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? rbrenrDUDwWaUxOAJtKFRner@ChaclWPJpPZohNvtYLEJoCanyon.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:
- The Hypothetical Trap
- Politicians know that answering hypothetical questions is dangerous, but it's equally dangerous for
managers and project managers to answer them in the project context. What's the problem? Why should
you be careful of the "What If?"
- 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.
- How to Reject Expert Opinion: II
- When groups of decision-makers confront complex problems, and they receive opinions from recognized
experts, those opinions sometimes conflict with the group's own preferences. What tactics do groups
use to reject the opinions of people with relevant expertise?
- The Power and Hazards of Anecdotes: I
- Anecdotes are short stories — sometimes just a single sentence. They're powerful tools of persuasion,
but they can also be dangerous, to both anecdote tellers and anecdote listeners.
- How to Find Lessons to Learn
- When we conduct Lessons Learned sessions, how can we ensure that we find all the important lessons to
be learned? Here's one method.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 11: The Rhyme-as-Reason Effect
- When we speak or write, the phrases we use have both form and meaning. Although we usually think of form and meaning as distinct, we tend to assess as more meaningful and valid those phrases that are more beautifully formed. The rhyme-as-reason effect causes us to confuse the validity of a phrase with its aesthetics. Available here and by RSS on December 11.
- And on December 18: The Trap of Beautiful Language
- As we assess the validity of others' statements, we risk making a characteristically human error — we confuse the beauty of their language with the reliability of its meaning. We're easily thrown off by alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus. Available here and by RSS on December 18.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenrDUDwWaUxOAJtKFRner@ChaclWPJpPZohNvtYLEJoCanyon.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, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
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.