How To Choose A Virtual Meeting Facilitator

How To Choose A Great Virtual Meeting Facilitator

Are you planning a leadership team meeting early this year to get everyone aligned? Are you disappointed that it will likely not be in person or that some folks won’t be able to travel to join you? Have you thought about who will be the best virtual facilitator? Or have you given up because this virtual stuff is for the birds?

What if I told you that you could actually get the same bonding and team experience that you used to have in person, in a virtual setting? What if I also told you that the way you think about facilitation and how you define great facilitation can actually impact your results by a power of 10? 

We have been facilitating virtual executive leadership team meetings, board meetings, and workshops for the past two years. Let me tell you, we got fantastic reviews when we were doing this in person for the past 15 years. I’d have never believed the feedback on virtual meetings would blow the doors off everything we thought we knew, but they did. We’re actually getting better results virtually, but we had to rethink everything we knew about facilitation. Here’s what we have learned:

1. Rethink What Facilitation Looks Like 

It’s no longer good enough to write the agenda and pass it off to a ‘trained facilitator.’ There are tons of those out there, but they don’t know you, they don’t know your business and they don’t know what you’re trying to accomplish. If your facilitator isn’t starting at least a month before your meeting, interviewing stakeholders, surveying participants, reviewing more documents than you think they need, they shouldn’t be leading your meeting.

Before a great facilitator goes into a room (or turns on Zoom), they should already know exactly what outcomes you’re looking for and understand diverging points of view that will likely show up before they get there. They should know your business and your critical issues cold and be able to identify and surface any hidden agendas. If they don’t plan to make the effort to anticipate personalities and group dynamics before they get in front of your group, you don’t need them. These critical relationships should be built in advance so the facilitator can respond to subtleties, body language, and tone which can be harder to pick up on virtually. You may think, well, they’re just the facilitator.  But if you really want results, you need a facilitator to become embedded with your team. This takes investment on both sides, but if that investment means the difference between a boring day on Zoom and real impact and progress on tough issues, you can’t afford NOT to make it.

2. Customize The Experience For A Virtual Environment

Many have tried, but you simply cannot expect rich, full participation from a team stuck on a video call for hours at a time. People, no matter how highly paid, just don’t work effectively that way. In our experience, 90 minutes – 2-hours is about as long as people can turn on and focus. Our favorite is one 2-hour session daily, but you can do more if you provide at least a 30-minute break in between sessions to give people time to stretch, refresh and get away from their screens. Any less than that and eyes start to glaze over while they multi-task.

We design experiences to optimize the team’s ability to focus on bite-size chunks of information and problems to solve. We generally think more carefully about prework so people can come prepared and ready to contribute. We also plan agendas that leverage different ways of participation that allow people to interact through technology. In our studio, this can be as rudimentary as an old-fashioned blackboard for facilitating a brainstorm list, but in most cases, we leverage tools like Mural, shared documents, mind mapping, and more to create opportunities for people to write, capture ideas, categorize, and react to them on a shared board all at the same time. This requires a bit of preparation and some good judgement around keeping it simple, but it’s a great way to drive collaboration. In the past year, we’ve used interactive technology with leadership teams to build and create alignment around strategy, organization capability models, complex investment roadmaps, and prioritization…all in bite-size chunks of time.

3. Set Expectations For Your Facilitator

Now that they understand your organization, you can expect them to build your agenda. Great facilitators should act as a meeting orchestrator by helping you balance your entire experience around several critical focus areas that will not only engage your team but ensure that you address the big picture. These are:

  • Individual and team discussion
  • Internal and external focus
  • Strategic and tactical thinking 
  • Moving forward fast with creating alignment
  • Interaction and dissemination of information

And this is all before the meeting starts.

Preparation makes the difference between time wasted on Zoom and real progress. A great facilitator knows that and will walk you through this process painlessly. 

And of course, in the meeting, you need someone you are confident can:

  • Leverage group dynamics
  • Manage interactions, agenda, and timing
  • Create alignment
  • Summarize ideas
  • Ask thought-provoking questions

Those are the basics, but all of this, together, ensures that people are aligned, action is taken, and something changes as a result of this meeting.

If you would like help planning an effective virtual leadership team or board meeting, call us. It’s what we do.