When we conduct synchronous (live) virtual meetings, we use technologies like speakerphones, bridge lines, desktop cameras, and videoconference rooms. We enhance immediacy by transmitting voices or video to all attendees. But technology isn't free, and it's far short of real life. To compromise, we sometimes gather in small clusters, and connect the clusters together. For example, three people at one site might connect via one camera or speakerphone to small groups at other sites seated in front of similar cameras or speakerphones. Or four people gather around a speakerphone, while a fifth calls in from a distant site.
Such geometries are asymmetric — attendees have unequal access to the shared environment. Symmetric geometries, such as bridge lines or at-your-desk video equipment, grant to all attendees (except perhaps the Chair or facilitator) equal access to the shared environment.
Equal Access to the Shared Environment (EASE) offers advantages over Unequal Access to the Shared Environment (UNEASE). Some examples:
- Technological uniformity
- In EASE meetings, because all participants have equal access, we need to distribute only one set of connection instructions to attendees. This simplifies the instructions, testing, and tech support. Moreover, in UNEASE meetings, variability in connection quality between the attendee and the shared environment can place some people at a disadvantage, if they're more difficult to understand or if their connections break frequently. In EASE meetings, any non-uniformity of the individual connections is due to the attendee's method of connecting to the shared environment, rather than to the way the shared environment provides connection service.
- Self-facilitation for small meetings
- EASE Equal Access to the Shared
Environment (EASE) offers
advantages over Unequal
Access to the Shared
Environment (UNEASE)makes small meetings more like ordinary conversations. Attendees often self-facilitate. Small EASE meetings are less formal, ideas flow more freely, and people get more done with less frustration.
- Easier facilitation for larger meetings
- Facilitating a large UNEASE meeting is, um, not easy. Special skills and attention are required (see "Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: I," Point Lookout for March 26, 2008). By contrast, facilitating an EASE meeting is much more straightforward, because it's more like facilitating a face-to-face meeting.
- Simpler conflict management
- Managing conflict entails either keeping constructive conflict constructive or making destructive conflict less destructive, or sometimes both. It's never simple. In EASE meetings, conflict management is simpler than in UNEASE meetings, because of reduced complications arising from the misunderstandings, frustrations, and misrepresentations that are associated with unequal access to the shared environment.
- More balance in contributions
- In any meeting, some individuals might dominate the give-and-take. Dominance by a few is more likely in UNEASE meetings, because some people have better access to the "virtual floor." If those people happen to be among those who tend to dominate any meeting, controlling them is especially difficult. In EASE meetings, where everyone has equal capability to gain the virtual floor, controlling the dominators is no more difficult than it would be in face-to-face meetings.
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More articles on Effective Meetings:
- How to Eliminate Meetings
- Reducing the length and frequency of meetings is the holy grail of organizational science. I've attended
many meetings on this topic, most of which have come to naught. Here are some radical ideas that could
change our lives.
- Misleading Vividness
- Group decision-making usually entails discussion. When contributions to that discussion include vivid
examples, illustrations, or stories, the group can be at risk of making a mistaken decision.
- On Facilitation Suggestions from Meeting Participants
- Team leaders often facilitate their own meetings, and although there are problems associated with that
dual role, it's so familiar that it works well enough, most of the time. Less widely understood are
the problems that arise when other meeting participants make facilitation suggestions.
- Meta-Debate at Work
- Workplace discussions sometimes take the form of informal debate, in which parties who initially have
different perspectives try to arrive at a shared perspective. Meta-debate is one way things can go wrong.
- Ending Sidebars
- We say that a sidebar is underway in a meeting when two or more meeting participants converse without
having been recognized by the Chair. Sidebars can be helpful, but they can also be disruptive. How can
we end sidebars quickly and politely?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- When manipulators try to manipulate others, they're attempting to unscrupulously influence their targets to decide or act in some way the manipulators prefer. But some targets manage to outwit their manipulators. Available here and by RSS on November 29.
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