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:
- Problem Defining and Problem Solving
- Sometimes problem-solving sessions are difficult because we get started solving a problem before we
know what problem we're solving. Understanding the connection between stakeholders, problem solving,
and problem defining can reduce conflict and produce better solutions.
- Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: III
- Facilitators of synchronous distributed meetings (meetings that occur in real time, via telephone or
video) can make life much easier for everyone by taking steps before the meeting starts. Here's Part
III of a little catalog of suggestions for remote facilitators.
- Preventing Meeting Hijacking
- Meeting leads, meeting chairs, and facilitators must be prepared to deal with meeting hijackers. Hesitation,
or any ineffectual action, enhances the hijacker's chances of success. Here are suggestions for preventing
- Effects of Shared Information Bias: I
- Shared information bias is the tendency for group discussions to emphasize what everyone already knows.
It's widely believed to lead to bad decisions. But it can do much more damage than that.
- Playing at Work
- Eight hours a day — usually more — of meetings, phone calls, reading and writing email and
text messages, briefing others or being briefed, is enough to drive anyone around the bend. To re-energize,
to clarify one's perspective, and to restore creative capacity, play is essential. Play at work, I mean.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 8: Multi-Expert Consensus
- Some working groups consist of experts from many fields. When they must reach a decision by consensus, members have several options. Defining those options in advance can help the group reach a decision with all its relationships intact. Available here and by RSS on July 8.
- And on July 15: Disjoint Concept Vocabularies
- In disputes or in problem solving sessions, when we can't seem to come to agreement, we often attribute the difficulty to miscommunication, histories of disagreements, hidden agendas, or "personality clashes." Sometimes the cause is much simpler. Sometimes the concept vocabularies of the parties don't overlap. Available here and by RSS on July 15.
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