.

Make a point to give each person some air time when you need feedback or questions answered. Don’t ask a question without directly addressing a specific person. Otherwise, you’ll wind up with no one talking, followed by too many people talking.

A trick for keeping people engaged in typed-input meetings is to ask questions of the group, or launch a poll. Everyone has to comment, and because they’re typing, there’s no chaos of every voice chiming in at once.

And remember, you can still leverage your traditional leadership skills for effective team meetings by taking the time to break the ice at the beginning, even remotely. Go around the virtual room and ask everyone to introduce themselves. Adding social elements to any meeting can help things run smoothly.

By following these golden rules, you can enhance your leadership skills for effective team meetings to include remote meetings as well as face-to-face ones, and that’s a plus for not only your team, but for you and your career. Best of all, the new skills you need to master are taught online, at your convenience, in our Virtual Leader Membership program.

Photo by Hermes Rivera