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.
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!
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.
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.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:
- Personal Trade Secrets
- Do you have some little secret tricks you use that make you and your team more effective? Do you wish
you could know what secret tricks others have? Here's a way to share your secrets without risk.
- My Right Foot
- There's nothing like an injury or illness to teach you some life lessons. Here are some things I learned
recently when I temporarily lost some of my independence.
- Workplace Barn Raisings
- Until about 75 years ago, barn raising was a common custom in the rural United States. People came together
from all parts of the community to help construct one family's barn. Although the custom has largely
disappeared in rural communities, we can still benefit from the barn raising approach in problem-solving
- Mitigating Outsourcing Risks: II
- Outsourcing internal processes exposes the organization to a special class of risks that are peculiar
to the outsourcing relationship. Here is Part II of a discussion of what some of those risks are and
what can we do about them.
- Finding Work in Tough Times: Infrastructure
- Finding work in tough times goes a lot more easily if you have at least a minimum of equipment and space
to do the job. Here are some thoughts about getting that infrastructure and managing it.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 26: Appearance Antipatterns: I
- Appearances can be deceiving. Just as we can misinterpret the actions and motivations of others, others can misinterpret our own actions and motivations. But we can take steps to limit these effects. Available here and by RSS on June 26.
- And on July 3: Appearance Antipatterns: II
- When we make decisions based on appearance we risk making errors. We create hostile work environments, disappoint our customers, and create inefficient processes. Maintaining congruence between the appearance and the substance of things can help. Available here and by RSS on July 3.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmhXARWRMUvVyOdHlner@ChacxgDmtwOKrxnripPCoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, 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
- 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.