Long before a pandemic, when many of our meetings were in person, meetings were often riddled with inefficiency and frustration. The shift to virtual meetings hasn’t made it better. While there are many causes of the challenges, it is possible to have productive virtual meetings that are highly collaborative and stay on track. Making that happen requires that we deter the hijackers and find and pick up the hitchhikers.
What do I mean?
Hijackers – Who They Are and How to Deter Them
You’ve been in the meeting where someone dominates the conversation – taking up al the air in the meeting and perhaps taking the whole meeting off track or topic. Whether the person’s intent is nefarious (to consciously change the subject and agenda) or naïve (they are unaware that their behavior or passion is derailing the meeting), the result is the same. A Hijacker changes the direction and flow of a meeting, raising frustration and perhaps wasting the time of everyone involved in the meeting.
Here are four suggestions to aid you when you experience hijackers:
- Redirect them. As the facilitator of a virtual meeting where someone is hijacking, focus less on their intent and more on their behavior. If you have an agenda, interject by pointing them back to it asking something like: “how does this point help us reach the outcomes on our agenda?”
- Acknowledge them. If that doesn’t help redirect the conversation, suggest putting their point aside for now and moving back to the agenda. It is important that their points and topics be acknowledged and note that they can be addressed further later in the meeting or at a future time. If people feel you are just trying to shut them down, it might not be very successful.
- Chat them. In a virtual meeting you also have the chat channel which can help you. You might be able to send a private chat message to the hijacker sharing your concerns or helping them move back on topic. Just make sure to send the message privately and share it in a helpful and supportive way.
- Use the group. You can also use the group to keep the hijacking behavior from overcoming the purpose and plan for the meeting. Encourage others in the group to speak more, or direct questions to others in your virtual meeting to guide the topic back to your agenda. In a virtual meeting this may require you to be more directive or explicit than in in in-person meeting.
In total, use the energy of the hijacking behavior to enable and aid the meeting rather than derail it.
Hitchhikers – Who They Are and How to Find Them
When you have highly engaged meeting, people are willing to step in and step up. A hitchhiker is someone willing to engage and add to the meeting, rather than passively sitting through the content. When you can find and encourage hitchhikers you have a better meeting flow, more and better ideas, and more commitment both to the meeting and the outcomes of it.
Here are three ways to encourage more hitchhiking behavior in your virtual (or any) meetings.
- Prepare them. When people can come to the meeting knowing the topics and purpose, they can come more prepared to participate. While this is true for any meeting, there are more barriers to participation in a virtual meeting, making the preparation that an agenda provides even more valuable. When people are prepared or at least have had a chance to think about the meeting rather than coming in cold, they are far more likely to participate and add to the meeting’s success.
- Ask them. If you want people’s input and ideas, ask for it. Ask questions directly of people and/or provide more opportunities for input. The more people believe the meeting is a one-way information share the less likely they will be to include their thoughts. Stop and ask. Ask the group, point questions to certain departments or groups, and ask individual for their input and ideas. People can’t engage if there isn’t time, space or an opportunity to do so.
- Encourage them. Asking is a form or encouragement, but acknowledging input is important too. You can do that by making sure the agenda is clear on the expectation of input, but you can also acknowledge by asking the group to build on the input people share. Here is a simple example to get you thinking about how to encourage more input: “That’s a great point Joe – what do the rest of you think? What could we add to Joe’s idea?”
These are just three (of many) ways you can engage others to help create more productive virtual meetings.
The Principles at Play
Now that you have read about these two sets of behaviors, it is important to make a couple of final points.
First, these are behaviors, not people. Perhaps as you have been reading you have assigned names to these behaviors but recognize that most people (including you) have hijacked a meeting, and many have hitchhiked on the ideas of others too. Focus less on “who” is doing it and more on “why” it is happening, and work on how to encourage or discourage the behaviors.
Second, all of this conversation is about facilitation, not power. Notice that the suggestions are about the process and flow of a meeting, rather than telling, forcing, or demanding something of people.
When you promote hitchhiking and discourage hijackers you will reduce the frustration and begin to create truly productive virtual meetings.
There is far more to learning to lead and facilitate effective virtual meetings. If you would like an on-demand way to build your skills and fill your toolbox to create more productive virtual meetings, consider our Leading Effective Virtual Meetings on-demand workshop.
You’ll learn how to better utilize your web tools and how to prepare for and lead virtual meetings that get the desired results. Watch this session once or review it several times to help you with your specific challenges.