Planning Online Meetings
Posted on March 27th, 2020
We all know that to be productive, meetings should be planned. The ease of organising and launching an online meeting can make a little planning even more important.
I have been using and teaching a planning model based on The Layered Systems Model for many years now.
The model has six planning areas that can be easily recalled using the acronym OSIRePMo.
The six areas are:
- Objectives of the meeting
- Structure of the meeting
- Interactions with the organiser and between the participants
- Relationships of the organiser to the participants and the relationship of the participants to each other
- Personality of the participants
- Mood of the meeting
These define what the meeting is intended to achieve. Once the objectives have been defined, it's important that they are circulated to all the participants, along with any preliminary reading required, well before the meeting.
We need to choose the online tools that may be used to gather information (Slack, Jira, Trello etc.) during the meeting, if that is the objective of the meeting. The organiser should clarify how this information will be used and define any outputs from the meeting that will be circulated.
There are three aspects of the meeting structure to consider.
The timing and duration of the meeting. This may need careful planning if participants are in different time zones. Don't forget to schedule comfort and beverage breaks if the meeting is going to be a long one.
The platform that will be used to conduct the meeting (Zoom, Skype, WhatsApp etc.) and the procedure for joining the meeting. Hijacking public meeting rooms is becoming a popular sport and so meeting rooms should be protected with a password that will need to be circulated prior to the meeting. The language(s) used to conduct the meeting may be a consideration for multi-national organisations. OK, Zoomer! How to Become a Videoconferencing Power User has many more tips on using online meeting platforms.
The participants that will be invited to join the meeting. Each additional participant uses up potentially scarce bandwidth so their contribution in terms of skills, experience and subject matter knowledge will need to be weighed before they get an invite.
Everyone knows meetings run smoothly when there is an agenda. Even when a less formal meeting is planned, it is worth thinking about how everyone will interact. Is video optional? Will chat be used? If so, are 'side chats' between participants acceptable. Who will use screen sharing? Will participation in the meeting be monitored by the meeting platform? Will the meeting be recorded?
With relationships, we move to the less visible aspects of a meeting. Online or otherwise. We should at least consider how 'power blocks', 'hidden agendas' and 'sub-groups' may influence the outcomes of the meeting.
Organisers of meeting with multi-cultural participants may need to take into account social and cultural factors that may influence the outcomes of the meeting.
We are diving deeper into the hidden aspects of a meeting when we start to consider the personalities of the participants. While 'profiling' participants is completely unacceptable, it is worth considering who will tend to dominate the meeting and who is unlikely to contribute. This helps us to develop strategies that ensure everyone contributes. Online interaction can embolden 'difficult people'. We see this effect with 'trolling' on social media. So we need to anticipate and develop a strategy to deal with any potential 'meeting trolls'.
In difficult times, it is worth paying extra attention to the mood of an online meeting. When people meet in social groups, the 'mood' can be easily sensed. In an online meeting we loose a many of the cues that allow us to sense the mood of a group. So we may need to make the mood more explicit by asking questions such as 'How is everyone feeling?' at the beginning of the meeting.
I have captured these ideas in an Online Meeting Planner that you are free to download and use.