Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 8, Issue 14;   April 2, 2008: Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: II

Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: II

by

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.

Telephone and videoconferences are the next best thing to being there. Unfortunately second place is pretty far back in that race. For routine meetings about routine topics, and for highly functional teams, even though distributed meetings are a bit cumbersome, their pace is tolerable.

Mess line, noon, Manzanar Relocation Center, California, 1943

Mess line, noon, Manzanar Relocation Center, California, 1943. Social behavior in queues varies with culture. Although the concept of a "speaker queue" might work well in some monocultural meetings, it might not work the same way in another culture. In virtual teams that span multiple cultures, it's reasonable to expect that meeting participants bring with them different ideas about how the "speaker queue" will work. Ideas about priority, the connection between priority and social rank, and the relevance and sequencing of contributions can create problems for queue managers, especially when the pressure mounts. If you expect to be facilitating a multicultural virtual team, then as part of the team kickoff meeting package, and the ongoing orientation program for new team members, it might be wise to include some description of your speaker queue management practices. Photo by Ansel Adams, courtesy U.S. Library of Congress.

But for highly charged discussions, or for teams caught in toxic conflict, or when the pressure rises, the limitations of distributed meetings become clear. Facilitators skilled in dealing with these limitations can work around them, but the workarounds require methods that would seem awkward in the face-to-face (F2F) context. Here are some examples.

Collision avoidance and resolution
In face-to-face meetings a "collision" is two or more people attempting to speak at once. Most facilitators manage this problem well by asserting and maintaining control of the recognition process, using the tools of personal presence. In virtual or distributed meetings, most of those tools are limited, work differently, or are unavailable.
As facilitator, explain at the outset that you'll recognize speakers in turn. In videoconferences, hand signals might suffice for speakers seeking recognition, and signals can be given at any time. In telephone conferences, once open discussion begins, the audible request is the only means available. Since such requests might interrupt the speaker, open the floor for requests for time only during a "time-request window" between speakers. Use a brief protocol for requesting the floor — something like "Rick wants time." You'll also want a protocol for withdrawing a request — something like "Rick says 'Never mind.'" Describe also a high priority interrupt protocol to be used only by those who have critical information that will shorten the discussion — something like "Rick has a point of information."
Queue management
In virtual or distributed meetings,
most of the facilitator's
customary tools are limited,
work differently,
or are unavailable
In both distributed and F2F meetings, a queue can develop in open discussion, as people request time. In F2F meetings some facilitators maintain the queue on a flip chart or whiteboard that all can see. That might also work well in videoconferences or in distributed meetings with shared writing space.
In audio-only distributed meetings, repeat the queue aloud at the end of each time-request window.
Recognition
Recognition is the process by which the facilitator designates the next speaker. In F2F meetings a nod or a smile suffices, with an optional accompanying verbal cue, such as the speaker's name.
In the distributed context, the verbal cue is required. For safety, repeat it. When two people have identical or similar names, try to remove the ambiguity — perhaps referring to their sites or roles. Avoid disambiguating by means of personal attributes — even positive attributes — because of the risk of offense to the other person of the same name. Bad example: "Next: the smart Rick."

Next in our queue: identifying who's speaking, managing complex technologies, and handling interruptions. First in this series | Next in this series Go to top Top  Next issue: Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: III  Next Issue

303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsIs 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 an examination of some issues that arise in synchronous distributed meetings, see "Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: I," Point Lookout for March 26, 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 welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrensuphxkucGbIqCOYgner@ChacvFPVQwLaThMPBIlooCanyon.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.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

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.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

StonehengeHigh Falutin' Goofy Talk
Business speech and business writing are sometimes little more than high falutin' goofy talk, filled with pretentious, overused images and puff phrases of unknown meaning. Here are some phrases that are so common that we barely notice them.
A waterfall and spray cliff in the mountains of VirginiaThe Shower Effect: Sudden Insights
Ever have a brilliant insight, a forehead-slapping moment? You think, "Now I get it!" or "Why didn't I think of this before?" What causes these moments? How can we make them happen sooner?
A view of the site known as the Rock Garden, on MarsHow to Ruin Meetings
Much has been written about how to conduct meetings effectively. Here are some reliable techniques for doing something else altogether.
Sherlock Holmes and Doctor WatsonHow to Make Good Guesses: Tactics
Making good guesses probably does take talent to be among the first rank of those who make guesses. But being in the second rank is pretty good, too, and we can learn how to do that. Here are some tactics for guessing.
The deadline at Rock Island Prison during the U.S. Civil WarIrrational 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?

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness, Effective Meetings, Project Management and Virtual and Global Teams for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A large audience listening to a speakerComing August 15: Getting Value from Involuntary Seminars
Whatever your organizational role, from time to time you might find yourself attending seminars or presentations involuntarily. The value you derive from these "opportunities" depends as much on you as on the presenter. Available here and by RSS on August 15.
The Jolly RogerAnd on August 22: Dealing with Credit Appropriation
Very little is more frustrating than having someone else claim credit for the work you do. Worse, sometimes they blame you if they get into trouble after misusing your results. Here are three tips for dealing with credit appropriation. Available here and by RSS on August 22.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenmdQxNjrutRvwxJTjner@ChacxvoRCHtPlHJFrNsIoCanyon.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:

Reprinting this article

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

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople 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.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.