take charge of remote meetings

How to Take Charge of Your Remote Meetings

Lead remote meetings that get results and build relationships.

Tired of shadowy silhouettes, screechy feedback, and multitasking participants? It doesn’t have to be that way. Remote meetings are a daily fact of life for most leaders. When you lead them well, they can build relationships, and leverage your team’s expertise from anywhere on earth.

Like in-person meetings, however, good remote meetings don’t happen by accident. It takes intention and clear expectations to give everyone a productive experience that helps your team move forward. Here are fourteen ways you can take control of your remote meetings and make them a productive experience for everyone.

Lights, Cameras, Action

You wouldn’t show up to most in-person business meetings wearing shorts and a tee-shirt, then put your feet up on the desk. While you hopefully don’t have remote team members show up this way, remote meetings require a different set of etiquette to ensure that the experience is connected and productive.

1. Use the Camera

Seeing one another’s faces is a fundamentally better experience than voice alone. Even with the latency and delays that sometimes come with video, we are built to see faces, interpret emotion, and connect with other human beings.

Visual communication is higher bandwidth communication. You will get better results and relationships when your team can see one another. If at all possible, make video the default expectation for your remote meetings.

2. Use Lights

Now that you’ve got your camera on, make sure your team can see you. The number one problem with lighting is that people sit in front of a window or bright light and point their camera toward the window. The light washes out your face and all we see is a dark silhouette.

If you lead many meetings, it’s worth setting up a regular space where you will have good lighting. Sit facing the window. Get a lamp. Use what you have and ask others to do the same. Even if every member can’t get good lighting, they can avoid sitting in front of a bright light that washes out their face.

3. Use a Microphone

While video requires a good internet connection, quality audio is easy and affordable. If you don’t have a remote-meeting-equipped conference room, an inexpensive USB headset will help you and your team to hear one another with minimal feedback and background noise. It’s very difficult to have a conversation with the group if you can’t hear one another or you’re fighting feedback. Headset microphones eliminate these problems.

4. Look at the Green Dot

Have you ever had a video conference with someone’s left ear? If so, it’s because they have their camera on a different monitor than the monitor they’re watching.

When you speak, practice looking at your camera. This maximizes your perceived eye contact with everyone else. On the laptop I use for remote meetings there is a little green light next to the camera lens. I’ve trained myself to look at that dot as if it were the eyes of the person I’m speaking to.

Several times I’ve had meeting participants remark on how connected I was and how intently I was listening. That’s why. I was looking at the dot–but they see me looking at them. This takes practice to get used to, but it’s much better than people talking to your ear.

5. Limit Background Noise

Even with a noise-canceling microphone, background noise disrupts your team’s ability to have a meaningful conversation.

How to Facilitate Remote Meetings

Remote meetings require more from you than an in-person meeting. Your team will appreciate your leadership to help make the meeting the best use of everyone’s time.

6. Prime with Early Interaction

Many people experience remote meetings as a passive event where they listen to one or two people talk while they do other work, chime in with “sounds good,” and move on. To create a different energy and break up those habits, start your meeting with interaction.

Even before the meeting starts, ask questions, have a starter that engages people. It can relate to the topic or simulate pre-meeting table talk. Or you can have fun and humanize everyone–the opportunities are limitless. What if you started with a quick “waterfall” chat where everyone shares their answer to questions like:

  • The best thing that happened to them at work this week?
  • What made them most proud of their team?
  • What contribution they’re most proud of?
  • What they hope to get out of or achieve on the project you’re discussing?

Give everyone a moment to read through and appreciate the answers. You can also use this technique to pause and gather responses throughout the meeting.

7. Set Expectations

What time does your meeting start?

If you said “9:00 am” – what does that mean? Does it mean people should arrive at 9? At 8:55? What should everyone have read or done to prepare for the meeting?

In one organization, a scheduled 9:00 am meeting could start as early as 7:30 if an executive’s plane arrived early.

Don’t leave your meetings to chance. Great teams have mutually understood, shared expectations about how they work together and that includes meetings – remote or in person.

Unless you’re meeting with the same group and have a track record of good remote meetings, take time to explain the technology and processes you use. If you will use polls, breakout rooms, text chats, whiteboards, or other elements, describe how they work and give people a chance to do it before you use it for the actual conversation.

It’s also a good practice to review behavioral expectations regarding lighting, microphones, video, background noise, and engagement just as you would for an in-person meeting. Eg “To avoid talking over one another, please use the ‘raise hand’ feature and I’ll call on you. Let’s try it out–everyone raise your hand now.”

8. Keep Track of Participation

How long has it been since you’ve heard input from Doug? Should you invite Cheryl into the conversation?

When you lead a remote meeting, it is helpful to keep track of who is taking part. I will often keep a list of attendees and use hash marks to make sure we balance input and that the technology doesn’t prevent contribution (or allow someone to hide who we need to hear.)

9. Intentionally Engage

When people are new to the technology, it helps to be directive in how you engage the team. Use everyone’s name frequently. Invite them to share their perspective (this is even more important when you have a hybrid meeting with some attendees in-person and some remotely). Vary the interactions. Use waterfalls, polls, and text chats to provide group feedback and engage whoever isn’t speaking at the moment.

One engagement tool that leaders often under-use is a good strategic story. In 2-4 minutes can you share a brief story about a customer or employee that relates to the meeting’s purpose–something that puts the computerized meeting in a human context.

Every Meeting, Every Time

Whether you’re meeting in person, remotely, or both, never forget these five fundamentals of effective meetings.

10. Have a Clear Purpose

Before anyone arrives to a meeting, they need to know the purpose of the meeting. Is this a meeting to choose where you are going or how you will get there? Clarify the purpose and stick to it.

11. Invite the Right People to Make the Best Decision

You want your meeting to be the most productive use of time for everyone who attends. Generally, invite the least number of people that will allow the group to make the best decision. Then add in people who can attend developmentally.

12. Clarify Who Owns the Decision

At the beginning of the meeting, clarify how the decision will be made. There are three ways to make business decisions: a single person decides; the team votes; or the team chooses by consensus. Those are your options. Be clear who owns the decisions so everyone knows how to share and how to think about what they hear.

13. Stay Focused

While you lead the meeting and participate in the discussion, stay focused on the original purpose. When you drift into other topics, make a decision: are you going to change the purpose of the meeting to discuss the new topic (rarely a good idea, but sometimes warranted) or call everyone back to the topic at hand? Use a parking lot and assign “parked” ideas an owner for follow up.

14. End with the Magic Meeting Formula for Results

To turn your meeting into action, wrap up with a focused check-for-understanding:  Who is Doing What by When and How Will We Know? Finish strong and ensure everyone clearly knows who is accountable for what activity.

Your Turn

We believe in the power of remote meetings and their ability to create human connections and achieve breakthrough results. Karin and I have built friendships and working relationships with people around the world through remote collaboration and our live-online leadership training programs – and you can too.

We’d love to hear from you: leave us a comment and share your best suggestion for running a fantastic remote meeting.

Do you treat team communication like pornography?

Are You Treating Team Communication Like Pornography?

Unclear expectations for team communication kill productivity.

When we work with leaders to help them build more effective organizations, we do a quick assessment of their team communication. Let’s check in on your team: How would you answer the following two questions?

  • Do we have clear, shared expectations regarding timely responses to emails, voice messages, and texts?
  • Do we respond to emails, calls, and texts in a timely manner?

If you’re like most leaders, your answers are “no” and “sort of” as in:

  • “No, we don’t really have shared expectations regarding timely responses.”
  • “We sort of respond in a timely manner – mostly to texts, but not as much with emails and calls.”

The problem is obvious: how can you get back to people in a timely manner if no one agrees what that means?

It’s like the famous definition of pornography US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart used: “I know it when I see it.”

Team Communication Frustrations

The problem with using an “I know it when I see it” standard for your timely team communication is that people have widely varying expectations for “timely.”

For example, Mary expects someone to return emails within four hours while Joe believes 24 hours is responsive. Now Mary is frustrated and feels disrespected, Joe missed an opportunity for a colleague to see and value his work, and the work languishes.

Another common example is instant messaging. Shantel closes the chat app to finish a project and meet a deadline. In the meantime, her colleagues discuss a project and choose a new solution without her input. When Shantel asks them why they didn’t consult her, they say, “It was all on the thread, we thought you’d chime in if you had anything.”

You can avoid this wasted emotional energy and lost productivity when you help your team or organization create shared expectations for team communication.

Ten Minutes of Clarity, Weeks of Productivity

There is no perfect set of communication expectations. What will make the most sense for your team and the work you do? It usually only takes ten minutes to discuss and establish shared communication expectations.

Here are a few examples of team communication expectations:

  • We will reply to texts at the next available opportunity, but not between 7:00 pm and 7:00 am.
  • If the phone rings after 8:00 pm it is an emergency and we need to take the call.
  • We will read and reply to emails within 24 hours.
  • If an email requires a response, note that and the timeframe in the subject line.
  • We will check and return voicemail once in the morning and once in the afternoon.
  • We exchange information with chat and project software. We will save decisions for voice conversations.
  • We do not respond to email or texts sent after 7:00 pm or before 7:00 am unless flagged as an emergency.

Your Turn

Clear shared communication expectations allow your team to focus, eliminate misunderstandings, and raise morale. Leave us a comment and share a best practice for communication at work.

7 Ways to Lead Friends and Former Peers

My first chance to lead friends didn’t go well: Joe stomped into the meeting room, slammed the door shut, and yelled at me, “How could you let this happen?”

He had just been fired by the company president.

I snapped back, “Me?? I’m not the one who didn’t show up and let the team down over and over again!”

He was angry, but I was frustrated and felt betrayed too. I’d put my credibility on the line to help him, but in the end he’d gotten himself fired.

What made it worse: for the last year, we’d been friends.

That all changed when I was given responsibility to lead the team.

Problems When Leading Friends and Former Peers

When we ask a group of new leaders about their biggest problems, this is always one of the most common.

It’s one of the most difficult challenges for most emerging leaders. We’ve even watched experienced leaders stumble when asked to address or lead a team of their peers.

In fact, it’s a Shakespearian dilemma: Prince Hal faces this challenge when he ascends to the throne and becomes King Henry V. His old drinking pals feel ignored and betrayed.

There were several problems that kept me from being an effective leader for my friend. You will likely encounter the same problems as you lead friends and former peers:

1) You want to be liked and accepted

Positional leadership, even when you are an outstanding Winning Well leader, means taking responsibility for decisions that not every agrees with. It means holding people accountable and it means that the group who you naturally want to like and accept you won’t always feel that way.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting other people to think well of you and have a desire to belong – it’s a very normal, human, and healthy value so long as it doesn’t consume you.

However, when you choose to lead, it will come into conflict with other values.

2) Your loyalty to the team and the mission

This is one of those “ANDs” that is so important – your friends may feel you’ve abandoned them, but you haven’t. You’ve added an important loyalty: to the organization, your team, and the mission.

Learning to balance both takes some work, but to your friends who don’t understand this tension, it can feel like betrayal.

3) Inconsistent behavior

In Shakespeare’s Henry IV and V, Prince Hal partied with the best of them – he drank with the renown lush, Falstaff, and nothing about his behavior said “leader.” Then he took the throne and treated his friends as if they were beneath his notice. He ignored them, tried to act “noble,” insulted them.How to lead friends and former peers - prince Hal

The problem was inconsistent behavior. The Prince wasn’t a leader when he hung out with friends. Once he became King and tried to act kingly, his friends were understandably hurt.

4) Unclear expectations

Conflicting and unclear expectations are the most common problem when you lead friends and former peers. When you move from a peer role to a positional leadership role, some of your team may expect to get a “pass” on poor behavior, others may expect favors or special treatment, and YOU may be expecting your friends to work especially hard because of your friendship.

All of this leads to massive disappointment when you do hold team members accountable, you won’t do favors that would hurt the team, and your friends don’t show any special effort.

5) Not everyone can handle it

Some people are able to manage the tension between friendship and supervisor. In my experience, however, it is the exception, not the rule.

It takes a great deal of maturity for both people to be able do this.

Seven Ways to Lead Friends and Former Peers

My experience didn’t have to end the way it did. Early in my career, I didn’t know about the problem I’ve just described. The good news is that a few Winning Well leadership practices can help you manage the transition from peer to positional leader:

  1. Lead from where you are, before you’re promoted.

Leading from where you are, without a formal title, will often lead to you being asked to fill titled leadership positions.

It also helps to ease the transition. If your peers all know you as someone who:

  • Sets an example
  • Practices healthy friendship (where you hold one another accountable)
  • Empowers others, and
  • Already balances the mission with your role on the team,

then you won’t surprise them with radically different behavior when you change positions.

However, as a team member, if you are constantly critical of other people and your supervisor, it will be difficult for you to lead friends when you have a formal leadership role.

  1. Be clear about expectations.

This is the essential step in the transition to lead friends and former peers: have a “no diaper drama” conversation about the transition and your mutual expectations. In this conversation discuss these topics:

  • Your commitments to your team and to the organization.
  • Your management expectations.
  • Your leadership values.
  • Organizational mandates.
  • Ask your peers to be honest about their concerns or expectations of you.
  • Discern if there are where they feel you are being unjust.
  • Be realistic about the times you will have to make decisions that are in the team’s best interest even if it conflicts with what you personally would like.

You want to prevent surprises. Your team needs to know where you are coming from. Don’t let it be a ‘gotcha!’ moment later on.

(Use the Winning Well Expectations Matrix in the free Winning Well Toolkit to help you have these conversations about expectations.)

  1. Clearly identify which role you’re playing.

This is difficult for some people because it takes a greater level of maturity in your thinking and relationships, but is very helpful for avoiding misunderstandings when you lead friends.

When you’re talking with a friend or former peer, clearly identify the role you’re in. Are you speaking as a friend or as their team leader?

For example: “As a friend, I am so sorry. That stinks! How can I help?”

“As the team leader, I can give you tomorrow to take care of your problem and then we will need you back.”

  1. Be clear, not perfect.

Be very clear about expectations, goals, and desired behaviors. You will never be perfect; so don’t try to act as if you are.

Your friends and former peers all know the ‘real’ you, so don’t suddenly try to act as if you’re perfect in ways they know you’re not. It’s fake and your leadership credibility will suffer.

It’s okay to be you. Take responsibility, be as clear as you can, and then:

  1. Apologize as needed.

Leaders often struggle to apologize, but it’s even more pronounced when a former team member is leading the team. Don’t let your insecurity and desire to be liked keep you from owning your junk, apologizing, and moving on.

  1. Weed as needed.

There are times when it just won’t work. For example:

A former peer continued to take advantage of our relationship and, despite my best efforts to clarify expectations and help him correct the behavior, nothing changed.

I had to be clear about the situation: “I want the best for you and I know this is difficult, but if nothing changes this will affect your employment.” He eventually took advantage of a second friend and supervisor and was fired.

You can’t control another person. Your job is to be the best leader you can be and give everyone on the team every opportunity to succeed. When someone isn’t interested in their own success, care enough to move them off your team.

  1. Get a new peer group.

Build relationships with other leaders, find mentors, and get coaching. There is nothing like a group of people who understand the challenges you experience and can share meaningful wisdom.

You can’t get this from your team. Over time, I built my own personal Board of Directors–people outside the company who I could learn from, confide in, and be accountable to.

Your Turn

It can be hugely rewarding to lead friends and former peers, but it’s your responsibility as a leader to set clear expectations and act fairly. Even experienced leaders can benefit from reviewing their relationships to make sure they are healthy.

Leave us a comment and let us know:

How do you maintain healthy relationships with your direct reports or your own leaders?

What other suggestions do you have to help lead friends and former peers?


Creative Commons Photo Credits:

Colors of Fall by regan76 and Birds by barloventomagico

3 Lessons Of The Expectant Leader

“Expectations” is one of my favorite topics. Today, please enjoy the lessons of expectant leaders, from leader and guest blogger Dave Bratcher.

Ever wonder why performance is not at the level you expected?

We often look through the rear view mirror to analyze our performance. Just as the mirror suggests, “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.” They are closer because the one who is responsible for setting them is the same person looking into the mirror.

Have you ever been perplexed as to why some team members are not performing at the level you expect? What about your own level of performance? Do you know what your boss or clients expect from you?

3 Lessons of the Expectant Leader

  1. People will rise to your level of expectationThere is something magical about people performing to the level of your expectation. As a former School Board member, this is seen in classrooms around the globe on a daily basis. When test scores are low, it is often the desire of school administration to lower standards in an attempt to close the gap between performance and expectations. This has been proven to be the absolute wrong approach to take. Raising expectations will raise performance. This is also true within a family, as Karin recently reflected about her Dad
  2. Expectations must be communicated early and often – I am reminded of an assignment in college in which I spent hours completing the project, only to find out the grading metrics were not in line with what I produced. The expectations were not disclosed at the beginning; rather they were only used to judge performance. Have you ever thought, “How am I doing?” At some point in our careers we have all wondered this. Guess what? Your team members are normal and they may be asking themselves the same questions. In Dave Ramsey’s book, Entreleadership, he talks about the importance of developing a Key Results Area document for each position on your team. It is a short document, including 4-5 bullet points, describing the expectations for any given position. This document is then used to monitor and assess performance throughout the year. Our team should ALWAYS know where they stand, and it’s our responsibility to tell them.
  3. Inspect what you expect – I don’t like clichés, but this phrase is memorable. Just because it is easy to remember doesn’t mean it is easy to implement. I am talking to myself on this one. This has been the area that I struggle with the most. What I have to do is put a reminder in my calendar, marked “Follow Up” as a way to make sure the inspection follows the expectation.

About Dave Bratcher

dave bratcher Dave Bratcher (@davebratcher on Twitter) is the founder of DaveBratcher.com devoted to leadership development. Subscribe for updates at www.DaveBratcher.com and receive Dave’s FREE ebook, A Picture Book Manifesto on Leadership.  He is a John Maxwell certified speaker, trainer, and coach. Dave is also a writer and currently serves as the Vice President of Financial Services for his community foundation. He and his wife, of 8 years, have two children, ages 5 and 2.

The Power of Great Expectations

It was March over a decade ago. I had just finished singing Amazing Grace and was headed down from the choir loft back to my pew. My Dad began the eulogy for my Grandma, who had died that week. He looked at his brothers and sisters in the first row and said, “I am thankful for expectations.”

Me too.

Sometimes we are told to expect less. Don’t listen. Some of my biggest successes have come just after I was warned to “lower my expectations.”

I was told not to expect…

  • to sell that product in my rural market
  • to get that job without direct experience
  • “them” to care as much as me
  • to make an impact too quickly
  • that kind of motivation to work in a union environment
  • the VP to wear that costume
  • those famous writers to respond to my email

Go beyond the expected.

Expect More

For Yourself

Expect bigger. It’s not too late. Chose the right influencers.

Thank others for their great expectations.

For Your Team

Teams thirst for challenge – not just “stretch” goals.

Expect more. Tell them what you expect. Expect magic.
Expect your team to BE better, not just achieve more.

For Your Family

Oh boy, here’s where it gets tricky. So much self-help literature says to let go of expectations. I’ll leave those posts to other bloggers. Like my Dad, I am grateful for expectations and possibilities.

Expect excellence, nurture talents, forgive failures, learn together.

How do you create powerful expectations?

How To Reset Your Team's Expectations

In Friday’s post, How To Transform Mid-Team, we talked about you how prepare your team for your evolving leadership style. But what if you also have new expectations for your team? Not only are you evolving, but you need them to as well. That’s even more difficult.

Perhaps you will be…

  • asking them to make more decisions
  • holding the team accountable
  • stopping the sidebars in meetings
  • surfacing the conflict
  • ?

Resetting Expectations is a Process

The most important part is communication and consistency. Go slow enough to preserve the trust. Following these steps will help.

  1. Explain why you are changing expectations how did you reach this conclusion?
  2. Share your new expectations for you own behavior–what is changing?
  3. Be specific-what exactly are you asking them to do differently?
  4. Be consistent be careful to stay true to the new standards
  5. Ease into it– be clear on expectations, soft on people give them time to grow into it
  6. Ask for feedback– listen and be willing to adjust the approach
  7. ?

This won’t happen overnight, and it will be messy. Keep the conversation open and learn along the way.

How do you work to reset expectations with your team?

How To Reset Your Team’s Expectations

In Friday’s post, How To Transform Mid-Team, we talked about you how prepare your team for your evolving leadership style. But what if you also have new expectations for your team? Not only are you evolving, but you need them to as well. That’s even more difficult.

Perhaps you will be…

  • asking them to make more decisions
  • holding the team accountable
  • stopping the sidebars in meetings
  • surfacing the conflict
  • ?

Resetting Expectations is a Process

The most important part is communication and consistency. Go slow enough to preserve the trust. Following these steps will help.

  1. Explain why you are changing expectations how did you reach this conclusion?
  2. Share your new expectations for you own behavior–what is changing?
  3. Be specific-what exactly are you asking them to do differently?
  4. Be consistent be careful to stay true to the new standards
  5. Ease into it– be clear on expectations, soft on people give them time to grow into it
  6. Ask for feedback– listen and be willing to adjust the approach
  7. ?

This won’t happen overnight, and it will be messy. Keep the conversation open and learn along the way.

How do you work to reset expectations with your team?