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Social media: Love it or hate it, it’s here to stay!

It is often said that we live in a world which is becoming more and more transparent. Communication and how it is carried is constantly changing and this brings new opportunities and challenges. People are expected to keep up with these changes, both in their personal as well as in their work lives. The problem comes in when there is a disconnect between what people are expected to be able to do and what they are really able to do. This is the situation some of my participants are facing at the moment. The multinational company where I provide training has, like many other companies, implemented a social media platform which it expects employees to embrace, use and add information to. That sounds reasonable, you might say.

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The problem is that many of my participants don’t use social media in their personal lives, there is only limited training available and there isn’t always time to learn about the tools and their use. Did I mention that everything also needs to be in English? Together we came up a possible checklist to help new social media users figure out which questions they should ask to help them start learning the basics of using social media at work. I hope you find it useful.

Learn about the tools

Do you know the difference between a wiki, a blog and a forum? Can you give examples about different ways to use each of these? How is your company using them? Where can you find them or how can you access them?

Learn about the related terminology

In addition to the tools themselves, there are many words which users also need to be familiar with. What is an entry, a comment, netiquette? How about a tag, a news feed or a blogosphere?

Learn about what the company expects from you

Which tools are you expected to use? How are you expected to use them (i.e. read only, add comments, write entries, add links, etc.?) How often should you contribute? Should you do this alone or in a group?

Learn about your company’s netiquette or online policy

Are there any security restrictions for specific information? Do you need to limit access to certain individuals, groups or departments? Can everyone add any comment they like or are certain comments deleted (i.e. hurtful or irrelevant comments, etc.)

Learn about existing informational structures

Does your department have a site which has already been set up? Are you expected to contribute to an existing location or create your own? Do certain key users need to be contacted before additional groups, sites or pages are added?

Learn about the current role of previously used systems

Should information be updated in previously used systems or only in the new system? Will the information be migrated to the new system? What are you responsible for maintaining?

Learn about your responsibilities

Is it your job to make sure that the information is always up to date? How should you do this? Is there anyone who can help you? Which steps do you need to know how to do to change information which has already been added to the system?

Resources that can help you

We’d like to hear from you. Which challenges do you face when using social media for internal communication? How did you overcome initial challenges? Which tips do you have for other users? Feel free to share your ideas below.

Learning to listen: lessons from baseball, TED talks and an alien life form

How well do you listen?

Sound matters. In work. In life. Sometimes we forget that. I heard a story recently that was told by a former Major League Baseball player. He talked about a manager he once played for. During practice, the manager would put players in the outfield with their backs to home plate. A batter would stand at home plate and have someone pitch the baseball to him. Baseball bats are made of wood and are roughly 30-34 inches long. The cork-filled, leather-covered ball is thrown anywhere from 80-100 miles per hour. The batter would swing the bat and hit the ball. Now here is the important part:

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Because the player in the outfield had their backs to home plate they had to train their ear to know what part of the field the ball was travelling to, based on the sound created when the baseball made contact with the bat. If you’ve ever seen a baseball game (or cricket) you know you can hear when a ball is hit solidly. But you can’t determine where it is going to travel. This manager wanted his players to hear the contact, and make a split-second decision to race to the position they believed the ball was going, without even seeing it. With practice, players knew exactly where the hit ball was going.

They had to learn to listen.

Are we “losing our listening”?

TED, the great, freely accessible online source for learning, has what I think are two of the best talks around on how to achieve excellent communication. Both are by Julian Treasure, author of an excellent book on the impact sound has on our working lives called ‘Sound Business,’ and both are well-worth watching. In one, he talks about speaking well and in the other, the one I suggest below, he talks to us about listening.

Of his five tips on how to listen better, the final one – an acronym, of course – RASA, the Sanskrit word for ‘juice’ or essence’ is exactly that when it comes to business communication: listening is important, it’s the essence of effective business communication. RASA stands for:

Receive

That is, actually pay attention to what they’re saying.

Appreciate

By making natural small noises or utterances like, “ah” or “hmm” or “okay.” You may have also heard it referred to as active listening.

Summarise

Very crucial to all sorts of business communication, from presentations to negotiations and everything in between. Here it’s critical you are authentic and summarise what you heard – NOT what you wanted to hear.

Ask

And finally, ask questions. Find out more. Learn as much as you can about a situation, a trend, a project, a risk, or an opportunity.

ALF

Learning to listen starts with recognizing all the barriers we create for ourselves. This is where ALF comes in, and no, we’re not talking about the sitcom character that chased cats. ALF means Always Listen First. Julian Treasure warns us at the beginning of his TED talk that ‘we are losing our listening.’

Don’t lose yours. Listen like a Major League player. And Always Listen First.

Email phrases for praising (virtual team) performance

Research shows that when we work in virtual teams managers tend to praise far less. In an earlier life, I worked as an analyst for an international corporation in Boston. A large part of my job was generating weekly reports and sending them off to various people. I never received a response, so I never knew if what I was I was doing was adding any actual value. This lack of feedback, whether positive or negative, was sometimes demoralizing.

It is vitally important to praise a job well done

Everybody likes to know that they are doing a good job and are on the right track in their tasks and projects. Working in virtual teams can feel isolating – and it’s motivating to know that your work is being noticed.

Praise does several things:

  • It improves the morale of both the team and the team member
  • It motivates people/teams and increases productivity
  • It’s an opportunity to give positive feedback
  • It builds commitment

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Email phrases for praising performance

Here are 17 phrases you could use the next time you want to praise one of your team members (or all of them) in writing:

  1. The work you did on the project was outstanding.
  2. You are an asset to both our team and our organization
  3. Your performance this past year has been exceptional.
  4. The quality of your work is routinely excellent.
  5. Your professional attitude is much appreciated.
  6. I have been very pleased with your efforts.
  7. Your extra effort and dedication have made this project a success.
  8. I must commend you for your dedication to our team.
  9. You have made a great contribution to the project.
  10. Your consistent professionalism has ensured the success of this project.
  11. You have been an invaluable addition to our team.
  12. Thank you very much for taking the initiative to find a solution to the problem.
  13. You can take pride in the work you have put into this project.
  14. The success of this project is a direct result of your efforts.
  15. Your enthusiasm and passion are exemplary.
  16. Your disciplined approach to problem solving led directly to this project’s success.
  17. You earned my respect with your inspiring performance on the project.

Mix and match and be specific with your praise

It is easy to mix and match the phrases in order to personalize how you want to praise each of your team members. For example, if you take #3 and #6, you can change it to: “I have been very pleased with your performance this year.” Or, you can use two or more and combine them into one sentence: “I have been very pleased with your efforts, you have made a great contribution to the project.”

Who doesn’t like praise?

Everyone enjoys receiving praise, don’t they? My colleague, Kate Baade, wrote in a recent post that it’s important to point out the positives as and when they happen. Don’t wait until the once a year performance appraisal interview to give praise. Kate, I fully agree.

 

The 3–6–9 of great leadership (according to TED …and me)

As a kid, my parents told me I watched too much TV. They would not be pleased to know that hasn’t changed very much, but at least nowadays I try to watch things that might actually inspire me. That’s where TED [www.ted.com] comes in. TED talks can be a great source of inspiration. They can be short, or long. They can be energetic or dry. And they are full of information on nearly any topic.

The “3-6-9 of great leadership”

As an intercultural trainer, business English teacher, project manager and former actor, I think a lot about what motivates people, especially at work. Three short TED talks that I have watched over and over really get to the heart of what makes a great leader. I call them the “3-6-9 of great leadership.” These three talks summarise in (more or less) 3 minutes, 6 minutes and 9 minutes what I think is the essence of great leadership. For now, I’m not going into why these and other well-structured talks and presentations work as well as they do. Let’s just take in their messages.

Derek Sivers

How to start a movement

The first TED talk, by entrepreneur Derek Sivers, explains to us in three minutes “How to Start a Movement.” Using a light-hearted video of a group of rather spontaneous dancers, he demonstrates how to lead and how to create a situation in which people want to follow. He also surprises us by highlighting who the real leader is. It’s not who you might think.

Drew Dudley

Everyday leadership

If you work in a team or an office, how often do your simple, unremarkable actions influence others? In the second talk, leadership educator Drew Dudley asks us in six minutes whether people can be leaders even if they don’t have that title. In this quick-paced, very personal story, he shows us how we can often be leaders without even knowing it.

Roselinde Torres

What it takes to be a great leader

In the final talk, the longest of the three at just over nine minutes, leadership expert Roselinde Torres details qualities of a great leader. She has spent 25 years researching leadership and her fascinating talk boils it down to the need to ask three simple questions:

  • Where are you looking to anticipate the next change to your business model or your life?
  • What is the diversity measure of your personal and professional stakeholder network?
  • Are you courageous enough to abandon a practice that has made you successful in the past?

Spoiler alert!

All three talks repeat one particular theme: While some principles of leadership may remain, true leaders are characterised by doing something different. But not just for the sake of being different. They have a goal.

  • Derek Sivers’s ‘leader’ is the first person who has the courage to follow the person you think is the leader. As the first ‘follower’ he gives others the permission to join in.
  • Drew Dudley’s ‘leader’ appears to go about his daily business fearlessly and effortlessly. In the process, he unknowingly inspires someone to go about her work as fearlessly as she can.
  • Roselinde Torres reminds that great leaders take action; they do not walk with their heads down, trying not to be noticed. They dare to be different.

Is leadership for managers only, then? Definitely not. These three talks remind us that learning to be an effective leader can help you chair a meeting, or create a presentation that people remember. Among many other things.

… so what are your thoughts?

What makes an effective communicator in Project Management?

Would you risk 56%?

The Project Management Institute’s 2013 report Pulse of the Profession revealed that US$135 million is at risk for every US$1 billion spent on a project. Of that, a shocking 56 percent of is at risk due to ineffective communications. 56% of $135 million = $75 million dollars!

As a project manager, how can you ‘make effective communication happen’?

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Let’s look at some simple things you can do to focus your team:

Talk the Talk

You know how important it is to know what’s happening in your organization. Now, stress to your project team how valuable it is too. In project meetings, make sure your message is understood. Check in with your team, especially if it appears there may be confusion. They may not solve all your communication issues but they do convey how valuable good communication is to you:

  • Is everyone clear on this?
  • I want to make sure there is no misunderstanding.
  • What is not clear?

Admittedly, all three of the tips are too often reduced to clichés. But there is truth in them. Back in my theatre days, I, and many other actors I knew, often worried about playing stereotypes and clichés. A very good acting teacher used to tell me, “Embrace the cliché. It’s there for a reason. Find the truth in it!”

Walk the Walk

Keep language as uncomplicated as possible. Be polite but be clear.

A German manager, who worked internationally and used English in Live Meetings, once told me, “the challenge is that we are sometimes not strong enough in English to understand these problems, or sometimes we don’t realize that there ARE problems.” And therein lies the risk. Not only might you miss the complexity of problem, you might miss that a problem even exists.

Recognize that not everyone is at the same level when working in a foreign language. Different project management methodologies use some different terminology. You might be come from a PMP background but your colleagues might mostly understand the language of PRINCE2. Or your organization might use its own language to discuss projects. While using different terminology may be necessary (more in the 3rd point below), try to keep ‘jargon’ to a minimum.

Get Everyone on the Same Page

Although different project management methodologies boast unique language, it’s a good idea to be able to adapt in such a way that you are able to communicate with all stakeholders.

Have a standardized communications plan. 

The Pulse reports that high performers are almost three times more likely than low-performing organizations to use standardized practices through the organization. As a result, they achieve better project outcomes. Making sure your language is standardized defines outcomes, invites trust, manages conflict, invites commitment, and embraces accountability.

Embrace the cliché!

Any good project manager will tell you that project outcomes are never guaranteed. No project manager can control everything. But keep these tips in mind and you will be ensuring that one of the most important aspects of project work which is under your control – communication – helps make your project, you and your team be as successful as it can be.

 

First aid tips and tricks for sickly teleconferences

I’m going to give you a few quick and easy tips and tricks to make your teleconferences better. Why am I going to do this? You know why. Many teleconferences are horribly ineffective and waste a lot of valuable time. I have sat through hundreds of telecons, and have trained hundreds of other people who have sat through hundreds of teleconferences.

Three complaints I have heard time and time again are:




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  1. There’s a weird atmosphere on the call because there is too much silence.

  2. I can’t understand certain people when they talk.

  3. Our teleconferences are “always” a waste of time.

So, if you can give me a few minutes by reading on, I will try to give you some quick and easy ways to overcome these issues.

Silence is deadly…and uncomfortable

Silence can kill…a teleconference that is. If you are on a call, show some life and participate. Here are a few things you can try on your next call:

  • Give verbal feedback throughout the call. Simple sounds and phrases can really help the flow and atmosphere of a call. “Uh huh”, “I agree” and “Nice work Tom” are a few examples that can be used.
  • When you go through the agenda before the call, try to have at least one thing to contribute for each point. This way, you will be prepared to break the silence and look smart at the same time!
  • Don’t be afraid to express your opinion or give someone positive feedback. Not only does this help fill silence, but it can also build rapport (agreement) or generate some healthy discussion (disagreement).

What did he say?

It can be very difficult to understand some people on the telephone, and especially in teleconferences. This can be due to language issues, accents, the volume of a person’s voice, their phone habits, etc. The next time you don’t fully get something someone says on a call, try these:

  • Make sure you actually say something to them about it. Many times we don’t understand someone but don’t say anything because it is easier. Politely ask them to repeat themselves. Most of the time people don’t realize they are hard to understand.
  • Confirm understanding when you are not sure. Use phrases like “If I understand you correctly, you are saying…” and “Just to make sure I understand correctly, did you say…” This can be a more diplomatic way of telling someone they are hard to understand, and is especially helpful if you have asked them to repeat themselves a lot on a call.
  • Contact someone personally after the call. If you are having trouble understanding someone on a consistent basis, try calling them or emailing them after a call to politely bring this to their attention. You have to be careful how you do this, but many people will appreciate knowing that they should change the way they speak so people can better understand them.

These calls are a waste of my time

Most teleconferences run too looooooong. Here are a few things to do to save everyone some time:

  • Get feedback from the participants. First, assess if this is a common opinion by asking for feedback from the participants. Ask everyone what they think is causing the calls to run too long. Then, using the feedback, try to get rid of those ‘time wasters’.
  • Make some calls optional if possible. Give people a chance to opt out of certain calls. Then they can choose to use their time the way they want. Just make sure to take clear and concise minutes so that anyone who misses a call has the important information discussed.
  • If you usually have 30 minute calls each week, try doing the same thing in 20 minutes. If you usually have 60 minute calls, try doing them in 40 minutes. You will be surprised how much you can accomplish in less time if you focus on doing so. Remember, it is the moderator’s responsibility to keep things within the timeframe. With that said, some of the most successful teams I’ve worked with have had a designated “time watcher” that can help remind the moderator when time is running out.

These suggestions can turn your sickly teleconferences into the most productive time of the week!

Ok, just joking; but at least you can make them a bit better. If you are interested in more ways to make your teleconference better, download our ‘Sweet sixteen – quick and easy steps to better teleconferences’.

Book Review: 5 great books to boost your virtual teams’ performance

As we’ve heard from many of our participants in our virtual team seminars , the challenges of virtual teams are similar to the challenges of face-to-face teams but magnified. Additionally, new challenges arise, such as the impact of a lack of contact on the social glue that holds teams together, and matching the right technology to the right task. The sources we’ve looked at below continue to help us to focus on practical solutions to the real-world problems and opportunities virtual teams present. We hope they will help you to succeed in a virtual environment as well.

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Virtual Team Success

By Darleen Derosa & Richard Lepsinger

This research-based book is a compilation of practical approaches to virtual teaming. The book contains a number of helpful checklists and best practices that can serve as a guide for virtual team leaders and participants. The behavioral focus of Virtual Team Success will help you to get out ahead of any problems before they happen with no-nonsense advice based on real-world success. If you need to justify the investment of time, energy and resources needed to improve your virtual teams, this book will help you do so. The processes for solving common problems in virtual teams is a highlight.

Mastering Virtual Teams: Strategies Tools and Techniques that Succeed

By Deborah Duarte & Nancy Snyder

The authors of Mastering Virtual Teams have applied best practices, tools and techniques from team theory and information and knowledge management to the challenges of virtual teams. They’ve organized the information in three, easy to follow areas: Understanding, Creating and Mastering Virtual Teams. Their vast practical experience as professors, consultants and business leaders inform the “how to” approach of the book. The book provides a toolkit for participants, leaders and managers of virtual teams. Practical tools, exercises, insights and real-life examples help you to master the dynamics of virtual team participation with guidelines, strategies and best practices for cross cultural and cross functional work. For example, instead of simply stating “build trust”, the authors give us three general guidelines for building trust in a virtual environment. Not surprisingly, these factors work in collocated teams as well. They’ve included a CD Rom with the third edition as an easy way to print the checklists and helpful documents from the book.

Where in the World is My Team: Making a Success of Your Virtual Global Workplace

By Terrence Brake

Where in the World is My Team: Making a Success of Your Virtual Global Workplace follows the exploits of Will Williams as he makes his way in a virtually enabled workplace and the life of a young professional in London. As a narrative that weaves the best practices of virtual organizations and teams, Where in the World is my Team succeeds in helping the reader to want to go from cover to cover and not use the book merely as a resource document. The book is far more than just an entertaining look at a digital life. The book’s very detailed appendix provides researched support for the virtual structures and tools highlighted in the story. Brake’s 6 C’s of global collaboration provide a logical framework for the needs of effective virtual teams.

Leading Virtual Teams

Harvard Business School Publishing

Leading Virtual Teams  is a quick and easy guide for those who don’t need to be convinced to do what it takes to improve their virtual teams, needing only tips on how to do it. The book covers the basics for those beginning their experiences with leading virtual teams. There are references to related Harvard Business publications, a mention of the Harvard extension course on Managing Virtual Teams, taught virtually, and a brief test as a check-on-learning.

The Big Book of Virtual Team Building Games

By Mary Scannell & Michael Abrams

The Big Book of Virtual Team Building Games fills a present developmental need for many virtual teams with games that encourage building rapport, solving problems and team skills. The games are designed to be played using various virtual team platforms and are cleverly arranged according to Tuckman’s stages of team development–forming, storming, norming, performing—with the additional stage, transforming. Each game is described in detail with the approximate time for completion. Keep in mind that teams with member using a non-native language may take a little longer than predicted.

 

Brainstorming in English

Contributing ideas in English is a common problem for both native and non-native speakers of English. Brainstorming requires you to speak spontaneously and multi-task which can be both stressful and demanding – especially in a foreign language. Participants often have to listen to a lot of people speaking at the same time which can push listening and language skills to the limit. However, brainstorming also gives you a chance to solve problems, listen to new ideas and also develop your team – so don’t avoid them if you’re worried about getting stuck or your English failing you.  The following phrases look at some of the most common language you can use when brainstorming to avoid getting stuck.

Phrases for brainstorming

 Identifying objectives

  • Let’s define today’s objective.
  • Do we agree on the goal of the session?
  • So today we are…..
  • Let’s first describe our aims of the session.

 Making suggestions

  • How about we…?
  • Let’s try…
  • Why don’t we…?
  • Why not try this?

 Recording ideas

  • Let’s put that on the board.
  • Can we note that down?
  • Could we stick that idea to the wall?
  • Let’s post that on the flip chart.

Analyzing contributions

  • Let’s look more closely at…
  • Can we summarize these ideas together?
  • How about evaluating idea 1?
  • Let’s talk about the advantages and disadvantages of …

Using fillers (to give you more space to think)

  • I wonder…..
  • Hmmm, that’s interesting.
  • Let me think for a moment.

 More on meetings

Our blog authors have plenty to share!

We also have a number of seminars that might be of interest to you.

Ground rules for working effectively in groups

Originally published on: 05.06.2014

One of my program participants recently mentioned the workplace value of the skills of moderation and facilitation. This conversation piqued my interest, so I searched the Net for the best books about facilitation and chose one that is considered a classic text on the topic of facilitation: The Skilled Facilitator: A Comprehensive Resource for Consultants, Facilitators, Managers, Trainers, and Coaches by Roger Schwarz. As a trainer who very often works with groups, one of Schwarz’s theories caught my eye: establishing ground rules for groups. Schwarz compiled a list known as The Ground Rules for Effective Groups that help make sure groups are communicating effectively. Below, the nine Ground Rules are listed with a short description (some or all of these rules can be adopted, or the group can create their own, at the first group meeting).

9 Ground rules for effective groups

1. Test assumptions and inferences

Making inferences from available information is a valuable skill, but what if we make these assumptions based on incorrect information or a misunderstanding of what someone else said? 

2. Share all relevant information

If members of the team don’t share all of their information, this can lead to incorrect decisions. Even worse, if it’s discovered later that someone withheld information, it can cause major problems. 

3. Use specific examples and agree on what important terms mean

If important terms are fully defined, team members can be assured that they’re speaking about the same issues in the same way.

4. Explain your reasoning and intent

If you can explain your line of reasoning to your colleagues, they’ll be better able to understand where you’re coming from. In addition, listening carefully to your colleagues’ explanations will help you understand the situation more fully.

5. Focus on interests, not positions

Closely linked to Ground Rule 4, number 5 suggests that we discuss the interests of the people involved and not the position they are taking. Rather than, for example, “He says the budget can’t go up, but I want a new computer,” think, “He needs more money for the advertising costs, but I can’t process the graphics with my old, slow computer.” Then, we’re thinking in terms of what people really need, instead of what we think they might want.

6. Combine advocacy and inquiry

In a nutshell, this ground rules means that when you state an opinion, you ask for comments and questions immediately. 

7. Jointly design next steps and ways to test disagreements

Agreeing on a system for solving disagreements beforehand can save time and make sure disputes don’t bring the meeting to a halt. 

8. Discuss undiscussable issues

Bringing sensitive subjects out into the open needs to be handled very carefully, but can ultimately lead to a group that is moving forward rather than constantly avoiding an uncomfortable conversation.

9. Use a decision-making rule that generates the degree of commitment needed

If these (or other) ground rules are followed, hopefully all members will feel that they have all the information necessary to make an informed choice and that their voices have been heard. If this is the case and a consensus is reached, every member of the team will feel more dedicated to following-up on the decision, as they they have been an active part of the decision-making process.

More on effective groups and facilitation

The short description of the ground rules above doesn’t really do the book justice. If you’re interested in this topic, I’d recommend getting a copy of The Skilled Facilitator for yourself. If you have experience with groups that work well together (or more tips for how to make group interaction more effective), please share them with us in the comments section below.

Virtual Meeting Dos and Donts

Ensure your virtual meetings are productive

Virtual meetings can be tricky at times. Are they more like a telephone call or a face-to-face meeting? Well, they are a combination of both and should be treated differently. Here are some quick and easy “Dos” and “Donts” for virtual meetings.

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Virtual Meeting “Dos”

  • Ensure all stakeholders essential to achieving the meeting’s goals can attend—Otherwise, reschedule it
  • Consider rotating the meeting time to accommodate those participants in different time zones
  • Prepare an agenda that outlines the meeting goals
  • Ensure meeting items/priorities/times align with meeting goals
  • Cancel a regularly scheduled meeting if you feel time could be better spent elsewhere
  • Send a meeting reminder with the agenda, needed materials, and information on the technology to be used at least three days before the meeting
  • Ask team members who are not speaking to put their phones on mute
  • Ensure everyone participates
  • Eliminate distractions—Ask people to turn off all smartphones, and to avoid email and instant messaging during the meeting
  • Side bar and report to make necessary side conversations part of the official function of the meeting
  • Document decisions and next steps

 

Virtual Meeting “Donts”

  • Hold a meeting if you can’t clearly answer the question “What is the purpose and expected outcome?”
  • Let meetings become “habit”
  • Attempt to cover more than five specific items per meeting
  • Allow side issues, “experts”, or native speakers to dominate the meeting
  • Hold a meeting even if any stakeholders essential to the meeting objectives cannot participate
  • Assume team members are clear about their roles and the meeting objectives
  • Continuously hold “marathon” meetings without any small-group brainstorming or breaks
  • Tackle critical topics at the start of the meeting
  • Let the meeting get off track by discussing the details of an action item that aren’t relevant to the meetings goals
  • Start late

More tips on virtual teams?

These dos and donts are only a small sample of the tips in our latest Ebook: The ultimate book of Virtual Teams checklists. Make sure you download a copy if you’re interested in maximizing your virtual team’s impact. Enjoy the read and… let us know what works for your virtual team!

Virtual Teams: Pre-Meeting To Do’s

What do you do before your virtual team meetings?

Preparing for any meeting is important, especially for virtual meetings via teleconference or netmeetings.  It is difficult working in virtual teams as you don’t see your other team members face-to-face very often.  So, try not to put yourself at a further disadvantage by forgetting to do a few small things before your meetings.  Here are five easy things you can do before your virtual team meetings to help make them more productive.

5 Pre-Meeting To Do’s for Virtual Teams

1.  Identify Team Members

List the decision makers, subject experts and opinion leaders before the meeting and identify their possible input and interests in the outcome of the meeting.

Consequences:

  • Knowing who to address when
  • Knowing who can answer specific technical questions
  • Focus information on decision maker’s interests

2.  Establish Ground Rules

The team decides on acceptable meeting behavior before the meeting begins and holds each other accountable to the rules; for example no interrupting, poll opinions, always have an agenda, etc…

Consequences:

  • Promoting behaviors that will improve group interaction
  • No single “enforcer” necessary
  • Accountability through reminding

3.  Publish an Agenda and Goals

Publishing an agenda should be a “must do” but it doesn’t always happen or it doesn’t happen in time for the participants to prepare. Another important feature of an agenda is a purpose statement or goal. What do you want to achieve with the meeting? What does a good meeting look like? Answering these questions will help you and your participants feel like you’ve accomplished something when the meeting is over.

Consequences:

  • Clear direction for the meeting
  • Improve preparation of participants
  • Way to keep participants focused and on topic
  • Feel a sense of accomplishment when it’s over

4.  Build Relationships

Take time before the meeting to get to know team members personally. It’s really important to build rapport and commitment to the Virtual Team.

Consequences:

  • Learning what others are interested in beyond the work of the meeting
  • More information to assist understanding
  • Help design metaphors and stories to illustrate key points
  • Increase commitment to virtual team

5.  Master the technology you will use in the meeting

Understanding your technological tools, what can go wrong and knowing how to fix it in advance of the meeting is crucial. Know what tools are available to your participants and be prepared to trouble shoot with participants. Always have a back-up plan.

Consequences:

  • Head off technical problems before they happen
  • Save time addressing technical problems during the meeting
  • Have input options for participants

You can ensure your virtual team meetings run more smoothly by taking a few minutes and doing the five things above.  What else have you done that has worked well?  Let us know in the comments area below.  Also, if you want to improve your overall participation in virtual teams, you can download our eBook of checklists and check out our seminar on Working Effectively in Virtual Teams by clicking here.

Challenges of Working in Virtual Teams

What are the challenges in your virtual team?

Each virtual team has their own unique challenges, but there are always a few that seem to be consistently present.  In this short video, Scott Levey, Director of Operations, focuses on two of the most commons challenges we see when training virtual teams.  Having awareness of these, and other issues that may arise, will help your virtual team increase its effectiveness.

 

 

Want to improve your virtual team’s performance?  Make sure to download our eBook of Virtual Team Checklists and check out our Working Effectively in Virtual Teams seminar.

Giving Feedback Virtually

Do you ever give feedback virtually?

Do you give your suppliers, your clients and your co-workers effective feedback – both positive and constructive (negative)? Giving good, timely, constructive and actionable feedback is something that most of us have to put a lot of effort into. Do we praise theVTchecklists right things? When we give constructive feedback, do we make positive suggestions? Do we always remember to address the issue, not the person?

Giving feedback well is not easy. But, giving feedback well in a business world that is becoming increasingly virtual can be a real challenge. When we add a few of the complexities that come from interacting virtually, we have an even harder job. Some of these challenges include timing, reading reactions, specificity and tone. When giving feedback virtually, for example via email, here are a few suggestions and tips below to help you do a better job.

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5 Tips for giving feedback virtually

1.  Make sure that the timing is appropriate – especially if your feedback is negative. Think about raising a child or a pet; you don’t tell them they did something wrong three days later!

2.  Make sure that the reader understands immediately what the email is about:

  • Use a subject line like: “Feedback on your proposal”
  • Tell them in the first sentence why you are emailing: “I’m writing to you with some feedback regarding the proposal you sent me on January 4.”
  • Tell them what feedback is included: “I have some feedback regarding the pricing and the payment process.”

3.  Break your feedback up. If you told them you had feedback about the pricing and the payment process, these should be two completely separate paragraphs. Give them headings if you wish.

4.  Try to be specific and give justification. For example:

  • “We liked your proposal. Especially the second page where you mentioned that the training would focus on our corporate values. This really fits to our company philosophy.”
  • “Unfortunately, we cannot agree to point 3 in section 2, relating to the payment options. This is not in accordance with our compliance policy.”

5.  When rejecting a suggestion, try to make a counter suggestion. For example:

  • “We cannot agree to point 3 in section 2. However, we could agree if the payment period was extended to 60 days.”
  • “I do not like the way you formatted the report. Next time, try to base it on the attached example or come and see me to discuss my expectations in more detail.”

Of course, there are many other things which can help to make giving feedback virtually more effective. Please feel free to add your extra ideas in the comments section below. Also, make sure to check out our seminar on Working Effectively in Virtual Teams to help improve your virtual team’s performance.

 

 

Prioritizing Work: 4 Categories to Help

4 Simple categories to help in prioritizing work

Prioritizing work can be a challenge for anyone, especially managers. I have just returned to work after being on holiday for two weeks. After reading all of my emails and speaking to my colleagues, I now have a huge to-do list. In the past, I wouldn’t have known where to start but I recently learned a very simple method for prioritizing. Based on The Eisenhower Matrix, I label each task on my to-do list with a letter, A, B, C or D.

Prioritizing work with A, B, C, or D

 

1.  ‘A’ tasks: Do it

These tasks are:

  • urgent, very important and should be done straight away
  • directly affect the work of others and they are waiting on you to continue their own tasks

2.  ‘B’ tasks: Plan it

These tasks are:

  • important but not urgent, so you can take the time to plan when you will do them
  • ones that require extra thought and consideration and should not be rushed

3.  ‘C’ tasks: Delegate it

These tasks are:

  • ones that aren’t overly important but need doing quickly
  • easily done by others who have more time to do them

4.  ‘D’ tasks: Drop it

These tasks are:

  • not urgent, nor are they necessarily important
  • ones that could be skipped, forgotten about, or done only if you have extra time at the end of the day

 

The A tasks are the most important, so I start with them, then the B and so on. One challenge I face is to find the time for the C tasks. Normally, at the end of the day, I find it useful to make my to-do list for the next day, along with the priorities; that way I know exactly what to do when I arrive at the office and I can get straight to work. It also stops me from brainstorming tasks for the next day when I should be listening to my bedtime story!

What methods do you use for prioritizing work? Let us know in the comments area below.  Are you interested in improving your time management?  Click here for information on how.

 

Listening Skills: 10 Areas to Improve

Listening effectively is not easy.  How often do you find yourself in a conversation and not completely concentrating on what your partner is saying?

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How good are your listening skills?

Take a look at the ten simple questions below and assess how good your listening skills are. Be honest with yourself.

  1. As soon as you think you know what your partner wants to say you turn off and stop listening (jumping to conclusions)
  2. You spend the time used by your partner to prepare your next comment (rehearsing)
  3. You only concentrate when you expect that the point will be of direct interest to you (filtering)
  4. You expect to disagree so you only listen for weaknesses (judging)
  5. You continue nodding in agreement although your thoughts are on something else (dreaming)
  6. You refer everything to your own experience and compare what you did / would have done (comparing)
  7. You start thinking about the possible solutions before your partner has finished outlining the issue (solving)
  8. You don’t give your partner room to build their argument and start to discuss before the speaker is ready (interrupting)
  9. You think you / your work / your team are being criticized and jump in to block the supposed attack (defending)
  10. You agree politely to whatever your partner says so that you can move on to the next subject (placating)

 

Improving your listening skills awareness with ALF

Now next time you are talking with someone be aware of your internal listening behaviors. Focus on listening to them. A simple trick to improve your listening skills is to remember ALF:

Always Listen First

And finally here’s a tip from Lars, a project lead for an automotive manufacturer.  I met Lars a few years ago when he was a participant in a Virtual Teams seminar we ran.  A few months ago I bumped into him at a train station. He told me that he’d bought himself a key ring of ALF, the character from the 1980s comedy show.  Just so he wouldn’t forget to Always Listen First.

Let us know what has worked for you in the comments area below.

 

The 9 Ground Rules for Effective Groups

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In a recent conversation, one of my program participants mentioned the workplace value of the skills of moderation and facilitation. This conversation piqued my interest, so I searched the Net for the best books about facilitation and chose one that is considered a classic text on the topic of facilitation: The Skilled Facilitator: A Comprehensive Resource for Consultants, Facilitators, Managers, Trainers, and Coaches by Roger Schwarz.

As a trainer who very often works with groups, one of Schwarz’s theories caught my eye: establishing ground rules for groups. Schwarz compiled a list known as The Ground Rules for Effective Groups that help make sure groups are communicating effectively. Below, the nine Ground Rules are listed with a short description (some or all of these rules can be adopted, or the group can create their own, at the first group meeting).

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9 Ground rules for effective groups

1. Test assumptions and inferences – making inferences from available information is a valuable skill, but what if we make these assumptions based on incorrect information or a misunderstanding of what someone else said? 

2. Share all relevant information – If members of the team don’t share all of their information, this can lead to incorrect decisions. Even worse, if it’s discovered later that someone withheld information, it can cause major problems. 

3. Use specific examples and agree on what important terms mean – If important terms are fully defined, team members can be assured that they’re speaking about the same issues in the same way.

4. Explain your reasoning and intent – If you can explain your line of reasoning to your colleagues, they’ll be better able to understand where you’re coming from. In addition, listening carefully to your colleagues’ explanations will help you understand the situation more fully.

5. Focus on interests, not positions – Closely linked to Ground Rule 4, number 5 suggests that we discuss the interests of the people involved and not the position they are taking. Rather than, for example, “He says the budget can’t go up, but I want a new computer,” think, “He needs more money for the advertising costs, but I can’t process the graphics with my old, slow computer.” Then, we’re thinking in terms of what people really need, instead of what we think they might want.

6. Combine advocacy and inquiry – In a nutshell, this ground rules means that when you state an opinion, you ask for comments and questions immediately. 

7. Jointly design next steps and ways to test disagreements – Agreeing on a system for solving disagreements beforehand can save time and make sure disputes don’t bring the meeting to a halt. 

8. Discuss undiscussable issues – Bringing sensitive subjects out into the open needs to be handled very carefully, but can ultimately lead to a group that is moving forward rather than constantly avoiding an uncomfortable conversation.

9. Use a decision-making rule that generates the degree of commitment needed – If these (or other) ground rules are followed, hopefully all members will feel that they have all the information necessary to make an informed choice and that their voices have been heard. If this is the case and a consensus is reached, every member of the team will feel more dedicated to following-up on the decision, as they they have been an active part of the decision-making process.

The short description of the ground rules above doesn’t really do the book justice. If you’re interested in this topic, I’d recommend getting a copy of The Skilled Facilitator for yourself. If you have experience with groups that work well together (or more tips for how to make group interaction more effective), please share them with us in the comments section below.  Click here for more information on how you can build effective groups and teams.

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