Leading Virtual Team Meetings Is About Creating Connections

Jan 11, 2019


If you’re leading a virtual team, how do you make your team meetings productive and useful for everyone? For women in this role, it helps if you think of yourself as the “agent of connection,” says Yael Zofi, CEO of AIM Strategies and a virtual team expert.

“The main challenge in virtual meetings is you want to recreate the human connection,” she says. Virtual meetings may be even more vital than onsite meetings, because remote staff may not get to know each other otherwise. “That’s the gathering space,” Zofi says. “When you can’t be in person, you have to be virtually in person...they call it V.I.P.”

Women leaders can excel in virtual meetings

“As a woman, the leadership role in many of these virtual meetings is about collaboration, communication, connection—all the C’s,” Zofi says. Yes, a meeting has to move a project along or establish action items, but it’s the traditional female qualities of engaging people, seeking collaboration, and having intuition about others’ feelings that can make a meeting successful and a team a better unit.

“With the right structure, the right technology, and the right process, they can be just as effective, if not more [than onsite meetings],” Zofi says. She suggests adopting some of these practices:

Establish the meeting’s purpose, end goal, and agenda. Is this a brainstorming session? A weekly check-in? A meeting to make a decision? This can determine the attendee list and what materials they need to prepare, as well as the meeting length. “Who said a meeting has to be an hour? Chunk it down to 15-minute increments—even 10 minutes, for a generation with no attention span,” Zofi recommends.

Assign roles. Team members can take on rotating roles to help the meeting run smoothly. Someone else could prepare the agenda, another could handle the post-meeting briefing, and another might be the timekeeper. You can even assign team members to facilitate the meeting, she notes.

Set meeting rules and protocols. One rule should be “be respectful,” Zofi says. Others may be: stay on mute until you have to speak, state your name before speaking, or keep comments short. Protocols are more about the way the meeting is run: Everyone must comment at least once, for instance, or participants should practice “back-briefing,” which means paraphrasing what a person just said. It helps the team stay engaged, especially when different cultures are represented on the team, she says.

On phone meetings, draw out the “Silent Riders.” Though Zofi prefers video meetings, not everyone likes to be seen, and sometimes phone meetings can be short and sweet. On the other hand, they can be challenging when some team members don’t speak up—which she calls the “Silent Riders” based on old Clint Eastwood westerns. “They’re still riding with you, but they might be half-listening; they might be multitasking. So, draw them in,” she says.

You could ask them their thoughts on a topic or ask everyone on the call to offer their opinions. Work with them between meetings if some issue is making them reluctant to participate, she says. Silent Riders often have a lot to say when they finally open up, Zofi observes.

Use video conferencing whenever possible. “Video creates the ability to almost be there,” Zofi says. “You can see the body reactions, you can see the eyes.” As the leader, you can insist on a video meeting. Though some workers are reticent about being on screen, the new generation has grown up with this medium. “It’s the new way of communicating and we are embracing it. We need to embrace it more and maximize the human connection out of it if we can,” she says.

“Virtual leadership presence” is one of the things taught in AMA’s course Leading Virtual Teams. This presence is related to being the agent of connection, Zofi says. It’s leading team collaboration. It’s changing nonparticipants into solid contributors. And it’s getting people to engage, she says—and this valuable component of leadership can really shine in virtual meetings.