Tag Archives: teams

New workshop: Virtual Team Facilitation (in collaboration with TeamCatapult)

Image courtesy of TeamCatapult

I’m delighted to announce a project that’s been underway for several months now: a new online workshop developed in collaboration with TeamCatapult called Virtual Team Facilitation. The workshop is hosted by TeamCatapult and will be co-taught by their CEO Marsha Acker and myself.

It’s offered in a two-day online format and includes a mini team intensive that gives participants an opportunity to really practice what they’ve learned. The workshop focuses on creating and facilitating effective team engagements in virtual settings. It’s different from my current Grove workshop Facilitating Virtual Collaboration in that the new workshop is framed within the context of agile teaming methodology and taking agile practices into virtual settings. Some experience with agile team facilitation is required. We review key tenets of agile facilitation but don’t cover it in depth — TeamCatapult has another course for that. Learn more about Virtual Team Facilitation and/or register here.

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Hey, I’m writing a book! And it’s almost ready!

A project I’ve been working on for three years is tantalizingly close to completion… it’s a book! The working title: Beyond Virtual Meetings.

I think the world would be a better place if people could work together more effectively at a distance. Based on experience and observation, I’d say that working with a remote team can be pretty painful and frustrating… but it doesn’t have to be. So that’s what I’m writing about: how you, as a team member, team leader, or facilitator, can make remote collaboration better for yourself and everyone you work remotely with.

The Grove recently published a short interview in which I talk about some of the main themes.

Sketchnotes showing a possible path through Part I

One possible path through Part I

Writing the book itself has been an interesting process, sometimes fun, sometimes painful; just like writing any book, I imagine. At this point, the manuscript is complete and I’m doing an editing pass to tighten it up. We don’t have a publication date yet but I’ll post it when we do! The current draft has three parts: the first, illustrated here, is about being facilitative in online settings, finding out what your team needs most, and creating a beautiful virtual workspace to support collaboration. The second part includes agendas and checklists for doing virtual work (both in meetings and in between meetings, when lots of important work happens too!). The third part is a collection of 70 best practices for yourself and your teams to make remote collaboration smoother, easier, and more effective.

There’s a website attached to the book, too, which is where I talk about actual tools. The book’s best practices are linked to types of tools rather than specific ones. Look up the tool type on the website to find specific applications you might want to try. The website will also have a bunch more best practices — there were too many to fit in the book — all targeted at specific areas your team needs to work on. You can see the site in its embryonic stage right now! (Just the tool reviews, though. No best practices there yet.)

Want to stay informed? Sign up to be notified when the book is ready. If you think this book will be helpful, I’d love it if you’d leave a quick comment saying so. Thanks!

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Rules of Order for Videoconferences, Part 3

The first and second posts in this series covered rules for orienting to purpose, connecting people, drawing out information, and getting closure on commitments — the first four stages of The Grove Facilitation Model. This post, the last in the series, deals with Videoconferencing Rules of Order for the final three stages: supporting action, monitoring progress, and leveraging learning. A future post will go into more detail about the Model itself. For now, if it’s unfamiliar, just think of it as a set of lenses that a facilitator can use to plan and handle group processes.

Screen shot of web-based countdown timer

Tickcounter’s Web-based Timer

Supporting Action
When the videoconference is humming along and people are embedded in the work of the meeting itself, it seems like the safest thing to do is to sit back and not mess with it. But there are still some small things you can do to make it easier for everyone to work together via video.

  1. Build in stretch breaks. It’s more fatiguing to sit in a video call than to sit in a face-to-face meeting of the same length. For every hour of meeting, build in a five-minute stretch break, with longer breaks after two hours. Set a countdown timer on a shared screen to help people return on time, and discourage people from skipping their break. (Here’s a timer for PowerPoint — I haven’t tried it, though — and here’s a web-based one that I do use.)
  2. Give participants something to focus on besides each other. Share a screen showing a visual map of the work process or other materials that are not text-heavy. Bring in a digital graphic recorder to capture the meeting in real time on a shared screen. Create a simple template in PowerPoint and complete it while the group talks. Having a visual representation to discuss and refer to helps to keep the conversation on track. People find a bit of variety stimulating and engaging, so don’t use the same technique every time.
  3. Give participants something to do. Use other tools in combination with video. Set up a shared spreadsheet where participants can take a few moments to reflect and type answers to relevant questions, or give their opinions of different options. Once everyone has had a chance to reflect and respond, use the document as a springboard for discussion. Or get everyone into a shared sticky-note board and have them create and interact directly with digital sticky notes.

After I posted the first in this series, Nora Rubinoff added some excellent rules of order in a blog post of her own that I would also classify under supporting action.

Monitoring Progress
When the group is working, the facilitator can keep the meeting flowing with light touches as they would do in a face-to-face meeting.

  1. Keep an eye on body language, but not the way you’re used to doing it. On most video conferences, you can only see people from the shoulders up. It’s easy to miss signals that would be obvious in a face-to-face meeting. Watch for signs of fatigue or distraction: looking down often, repeatedly or persistently looking away from the computer, frequent nodding without contributing, leaning the head back onto the top of the chair and looking at the ceiling, fidgeting. These can all signal that patience has run out and it’s time for a quick stretch break. Also watch for quiet people trying to break in to the conversation, and help make room for them. They may suddenly look alert, sit up straighter, or start to open their mouth and then close it again if there isn’t space to talk. Call on them by name and ask if they wanted to say something.
  2. Narrate your actions when you do something that appears to be a distraction. If you need to pull up a document, for instance, or look for a relevant email pertinent to the task at hand, say so. “I’m going to pull up the email that has our agreements from last time. It will only take a moment and I’m not reading any new messages right now.” Otherwise, your obvious shift in focus will be taken as an invitation for everyone to check their messages and the meeting will lose momentum.
  3. Bring the agenda back on screen each time an item is completed. In face-to-face meetings, we tend to keep the agenda posted all the time and refer to it throughout the process to keep people oriented and on track. With videoconferences, it’s easy to lose sight of progress because the agenda is displayed once at the start of the meeting and then never again. Instead, share it on the screen, annotating and updating it if possible, each time you shift from one topic to another. Even if you’ve sent agendas to everyone beforehand, it’s helpful to do a quick group check in now and then.

Leveraging Learning
The activities that fall under the category of Leveraging Learning are often dismissed as ‘extras,’ things that are nice to have but not necessary in our time-pressured workdays. However, they do not need to take a lot of time and the payoff in participant satisfaction, productivity, and engagement is huge. Spare a few minutes for practices like these that get everyone involved in the group’s choices and success.

  1. Take a moment at the end of the meeting for “likes and wishes.” Invite each participant in turn to share one thing they liked about the way the meeting worked, and one thing they wish for next time. You can leave it open in terms of scope or frame it so that people are reflecting on the technical aspects of the engagement. In settings where people are not inclined to speak openly about what they would like to change, set up an anonymous way to contribute, such as a shared sticky-note board or shared document. Use the feedback to adjust future video meetings.
  2. Take screen shots at various points in the meeting. Combine them with images of charts created by digital graphic recording and links to documents jointly edited during the meeting. Share this output with participants via email soon after the meeting as a visual record of their virtual time together.
  3. Host occasional pop-up sessions dedicated to reviewing the technology you use for video, shared editing, and other meeting functions. Invite interested participants to prepare short presentations of new tools that show promise, or ask volunteers to try out specific tools and report the results. Keep your group’s tech fresh by sharing the responsibility for finding, testing, and proposing new tools.

Although synchronous meetings are only a small part of remote work, they provide opportunities to build relationships and cement commitments among distributed colleagues. Using these guidelines will help you make the most of your team’s remote gatherings, bring team members closer together, and increase their effectiveness as a distributed team.


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A Sneak Peek at Results of The Grove’s Recent Survey: Five Minutes on Working Virtually

If you haven’t had a chance to take the five-minute survey yet and would like to, you can find it here.

The Grove recently launched a short survey on virtual work and remote meetings. Among other things, we asked hundreds of people who do virtual work about their biggest pain point: the one thing they wish would go away and just stop being a problem about working remotely.

The responses fall broadly into three categories. Respondents identified pain points related to technology, to people, and to the setting where the work is done. It may surprise you to learn that technology is not the category with the most pain points. The largest set of different pain points is related to people. In fact, the number of pain points having to do with people is almost twice as large as that in either of the other two categories. Note that this doesn’t say anything about how often a given point was cited; I’m not dealing with that here, just looking at unique responses. The image below is a compilation of the responses, sorted unscientifically by yours truly. (Click to see it bigger.)

List of pain points in remote work
Compilation of responses to the question: What is the most painful part of working remotely?

The pain points related to people have to do with how people feel in remote meetings, things people do or fail to do that make the work harder, the difficulty of making or maintaining interpersonal connections at a distance, and basic knowledge and skills around working remotely. I know I have struggled with most, if not all, of these issues in the past ten years of working virtually. Many of these pain points can be addressed through training (of facilitators and participants), making explicit agreements about how to work together and behave as a remote team, and extra time and effort involved in preparation. Sometimes, though, it seems as soon as a team gets one issue taken care of, another, hydralike, rears its annoying head.

Regarding technology, the agony is divided between tool-related issues and those dealing with connection (or lack thereof) when trying to communicate. One that we did not see, but that I expected, is overwhelm about the number of tools available. Does anyone else find it hard to keep up? I sometimes feel that if I just keep looking and keep testing, I will find the perfect tool for every task related to remote collaboration. I’m not saying I’ll find one tool that does everything. Rather, I’d love to find a set of tools that collectively do everything. Easily. Okay, maybe now I’m dreaming.

The setting we’re in when we do remote work accounts for the remainder of the pain. Real life issues, the consequences of not being physically in the same room, and the effects of having to be sitting at a computer are the main groups here. As with the other categories, some of the complaints can be addressed through group norms, different tools, or extra effort, but again I can empathize and have experienced all of these myself. What about you? Do you have a favorite, and how did you stop the pain?

If you’d like to get your voice in the mix, please hop on over and take the five-minute survey. It will remain open through June 30, 2015.

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Role Mapping: Do you really know your teammates’ roles?

Do you know, I mean really know, what your teammates do? Do you understand their roles to the point where you could fill in for them for a day? Even if you don’t know their roles to that degree, do you know how they produce information they give to you, and what they do with information you give to them?

From left to right: Healer, DPS (with pet), Tank.

From left to right: Healer, DPS (with pet), Tank.

My family plays World of Warcraft, a popular MMO (massively multiplayer online game) created by Blizzard Entertainment. In this game, players sometimes form parties to tackle challenges that one player can’t handle alone. A five-person party usually includes three distinct roles: tank, healer, and damage-dealer (DPS, or damage-per-second). Any one player will have one of these roles at a given time, and his or her talents, abilities, equipment, and armor are tailored to support that one role. (For those unfamiliar with the lingo, the job of the tank is to stand there and get beat on by the big monster, keeping its attention; the healer’s job is to make sure the tank stays alive while this happens, and to heal the DPS players if they should need it; and the three DPS players are there to inflict as much damage on the monster as possible without taking a lot of damage themselves.)

Obviously, each player needs to understand his or her own role in order to be effective. But the really effective players — the ones you always want in your party — are the ones who also have a deep understanding of the roles they are not playing. Here’s why: A tank who deeply understands the healer’s role can time his or her own actions so that big-burst damage is mitigated by a tank ability, allowing the healer to more effectively keep the tank’s health stable by not spending precious resources on sudden massive heals. Healers who understand how the tank works know that if a monster does latch onto them, the best thing to do is run toward the tank, who has the ability to attract the monster’s attention so it forgets all about the healer — rather than running away, which is instinctive but not at all helpful. DPS who understand the other two roles can modify their own behavior to maximize their ability to do their primary role — dealing damage — while not draining the healer’s reserves, which are really needed for the tank, or pulling the monster away from the tank and causing it to run amok among the party. Even a basic level of understanding of other roles is helpful. When you run into tanks who also have a healer class character, or DPS who also have a tank character, the difference really shows. They do their jobs in a way that makes the other roles even more effective at theirs.

The same is true for a working team: the better you understand your teammates’ roles, the more effective your team can be overall. The points where your work overlaps theirs, or provides inputs to theirs, are where your team will feel the effects the most. Mapping out the intersections of your roles will give your team clearer insight into how to work together more effectively. Here’s one way to do that.

Sample role map
A sample map for three roles in a consultancy

Role Mapping

Choose a time when everyone can get together. If your team is distributed, consider supporting the meeting with graphic recording or graphic facilitation to create the maps of team interactions. Set aside at least an hour for the initial conversation.

  1. Identify the places where there are overlaps or shared inputs or outputs. What do you create that is then used by another team member? What do you use that other team members create? Make a list, and ask everyone on the team to make a list too. (This can be done as pre-work.)
  2. Get the team together. Compare your lists and rank the items to decide where to start. Look for items that appear on several lists, and start there for the biggest impact. Alternatively, select the most high-profile activities on the lists as a starting point.
  3. Take a few minutes to map out what happens around each item on the combined list. Give everyone who touches that item a chance to explain what they do and how they do it. What tools do they use? What information do they need to have handy when they start? What format do they prefer to work with? Allow everyone to describe their workflow and preferences without trying to problem-solve at this point. Just listen. It might help to draw a picture of the process as it is described, using a whiteboard or large sheet of paper. Make notes of questions or issues as they come up, but don’t try to solve them yet.
  4. Once everyone has spoken, have a conversation about the questions, issues, and other flags that came up. You might find that something as simple as changing the way information is conveyed or presented might make a big difference to the recipient. And once you understand why someone wants it this way or that way, it’s often easier to modify your own workflow slightly to accommodate them. Use a flip chart to clearly record new agreements or procedures your team wants to try.
  5. Repeat the process for each item on your combined list (this might take more than one meeting). At the end of the meeting, review the flipchart of agreements and make sure everyone understands what he or she has personally agreed to do. Agree on an evaluation period — two to four weeks, perhaps — after which you will all reconvene to talk about whether the changes are helping, identify new issues that have come up, or discuss new ideas.

This activity is particularly valuable for distributed teams where members do not have a way to physically see what their co-workers do. On teams like that, the way that inputs and outputs are created and delivered can make a huge difference in team effectiveness. For example, it’s common for someone to create a document and send it as a PDF, but if the recipient needs to extract information from the PDF to use elsewhere, it can be time consuming. Something as simple as switching to a shared document editor or keeping the shared information in another system might result in a much smoother workflow.

Once you understand more about the work your teammates do and how they do it, you can play your role in way that helps others be even more effective. Even if your goal isn’t to slay a giant monster, you’ll still make better use of everyone’s abilities!

For more on role clarification, you might like these resources:

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