December 28, 2020
By: Tiffany Rodriguez, NOW Program Coordinator
Virtual meetings have become a critical component for coalitions who are committed to promoting wellbeing by aligning systems and institutions, transforming community context, and optimizing neighborhood opportunity structures. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic pushed us to transition to a virtual world while at the same time highlighted and heightened many of the early childhood adversities, including housing instability, barriers to accessing early childhood education, and hunger, that we had been working so tirelessly to address and eradicate.
It goes without saying that now is both a unique and urgent time to organize and move the needle forward. Virtual meetings have opened a wide door that allows for child health advocates who live in a variety of time zones, and with virtual interpretation services, who speak a variety of languages, to come together to continue taking action to ensure all children and their families achieve optimal health and wellbeing. Below are a few tips to help you and your group meet effectively in virtual spaces during this time:
Meet with a Purpose: The Agenda
The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the amount of time that most of us spend online. To adjust to this virtual workday, planning and organizing virtual meetings with a purpose has become more important than ever. Deciding the amount of time - and frequency - that your team or organization needs, to effectively discuss time sensitive actions, is the first step in setting up regular meetings.
Typically, a one hour meeting has been sufficient for meeting with a team weekly or bi-weekly. Your team can decide what amount of time is most effective. For longer meetings (>1.5 hours), you want to be sure to include at least one break. This allows for participants to stretch, grab some coffee, and reset to be more attentive for the remainder of the meeting. The NOW team has found that establishing a grounding and connecting practice by setting aside the first 5-8 minutes for group introductions, technology supports, and refreshing attendees with the community norms allows for an ease in from previous meetings and for the group environment to begin warm and welcoming.
Designing your team agenda should be a collaborative task. Together your team can set the meeting goals and objectives. The NOW team has found that utilizing a Google Doc allows for the team to both add new and review existing agenda items prior to the meeting. It is important to note that not every meeting will have the same number of agenda items. Identifying which objectives might require deeper discussion can help you determine what is a realistic amount of priorities to set for a meeting.
Successful meetings are greatly tied to how accomplished participants feel. The team’s most time sensitive updates and questions should be at the top of the agenda, and others that are less urgent or have a lengthier timeline and more flexibility to address can be towards the closing of the meeting.
Everyone's Role is Important: Shared Leadership
Running a meeting does not have to feel stressful. Your team is there to support you and everyone should play a pivotal role. Creating an opportunity for team collaboration by opening up critical roles including a time keeper, facilitator, and notetaker helps to spread out the work.
The timekeeper’s role is to keep the meeting on time and moving forward. Assigning designated discussion time for the agenda items helps both the timekeeper and other meeting participants understand when it is time for a transition from one topic to another. This helps create a meeting that is respectful of the time that participants are contributing from their day and keeps the conversation focused.
The notetaker’s role is to document key decisions, lingering questions, and other important action items. This role is important in providing reminders of previous meeting highlights and, for those who were not able to make a previous meeting, support them to feel caught up and engaged with the work. Other team members can support the note taker by adding to the document as well. The NOW team typically designates one key notetaker and has other facilitators as backup contributors.
The facilitator is the host of the meeting. This role includes starting the meeting and moving the team through the agenda. They should be assigned as a main host on the meeting software and should be familiar with utilizing virtual meeting software including screen sharing, allowing attendees into the session, and utilizing break out rooms. This is a great role to rotate so that all team members get the opportunity to lead conversations. Check out Ronda Alexander’s blog post, Meaningful Connections in Our New NOW, for more virtual facilitation tips and tricks.
The communicator is the organizer of the virtual meeting. This role sets up the meeting on the groups virtual meeting software (Zoom, Google Hangouts, Webex, etc.) and sends out the meeting notice along with the meeting agenda. This team member might be the designated person to contact if someone will not be able to attend the meeting, might be late, or is having trouble accessing the meeting.
Doing the Most with the Time We Have: Scheduling for Everyone
Everyone's schedules are different and may frequently change. COVID-19 has shifted how our days operate, and many of us continue to adapt and adjust to our families and communities' needs. Utilizing a group meeting scheduling app or website is helpful for choosing meeting times, for example Doodle & When2meet. Having the team identify their typical best dates to meet, can help get you started. Then, based on the team’s overall time availability, you can decide a regular meeting schedule - with opportunities in the future to revisit a regular meeting time if needed. Keep in mind, these dates and times might not work best for everyone, but keeping notes and having rotating team roles can open up the opportunity for team members to collaborate virtually and contribute to the team work in ways that make the most sense for them.
What strategies and tips have helped you and your team lead successful virtual meetings? Share in the comments below!