A wise person once said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” There’s controversy over the source of the quote, but I don’t think it matters who said it. The statement rings true—especially for global virtual team meetings. Think about some of the best meetings you’ve attended, virtual or otherwise. What made them great? Did the organizer stick to an agenda? Was everyone engaged and ready to participate? While the approach may be different depending on the cultural context, these things usually don’t happen by chance.
When each participant—no matter where they are in the world—knows their role, what to expect, and what is expected of them, global virtual team meetings are far more likely to be a success. It all starts with a solid plan.
First: Establish Your Global Virtual Team Meeting Goal
While diverse cultures perceive time differently, no one wants to leave a meeting feeling like it was a waste of time. Time can become more precious when people are spread across the globe, so it’s usually best to establish a specific goal ahead of time for your global team meeting. Maybe you want to solve a complex problem the team has been stuck on, maybe it’s time to go over a new project, or maybe you realize all you need is a quick status update.
Whatever the goal, setting an intention helps determine your next-step decisions, and helps you understand what information you need to prepare and who needs to attend.
Identify the Participants
Next, think about who needs to attend in order to achieve the goal. You might lead a team of 20 people, but that doesn’t mean everyone always needs to be there. Members on your global virtual team who will have to participate at 11 pm or wake up at 4 am local time will appreciate not being invited if their presence isn’t necessary. Or, if your time zone difference makes it hard to be fair to individuals who are spread across the planet, spread the burden of having to join a call super early or super late by rotating the call time. This gives everyone a chance to join meetings during normal working hours and when they are fresh. You can also stick to inviting key decision makers, stakeholders and anyone who will be expected to turn plans into action.
Of course, no one likes being left out. In both individualistic and group-oriented cultures, being excluded for no good reason can lead to disengagement. So, inviting everyone can be a valid choice. When you do this, make it clear which global team members should consider their attendance mandatory, and who can opt out at their own discretion.
Pick the Right Platform
Video is an excellent option for a virtual conference since it allows team members to see facial expressions and read body language (not to mention putting a face to a name). Such visual stimuli can help prevent misunderstandings and discourage multitasking by holding attendees accountable for their presence. As a virtual “face-to-face” interaction, it can also help build trust among team members. Trust-building shouldn’t be taken for granted. In fact, it often doesn’t happen on virtual teams without concerted effort to get to know others on an interpersonal level.
Of course, virtual video conferences aren’t always possible. Participants need a webcam or similar video technology and a fast internet connection. In my experience, many people also want to know if webcam usage will be expected so they can be “camera ready”. Despite preparation, technical difficulties can and do happen. Choppy connections and other issues can distract and frustrate attendees, which is exactly what you don’t want. If video won’t work this time around, a phone conference might be the next best option.
Text-based communication isn’t always the best choice for virtual meetings, but it can still have its place. If all you need is a quick status update, instant messaging or chat platforms are convenient given their purpose: immediate, concise feedback. Even email can be a convenient substitute for time zone challenged global teams, and it allows members to respond at their own pace.
Create an Agenda to Distribute in Advance
A few days before the meeting, outline what needs to be accomplished and in what order. This will help keep the meeting on track. HBR recommends running the meeting in 10 minute segments to keep things concise and prevent attendees from tuning out. It can also help to group similar activities together to keep momentum. For example, after brainstorming how to resolve a challenge, do some action planning to delineate who does what to implement the solution that was just agreed upon.
Next, share the workload. Invite attendees to play relevant roles, like meeting facilitator, timekeeper or scribe. Delegating tasks can keep folks engaged and prevent the fatigue of just one person running the show. Similarly, be sure to clarify participation expectations, like how you want to make decisions (consensus or leader driver?), or role model desired behaviors, like interrupting politely. Setting clear guidelines for team performance gives everyone a chance to come prepared to contribute at their highest. Preparing a slide deck or supplemental notes can also help keep everyone on the same page, especially if your cross-cultural team has language barriers.
Planning takes time, initially, but it pays off in the long-term. It doesn’t matter if you’re prepping for a quick virtual status update or a team-wide conference about a major project. Thinking through the goal, understanding what’s needed to facilitate discussion, inviting the right people, choosing the right technology, creating a detailed agenda and establishing team guidelines for high performance will help make sure your global virtual meeting is a success.