Top Ten Learnings Convening in a Virtual World | Leap Solutions Group
During the current COVID-19 pandemic, every day brings new information, concerns, and challenges regarding the spread of the virus, its economic and social impacts, and government directives. Leap Solutions remains dedicated to keeping you informed and empowered by delivering relevant, up-to-the-minute information and resources.
Our organizational development specialists are here to help support you with your online strategic planning, team development, executive coaching, training, program evaluation, and community engagement. Essentially, anything that you need in support of your business can be converted to a virtual experience. You still want to accomplish your plans, goals, and outcomes. We are here to help you achieve it–virtually.
In this issue of our newsletter we will cover:
- How we are gathering in a virtual world
- The learning curve of the virtual world
- Core learning about the virtual convening world
- Top 10 Learnings from convening in the virtual world
- Share your learnings with us – Quick survey link
Welcome to COVID-19 and sheltering in place. In the blink of an eye, we moved from the physical world to the virtual world. What at one time might have taken decades to impact how we as humans connect, communicate, innovate, and plan, we transformed overnight. Without much thought, training, or tool development, we went online and virtual for just about everything we do. We made a significant pivot as a world.
How we are gathering in a virtual world
In the COVID life, the range of our virtual human experiences has included online marriages, memorial services, community gatherings, graduations, family celebrations, and friends cooking or enjoying Happy Hours. On the business side, with a vast majority of that world working from home, much has changed. What traditionally convened in person has moved to virtual engagement. Prominent examples include conventions, conferences, planning sessions, team building, internships, training, and recruiting. During a recent client team strengthening engagement, Leap Solutions worked remotely with a director and the vice president to complete a 360 Leadership Competency review and action plan to support the director’s team and professional leadership development.
While the physical manifestations of humans in the same room together have changed, you will hear from participants that the outcomes are better. People are still achieving their personal and professional goals and inspiring others to greatness. Instead of seeing the coronavirus pandemic as limiting, people have adapted their tools with technology to identify priorities, set direction, and re-evaluate perspectives. A Leap Solutions client was struggling with how to adjust their short and long-term plans in light of the COVID pandemic. They convened their board and community thought leaders to understand the current climate and project the longer-term view. Over a series of two-hour virtual meetings, they discussed, evaluated, and shifted the short and long-term plans. What would most likely have taken up to six months of in-person meetings, they accomplished in three, two-hour virtual convenings.
The learning curve
The learning curve of the virtual world for many has evolved around muting/unmuting, ensuring the camera is on, finding the perfect camera angle (although, we’ve all seen plenty of participants from the nose and forehead up), asking, “Can you hear me?” or exclaiming, “I can’t get this darn camera to work.” Rather simple learnings really. As a couple of financial planners shared recently, their non-tech-focused clients have readily adapted to conducting their annual financial review virtually. Clients have commented on how much they enjoy virtual meetings and find the meetings to be more productive and shorter than in-person meetings. Productive, efficient, timely, and effective… amazing results. It appears everyone has accepted the technology and adapted quickly.
Core learnings in the virtual world
Considering the rapid adoption and compliance rate, what are we learning so far about the virtual convening world?
- People adapt quickly when the desire outweighs the potential complexity of technology.
- Human interaction, while best done in person, can be very satisfying virtually.
- Individual, government, and business systems can quickly establish a productive rhythm and accomplish much.
- Technology is a tool, not a barrier.
- Our virtual experience is significantly changing our perspective on how we engage, connect, and conduct our business.
- The virtual experience lends itself to more fully understanding people since we view them in their environments, their homes.
Leap Solutions’ experience with virtual engagement has involved supporting clients with strategic planning, board, and team-building retreats, executive coaching, executive searches and recruitments, human resource function reviews, training, program evaluation, government advisory councils, and professional development. Essentially, everything Leap Solutions Group once provided at client sites, in board rooms, and community gatherings have moved to the virtual experience. We realized quickly that our clients still wanted to achieve their goals and remain on target during COVID-19 restrictions. One community-based group had launched its strategic planning process in January 2020. When COVID shut down in-person meetings, the planning process was impacted, and we switched quickly to virtual meetings. Collaborating online, we worked together in one-hour increments, had a few sub-group virtual gatherings, and met the planning timeline. The plan was delivered to the board in June. Throughout this process, Leap Solutions has kept a few steps ahead of our clients to support their needs–and they have adapted.
Top 10 learnings in the virtual world
What are our Top 10 learnings from this experience?
(1) Tools to convene: while there are many online tools available to convene, most function similarly. We recommend a one-on-one practice connection before the online engagement, to support anyone needing a technology consult. One client recommended to committee members that they connect a few days ahead of the first virtual convening to “practice” their sign-on and system needs. Once used, the technology is just like riding a bike – hop on and get going
(2) Agreements to structure and approaches: to best support the online engagement, we developed online protocols, “Zoomstructions,” to agree on such things as muted unless speaking, check camera angles, virtual hand raising to speak, allowing video, using features like whiteboards or breakout rooms.
(3) Experiment, evaluate, experiment, adjust: try something, evaluate, adjust, try it again, evaluate, and adjust. It sounds simple–and it works. We asked participants to share their experience, we listened and we made changes. One core learning in the early online experience was to add a convening break about halfway through for any session that lasted two hours or more. If you need a four-hour gathering, a lunch break is a great way to split the meeting.
(4) Creative engagement techniques are still valuable tools: ice-breakers and team-building activities encourage all virtual participants to be a part of the convening. They are fun, connect the group, and bring all voices into the online system. One team used a tool known as the Design Team Alliance to talk through how they wanted to be in relationship while convening virtually. They identified such concepts as respectful listening, questioning the topic and not the person, building trust with online tools, learning the capabilities of online convening apps (Zoom, Microsoft Teams) and teaching others, and being fully present during the meeting (no multi-tasking). Think of creative ways that are appropriate for the convening group to engage such as small breakout groups, a short trivia game, how to change your screen name to identify your alter ego, or group polling on a staging, meeting launch question. Be brave, be creative.
(5) Participation is HIGH: Wow, this was a core learning. With so many people with time on their hands, it was much easier to agree upon a meeting date and time.
(6) Outcomes are amazing and Productivity is UP: the core learning is getting more done in less time with better results. In asking participants as well as other online conveners, we learned people feel more productive, engaged, participatory. And after the virtual meetings, they feel a great sense of accomplishment. One client used smaller, more intimate breakout groups that met virtually to work through the priorities of the strategic plan and outline goals and tactics. They accomplished their work in two, 1-hour virtual meetings.
(7) Time saved by Remaining in Place: Not traveling to meetings has been identified by many of our clients and meeting participants as a true gift from virtual convenings; it can turn a two-hour meeting commitment to one hour. We’ve heard from many business leaders that travel in the post-COVID world will be changed and much will continue to be accomplished via virtual meetings. One colleague who pre-COVID spent a portion of each week traveling nationwide indicates their travel frequency will be about 25% of what it used to be. Imagine their productivity and work-life balance impacts.
(8) Engagement is strong: Online participants show up ready to share their ideas, add to the conversation, speak up, and collaborate with others. We have participated in several international professional development opportunities in the last few months, engaging with people from Dubai, Singapore, Turkey, Italy, Mexico, and many other locations. It is easy to join and share perspectives no matter where you live–as long as you don’t mind the odd time-zone hours.
(9) Clients are innovating and inspiring new approaches and solutions: give a problem to clients and the solutions are quickly evident. We found initially that some clients wanted to put off their work, hoping we’d be able to convene in person sooner rather than later. However, shelter-in-place fatigue moved people from the couch to their home office quickly, and the online convening solutions were suggested, tested, and activated. The only boundary was dreaming up a solution that would enable a wide-swath of participation, engagement, and desired outcomes. For instance, we found brainstorming moved quickly with participants exploring or hovering around ideas, instead of vying over competing ideas. The brainstorming is focused, without side chats (it is harder to speak to your seatmate when you are located miles apart). Multi-tasking, which can be enabled during conference calls, is difficult to do when everyone can see you on screen. After all, all eyes are virtually on you.
(10) Feedback for conveners and facilitators is important for improving the process and outcomes: the feedback loop improves the outcome every time. For instance, implementing the session break made a lot of sense and felt like a “duh” when suggested. It supported a better level of engagement and outcomes. We also have heard that the virtual meeting room is safe, open, equitable, and less focused on roles or positions. Participants feel important and actively engaged. Another key learning, there is no front of the room, head table, or another power positioning in the virtual room.
Share your learnings with us via a quick SurveyMonkey
We’d love to hear from our readers about what they have learned from the virtual-world- convening they have conducted or participated in. We’ve set up a SurveyMonkey link for you to provide your input. Click here to participate in the short survey.
One of our favorite authors Max De Pree (“Leadership is an Art”) said, “We cannot become what we want by remaining what we are.” In the virtual convening world, we are becoming a better version of ourselves by adapting quickly to stay engaged, alive, and reaching our goals.
Leap Solutions is a diverse group of highly skilled management, organizational development, and human resources, and executive search and recruitment professionals who have spent decades doing what we feel passionate about helping you feel passionate about what you do. Our HR specialists can help you get a handle on the ever-changing COVID-19 guidelines, programs, and legislation that may impact you and your employees. We are available to work with you to develop practical solutions and smart planning decisions for your organization’s immediate, near, and long-term needs.
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