Six best practices to ‘facilitate’ productive hybrid meetings

The main purpose of a meeting is often to get a team together to convey a certain message, but successful meetings go beyond the surface level

Leaders should simultaneously be encouraging creative brainstorming and problem-solving for the collective benefit of the team. However, the best meetings are few and far between as businesses navigate the hybrid working environment. Even before the pandemic, a survey from Korn Ferry found that 67 per cent of respondents agreed that excess meetings hindered their impact at work. Now, with dispersed teams, fragmented working days, and video conferencing to consider, employees may feel they have too many meetings taking over their workload or even try to complete tasks during meetings. 75 per cent of employees agree collaboration has suffered the most since the shift to remote work, according to recent research from Lucid, indicating that companies need to reform meeting culture and replicate the dynamics of in-person meetings.

Companies are trialling meeting-free days and fewer video calls to give time back, but do these policies simply create greater miscommunication or even more work? The good news is that most meeting inefficiencies can be rectified if leaders switch from a stance of ‘running’ to ‘facilitating’ meetings. When you approach a meeting as a facilitator, you aren’t necessarily the decision-maker. Instead, you set the stage for a meeting with the right people, a clear purpose, and an agenda that encourages informed discussion from those attending in-person or from behind a screen.

Below are six best practices to help a hybrid team get the most out of their time spent together and take a project to the next level:

1. Identify objectives ahead of time

Working closely with the meeting sponsor to identify what they might like to get out of a specific meeting will help to iron out bottlenecks from the offset. While the sponsor is the person who requested the meeting, they often have nothing to lose or gain from a meeting so success will need to be steered by an effective facilitator. By understanding what the sponsor’s objectives are, a facilitator can determine what might be needed to prepare the team and create a space for everyone to obtain their individual meeting goals.

2. Invite the most relevant team members

Although it may sound easy enough, knowing who to invite to a particular meeting is testament to how well a leader knows its team and stakeholders. Having a good grasp of the sponsor’s objectives will help. Those goals can be used to think about which team members, with specific skill sets and areas of expertise, might contribute to finding a particular solution or driving the conversation. Think about the possible questions that might arise during the meeting, and who might be best placed to answer them – and likely need to join.

3. Develop a question-based agenda

Asking skilfully crafted questions can make more complex topics feel more accessible and encourage greater participation from those attending virtually in particular. Areas of concern or opportunity such as, “discuss strategic plan”, may feel too unapproachable if not dissected in the form of a question. Instead, try “What are our key market threats? How could they

affect us and how can we anticipate them?” This way, team members will be more inclined to take ownership of the meeting and meet the desired outcomes.

4. Kick off with an excite statement

Bad meetings or stressful days can inevitably have knock-on effects that spill into other meetings. To give people a reason to participate, one of the first things facilitators should think about is an excite statement. Each facilitator will have their own style, but the general formula should be as follows: summarise the purpose, outcomes, benefits of attending, how the team should participate, and each person’s roles and responsibilities. Providing a snappy synopsis of what’s to come helps to get people invested in a meeting.

5. Use online whiteboards to generate discussion

Now more than ever, remote employees crave feeling important. Meeting facilitators should proactively draw out those thoughts and responses by asking for their thoughts on topics, as opposed to simply reading from an agenda. Virtual online whiteboards support collaboration by giving agile teams something visual to focus on in real-time. They provide remote collaborators with all the benefits of a physical whiteboard: spur creative thinking out loud, allow everyone’s ideas to be considered, and keep teams honest about what they agree to.

6. Maintain flexibility in the agenda

The phrase, ‘expect the unexpected’, couldn’t ring truer than in a meeting. While it’s tempting to plan excessively, a good facilitator allows for unforeseen issues or opportunities that might have arisen after sending the agenda. The key to leaving space for new ideas is to plan just enough to keep the conversation going and keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the moment to allow for an agile response.

Improving meetings for everyone, from any location

With workplace arrangements in constant limbo, employees are finding themselves flitting between the office and home and are more conscious of their workloads. The time spent in meetings is precious and must therefore be made a valuable opportunity to foster collaboration by those facilitating (and not running) the meeting. Adopting a facilitation approach improves the quality and outcome of hybrid meetings that would otherwise be used to delegate, with investment in virtual whiteboard solutions core to new agile practice.

About the Author

Dan Lawyer is Chief Product Officer at Lucid. Lucid is a visual collaboration suite that helps teams see and build the future. Virtual whiteboarding, intelligent diagramming, and cloud visualization come together to empower organizations to take plans from initial ideas all the way to successful delivery. Together, they are utilized in over 180 countries by millions of users. Ninety-six percent of the Fortune 500 use Lucidchart, and customers include Google, GE, NBC Universal and T-Mobile.