LEADER’S GUIDE TO HYBRID MEETINGS
Hybrid meetings will be more prevalent than before the Covid-19 pandemic began, as workers return to workplaces with more flexible work arrangements and more of the workforce continuing to work from home, in part or full-time. It’s one of many transitions that leaders must navigate.
To help you and your team smooth the bumpy road ahead, this article gives you, the team leader, practical guidelines for holding productive hybrid meetings. Here’s what you can do, from your unique position as a leader:
GUIDELINE #1: Leverage the Advantages of Each Meeting Format. A hybrid meeting combine two meeting formats: virtual and in-person. The secret to successfully integration is to use the best that each has to offer:
Virtual meetings offer these beneficial features:
- No travel required. Save money from business trips not taken. And, include everyone by letting people attend from wherever they are located.
- Instant documentation. Gone are the days of waiting for flip charts to be transcribed. In a hybrid meeting, use the virtual features of the chat record, the meeting recording, and electronic notes taken by a designated person to give you near-instant documentation of your discussions.
- Integration with asynchronous work. In virtual meetings, much of the “meeting” can take place on digital collaboration spaces such as Google Drive, Sharepoint, and Teams, in addition to digital collaboration apps such as Miro and Mural. This means the meeting can begin long before people gather at a specified time, and long after, as well. Asynchronous collaboration allows people to prepare for a meeting by information in advance, be it humdrum status reports or complex analyses. By using asynchronous tools wisely, you can focus meeting time on the more important and interesting tasks of problem-solving, strategizing, organizing, planning, deciding, and understanding/aligning. However, asynchronous work comes with a requirement: your attendees must do the pre-work. Otherwise, those who don’t do the prework “steal time from the team, an ethical violation.”
- Multiple channels. The chat function in virtual meetings gives all participants an open space to contribute ideas, suggestions, questions, and answers, even when others are presenting or speaking. Such a space is often lacking in in-person meetings. However, for multiple channels to work in a hybrid meeting, everyone must have access to them.
In-person meetings offer these beneficial features:
- Informal socializing. At in-person meetings, small talk and greetings help people connect, assess each other, and sync up. When meetings move online, socializing may fall by the wayside or seem phony when it’s too highly structured; then people can’t build the subtle comfort that comes from getting oriented in their social environment. Feeling unmoored and disconnected then undermines psychological safety and participants’ ability to think and work together. If done right, hybrid meetings incorporate the right level of informal socializing for your team, even for the online participants.
- Materials for interaction. With flip charts, sticky notes, and whiteboards, it’s easy to make face-to-face meetings interactive, colorful, and interesting. In virtual meetings, groups often leave these tools behind and devolve to audio-only discussions or note-taking in a Word or Powerpoint document. While this can be perfectly acceptable for some meetings, it’s a good idea to make a conscious choice about interactive materials. Digital collaborative whiteboard apps, such as Miro and Mural, have advanced to become sophisticated, powerful, intuitive tools that effectively replace flip charts, sticky notes, and whiteboards. Other upsides: they cost little and can be learned quickly.
GUIDELINE #2: Use Your Influence. As a leader, you have unique powers, and it’s your responsibility to use them to improve the meeting experiences of the people you lead. Your leadership can best be applied to three elements:
Level the playing field. Most importantly, hybrid meetings create new layers in group dynamics. For instance, single connectors are generally at a disadvantage, because people in groups can more easily talk with their own group members compared to other connected parties. This dynamic impedes single connectors from socializing and taking part in discussions. Another imbalance: those on the same platform with the facilitator (online or in the conference room) will have an easier time communicating with the facilitator. Furthermore, in a group connector’s conference room, the most advantaged individuals are those who control the mouse or keyboard, can be viewed on camera, or sit closest to the microphone.
As the leader of a team or group of participants, your role is to be aware of power imbalances and address them, so that neither single connectors nor group connectors feel disadvantaged or favored. Here’s how you can level the playing field:
- Be a champion for digital equity by procuring the right tools and equipment for all team members; this includes sufficient internet speeds for the work they’re expected to do, a quiet environment, computers, monitors, webcams, microphones and headsets, lighting, and ergonomic office furniture.
- Seek input to the meeting agenda from everyone, not just those who are easiest to access.
- Open multiple channels (speaking, chat function, polling) for engaging all participants.
- Make use of asynchronous digital collaboration tools that give everyone the same access to materials.
- If you are in the room as part of a group connector, give special attention to single connectors, and look directly into the camera to establish eye contact.
- If you are connecting online, giving equal attention to all connected parties, including the individual people in your group connectors.
- Track who has spoken or not spoken, so that you can give everyone has a chance to speak or contribute in other ways.
- Participate in online socializing before/after the meeting, so that every attendee has equal access to you
Respect the Human Brain and Body. We have learned that virtual meetings are more tiring than in-person meetings. Hybrid meetings are even more taxing, as each person navigates two meeting formats at the same time and monitors multiple communication channels. To keep your team fresh and engaged, follow these practices:
- Limit the number and duration of hybrid meetings. A good rule of thumb is to keep virtual and hybrid meetings at less than two to three hours long.
- Schedule breaks liberally. Because hybrid meetings consume more energy, your attendees will need more frequent breaks and longer breaks. While this adds to meeting duration, the payoff will be renewed focus and enthusiasm. A good rule of thumb is to schedule a 10 minute break for every 45 to 60 minutes of meeting time, with even longer breaks if your meeting extends beyond 3 hours long.
Follow meeting norms. In hybrid meetings, team leaders and facilitators must pay even more attention make sure everyone is seen and heard, with equal opportunities to contribute. Your job is to establish, embody, and reinforce a meeting norms to achieve these goals. For instance:
- Have everyone on camera, with few and rare exceptions (as when bandwidth issues arise).
- Get input from people ahead of time on key issues, so that meeting times can be shorter and more intensely focused on issues to be worked out.
- Be clear that assigned pre-work is mandatory for meeting attendance; to reinforce this, call on attendees at any time to ask for their input.
- Promote civility and a culture of listening with respect and interest; embody this by asking questions and thanking people for their contributions.
- Follow the agenda, making departures only when substantive issues and questions arise.
- Model behavior you want, such as listening well and being engaged; people will use your behavior as a guideline for their own. Find further tips in the checklist for participants presented in a separate article.
GUIDELINE #3: Get Support. It’s hard enough being the leader, without also having to run the agenda and handle the technical details during an important meeting. To lead an effective hybrid meeting, get support from others in these key areas:
- Expert Facilitation. A trained facilitator, either in-house or hired, will give you freedom to participate in the substantive discussions of your meeting. They will also bring the expertise to design the meeting for successful participant engagement and outcomes, including integration of asynchronous tools. For more on working with a facilitator, read the companion articles on When to Hire a Meeting Facilitator and Facilitator’s Toolkit for Hybrid Meetings.
- Roles for Attendees. Give support roles to participants for two benefits: they take the load off you and the facilitator, and they stay engaged in the meeting. Typical support roles include time-keeping, note-taking, summarizing discussion content, summarizing the previous meeting, tracking action items, leading a warm-up or break activity, presenting information, leading a breakout group, observing group dynamics, or naming the undiscussables.
- Technical Support. Finally, hybrid meetings are tech-intensive. It’s best to assign a savvy person or team to handle the technical details and tasks related to in-room equipment, single devices, meeting platform, and internet. With their help, the meeting will be set up correctly and technical issues will be handled swiftly.
GUIDELINE #4: Remember Fundamentals. Lack of engagement, poor thinking, wasted time and budget, and frustration signal that one or more meeting fundamentals got short shrift. No matter how pressed for time you may be, you can set the stage for success by tending to the fundamentals:
- You must have a compelling reason to consume a group’s time, and you must be clear about what you want to achieve in the meeting. To test your purpose, write it out in terms of the outcomes you want to achieve. For example, “We are meeting today, to consider the alternatives and make a decision about our next steps.”
- Teams waste precious time by including everyone in most meetings. Who really needs to be there and why? Choose your attendees carefully and let them know why their participation is requested and valued. Then keep others in the loop in appropriate ways.
- Match the duration of the meeting to the complexity of your discussion. Many teams give insufficient time for completing intensive and important discussions. Strategizing, planning, deciding, problem-solving, and aligning members are complex tasks that involve many cognitive steps that, when rushed, result in poor thinking and poor outcomes. Conversely, avoid spending too much time (or any time!) on inconsequential topics that can be handled outside the meeting. Find the right balance for your team.
- Have an agenda prepared and share it with your attendees. Know your own talking points, and anticipate where people may have questions or different points of view. Make sure that you and your facilitator are prepared with supporting materials, familiarity with meeting technology, and other details. Finally, be sure to give attendees enough time to prepare themselves, especially if they are presenting or if they need to do pre-work. If time is insufficient to prepare everyone for the meeting, consider rescheduling it.
With these guidelines, we hope you’ll have much success in your hybrid meetings! No doubt you’ll discover some new best practices along the way. Let me know what you discover.
I’m Andrea Ramage, strategic facilitator and owner of Somersault Consulting LLC. My passion is unlocking group genius through expert facilitation. Leaders and change-makers hire me to inspire and plan their new initiatives, solve challenges with creativity and efficiency, plan strategically for the future, align team members, and make decisions with confidence. To find out how I can support your next meeting, please give me a call at 425.495.9066 (Seattle, WA) or contact me.