My PM mentoring program ran a virtual panel discussion recently. The topic was Lessons Learned…or Retrospectives, if you’re Agile-minded.
9 a.m. on a Saturday morning and 16 people took time out of their short weekend to hop on a call and talk project management!
You’d think the conversation would be, well, sleepy, at least. But it was an amazingly quick hour and we could have easily talked for another.
I was reflecting on what made it such a great meeting.
Yes, the panelists were knowledgeable and gave us practical advice. And yes, there was a feeling of camaraderie amongst the attendees. And, certainly, there was A LOT to talk about!
At the end of the meeting, one of the participants made a special mention of how great our Moderator, Helen, was.
This called to mind a conversation I had a few days ago with my father. He has been on a ton of Zoom calls lately. Like all of us, he’s getting a little “Zoomed out”.
He told me in many of his meetings it’s hard to follow the flow of conversation or to know when to jump in with a comment or question. It takes extra effort to be focused and active in the discussion.
I asked him why.
He said that when you’re in person, you pick up on cues from other people’s body language.
If you need to be heard, you can let the manager know with a simple action like raising you hand or catching their eye. And it’s easier for them to control the flow of conversation, too.
But when everyone’s virtual, it’s tougher to pick up on those cues. You need to rely more on the facilitator to guide the discussion. You can’t use eye contact to capture the manager’s attention well. And there’s no guarantee they’ll see a hand being raised on screen.
I get it!
If you don’t have someone skilled leading the meeting, it makes for a long hour.
What set apart the Lessons Learned discussion was the pacing and flow. Helen gave enough time for each panelist to answer a question and then moved people along, noting who hadn’t had a chance to participate and including them in the discussion.
She set the tempo and everyone followed. This allowed our panelists to share their advice and insight – and for all of us to take it in before we moved onto the next topic.
Whether it’s a Lessons Learned, a Team Meeting, Kick-Off Call, or any other interaction, the person in charge needs to, well, take charge. To lead.
The goal of a meeting is to make sure the objectives are met. (Why else would you be holding the meeting, anyway?) Our role as Project Manager is to help the team achieve them.
At our best, we shift the spotlight away from us and concentrate on the needs of our team. Are they actively involved, focused, and moving together towards the goal?
We moderate. We facilitate.
We work hard to make it look easy.
Why is that important?
Because we want the team to concentrate on reaching the objective, not worrying about how they’re going to make their point, or trying to follow everyone’s frantic grab for airtime.
The next time you’re a participant in a virtual meeting, observe how it’s facilitated. Is everyone sharing? How is the pacing? Is anyone allowed to drone on? Does it all feel rushed – or slow?
Then, during your own meeting, pay close attention to the cues your team is sending. Make adjustments if you need to.
Remember that you have a big part in the success of the meeting, just by setting the pace and flow.