Managing a virtual team meeting with staff worldwide can be challenging. However, 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’s hard enough bridging cultural differences when your team is in the same room, but communicating and meeting virtually can make those differences loom larger. Between time zone differences, the inability read body language, and inevitable technical difficulties, it’s no wonder that global virtual team meetings can be extremely challenging. Here are some things to do—and avoid—to help global team leaders keep their meetings on track and the participants engaged.
What to Do
Clarify expectations for attendees. This is especially important when global team members are drawn from both traditionally hierarchical and egalitarian cultures. If you want to hear from everyone, let the participants know—and consider calling on them individually to be sure you get everyone’s ideas. This will help those team members who are accustomed to strict hierarchies understand that they aren’t overstepping any boundaries. It can also help balance input between direct and indirect communicators, since those who value direct communication can sometimes overshadow those who tend to express their views in a more indirect way. Just be sure to explain your intentions beforehand, so people know what to expect.
Discuss how decisions will be made. Have you ever seen global team members flounder or fail to speak up during the decision-making process? Often, this is due to their uncertainty over how the decision will ultimately be made. Cultural differences can feed into this, making it even more difficult to come to a satisfactory resolution. Team members from group-oriented cultures, for example, will be more comfortable with a decision by consensus, while those from more individualistic cultures may naturally expect the majority to rule or the group’s leader to have the final say.
To ensure everyone is on the same page, here are some key questions to address prior to the meeting: Will everyone’s opinion be sought? Will decisions be made by consensus? Will the team leader make the necessary decisions, or will they be put to a vote? Once the team has reached a decision, who, if anyone, has the power to veto it?
Offer a polite way to interrupt one another. Interruptions are a natural part of any virtual meeting because the participants can’t always anticipate when someone is going to speak. Likewise, if the technology begins to lag, an interruption can become unintentionally awkward. Prepare team members in advance by clarifying effective ways to politely interject. If the team leader will call on people, or if specific times will be set aside for questions and comments, let them know.
Provide a secondary means of communication. Offer a way for global virtual team members to ask questions, offer comments, or solicit updates throughout the meeting. One example could be a messaging or chat feature.
What to Avoid
Don’t let the team go off in different directions. When a topic is only pertinent to certain members of the group, be careful to keep it short and take tangents offline. By keeping topics relevant, sticking to the agenda, and staying on time, the entire global team is more likely to remain engaged. If there are important subjects that only part of the team needs to discuss, deal with these at the beginning or end of the meeting, so others can join later or leave early and get on with their day—especially if it’s already nighttime in their time zone.
Don’t forget to follow up after the meeting. Keep the momentum going by sending out a follow-up email or a shared document. It doesn’t always need to be detailed meeting minutes or a long list of everything discussed. Ensure the team has a clear, unified understanding by keeping it simple and to the point: what was decided, what will be done, who will do it, and when.
Don’t ignore time zone differences. Keep in mind that when it’s 10a.m. at your New York office, it’s only 7a.m. in Los Angeles and 11p.m. in Singapore. Remember that you want your team members to be able to contribute their best, which is unlikely to happen if it is late at night or in the wee hours of the morning. If possible, alternate who must work late or start early.
Effective global teamwork is dependent on successful virtual meetings. While digital technology makes them possible, their diffuse and sometimes impersonal nature presents a variety of challenges. Consider this advice to help your global virtual team meetings run smoothly, keeping team members on track and engaged.