Since March of 2020, several of my clients have transitioned into new roles. Exciting yes, and somewhat daunting is what I hear from them as they consider the challenge of building critical business relationships while almost everyone is working remotely. As such, my clients and I have identified some practices that are helping them navigate this unknown territory and setting a new precedent for leading in a virtual world.
One-on-One Virtual Meetings
A critical first step is preparing for the conversation with a C-suite executive or critical stakeholder who you are just getting to know. Remember, this leader is likely jumping from one virtual meeting to the next. You want to ensure your interaction with him/her is memorable.
First, consider when is a good time to meet with this person. Many people have already started doing this, but it’s worth mentioning. Schedule an early morning coffee or after-hours happy hour. They will appreciate your flexibility to meet earlier or later. They may also be more at ease before or after the workday and willing to talk about their favorite sports team or what they plan to do this weekend, which is a way for you to get-to-know them.
Communicate what you want to achieve during the call. When you request time to meet with him/her, be clear to communicate your objective for the meeting. For example: “I’d like to schedule a brief call with you to introduce myself and understand your strategic priorities. I’m also interested in knowing what you need from me in my first ninety days.” Stating your purpose this way conveys your interest in what matters to them.
Before you end the meeting, ask, “What was useful about our meeting today?”so that you understand how you added value to their day. Then ask for a follow-up call. You can say something like,
“I would like to schedule a follow-up call to continue understanding your view on ‘x’ and the intersection of our work. Can we meet again in two weeks?” Or,
“I would like to spend time understanding what you see as the priorities of my role and if there are any issues that need to be immediately addressed. When is a good time to meet again?”
Another way to prepare for a virtual introduction is to visualize yourself being in the room with this person. Picture yourself and this individual as-if you are meeting physically together. By taking a minute or two before your call to do this, you will feel more energized. Your energy is important in making that first impression.
Virtual Team or Group Meetings
Meeting virtually with teams or groups has been one of the bigger challenges leaders have faced during the pandemic. Here are suggestions many of my clients have implemented to overcome this hurdle.
For meetings that you lead, make time for members to connect and ‘catch-up’. One leader said to me, “When we were meeting in-person, I would sit down a minute or so before a meeting was to start and have a quick ‘catch-up’ conversation with the people around me. This was a way for me to build relationships, but I don’t have that anymore.”
One of the psychological needs we have as humans is the need for connection which is a way for us build and maintain trust. An effective way to do this virtually is at the beginning of the meeting, send two to five people into break-out groups for five or so minutes. There is no agenda or action to come out of this time together, other than to connect with colleagues. Many leaders have told me that these break-out sessions are often the most important part of the meeting.
Create Opportunities for People to Mentally Engage.
Leaders are spending up to eight or more hours a day in virtual back-to-back meetings, often only getting a minute or two break in-between. Most of us thought that we would only be working this way for a short time, but are finding that this isn’t a sustainable way to be meeting. In this virtual world, we aren’t leaving one meeting and walking to the next, giving our minds time to transition from one topic to the next. Leaders are learning to build in time for this at the beginning of their meetings by incorporating a sixty second pause. This pause is a way for leaders to disconnect from the prior meeting and prepare for what is about to happen.
Start your next meeting by asking everyone to step away from whatever their mind has been focused on and bring their attention to what’s happening right now. Then breathe. By taking some deep breaths, it becomes much easier for our thoughts to get quiet so that we can ask important questions such as; “What is essential right now?” “What is my role in this meeting?” “How can I help move the team or work forward?” Leaders who have implemented the sixty second pause are hearing from meeting participants that those few seconds are helping them to clear their minds and refocus.
I’m sure you’ve logged into a meeting where there is silence when you first join. Eventually, someone says, “Hey, is anyone there?” Then an awkward pause follows and someone says, “I’m here” then silence again. Many leaders tell me when that happens it’s hard to focus when the meeting actually begins because of the tone that was set at the beginning. They don’t feel energized or engaged.
The way you initiate meetings as a new leader is a way to differentiate yourself. Take care to start on time by welcoming people to the call as they join. Be fully engaged in what is happening right now. Eliminate any idle time anywhere in the agenda. That doesn’t mean you don’t allow for a pause for individuals to reflect or think, but name what is going on so no one is left confused about wondering what’s happening or if their internet froze.
As a new leader, don’t allow technology to be a barrier to your success. Leverage it to your advantage and show that you are bringing in fresh ideas for leading in a virtual world.
(This post by Marcel Henderson first appeared on LinkedIn)