Within the past decade, coaches and group or meeting facilitators have been engaged with increasing frequency in virtual environments — usually telephone or videoconferences. For groups, remote facilitation — when identified as such — is usually synchronous. That is, it occurs in real time over the telephone or a video link.
By contrast, asynchronous facilitation has been widespread for several decades. In the context of email distribution lists, we call it "moderating," though facilitation is now also emerging in chat and wiki contexts. Remote facilitation in asynchronous contexts will be a topic for another time. For now, let's consider synchronous contexts: the telephone and videoconference.
Remote facilitation (or distance facilitation) of synchronous groups requires a skill set that overlaps, but is distinct from, the skill set of a face-to-face (F2F) facilitator. The differences vary with the process the group is using, but here are some of the differences for general discussions. Let's begin with issues that arise before the meeting begins.
- Meeting geometry
- In face-to-face meetings, everyone is in the same room. The ability to participate is fairly uniform across the attendees. In virtual meetings, some might be "phoned in" while others are face-to-face. There might be several meeting sites conferenced together, or everyone might have called in to a bridge line. Geometries in which everyone has roughly equal access to the facilitator are symmetric; the others are asymmetric.
- Managing asymmetry requires special skill. Less effective access to the flow of the meeting tends to hinder contribution and enhance the temptation of distractions. The facilitator of an asymmetric meeting can take two actions to mitigate these risks. First, educate all attendees about the issue and ask for proactive cooperation of geometrically advantaged attendees to reduce the effect of meeting asymmetry by listening for attempts to participate, leaving space for those with less access, and even asking for their opinions and perspectives directly. Second, the facilitator can make a special effort to check in with the geometrically disadvantaged.
- Materials distribution
- Less effective access
to the flow of the meeting
tends to hinder contribution
and enhance the temptation
of distractionsIn the F2F context, materials distribution is relatively simple. In the distributed context, network interruptions, security concerns, time zone disparities, priority differentials and uncontrolled distractions all conspire to create a need to distribute materials much sooner than we would in the F2F context.
- Make sure that materials are distributed early enough for your particular environment. Require acknowledgment of receipt. If materials don't arrive in time, or if you don't receive an acknowledgment, be prepared to cancel the meeting. If the materials don't arrive, or the acknowledgments don't arrive, and if you're reluctant to cancel the meeting, then ask yourself: (1) Were those materials really necessary? or (2) Were those attendees really necessary? If the answers are in the affirmative, a postponement is probably the right choice.
For suggestions for facilitating highly charged distributed meetings, see "Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: II," Point Lookout for April 2, 2008. For suggestions for making remote facilitation easier using protocols defined for everyone in advance, see "Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: III," Point Lookout for April 9, 2008.
Is your organization a participant in one or more global teams? Are you the owner/sponsor of a global team? Are you managing a global team? Is everything going well, or at least as well as any project goes? Probably not. Many of the troubles people encounter are traceable to the obstacles global teams face when building working professional relationships from afar. Read 303 Tips for Virtual and Global Teams to learn how to make your global and distributed teams sing. Order Now!
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenzPCJJokjBrApiWhKner@ChacXcCfETghvzJMGwhFoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Keep a Not-To-Do List
- Unless you execute all your action items immediately, they probably end up on your To-Do list. Since
they're a source of stress, you'll feel better if you can find a way to avoid acquiring them. Having
a Not-To-Do list reminds you that some things are really not your problem.
- Smart Bookshelves
- If you like to browse in bookstores, you probably know the thrill of new ideas and new perspectives.
When I find a book worth reading, I want to own it, and that's how it gets to my shelf. Here are some
tips to help you read more of what you really want to read.
- Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: II
- Facilitators of synchronous distributed meetings — meetings that occur in real time, via telephone
or video — encounter problems that facilitators of face-to-face meetings do not. Here's Part II
of a little catalog of those problems, and some suggestions for addressing them.
- I've Been Right All Along
- As people, we're very good at forming and holding beliefs and opinions despite nagging doubts. These
doubts lead us to search for confirmation of our beliefs, and to reject information that might conflict
with our beliefs. Often, this process causes us to persist in believing nonsense. How can we tell when
this is happening?
- Irrational Deadlines
- Some deadlines are so unrealistic that from the outset we know we'll never meet them. Yet we keep setting
(and accepting) irrational deadlines. Why does this happen?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 25: Workplace Memes
- Some patterns of workplace society reduce organizational effectiveness in ways that often escape our notice. Here are five examples. Available here and by RSS on October 25.
- And on November 1: Risk Creep: I
- Risk creep is a term that describes the insidious and unrecognized increase in risk that occurs despite our every effort to mitigate risk or avoid it altogether. What are the dominant sources of risk creep? Available here and by RSS on November 1.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenTxaQfEHPobkvULkKner@ChackHJnZNMmQNlXFOkioCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, USD 28.99)
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- Ten Project Management Fallacies: The Power of Avoiding Hazards
- Most of what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We'll explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:
- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.