Efficient Virtual Meetings 101: The basics to purposefully running effective meetings with your virtual team.

When we start diving into how to establish trust within a virtual team, soon we realise a lot of it has to do with communication, and with having the right touchpoints with your staff. And again, if you run a small accountancy firm, you surely think that most of your communication happens during meetings.

In this fragment of our Virtual Workshop “Leading a hybrid team”, which we ran for club members and other small accountancy firm owners, I go through some tips that will help you run efficient and effective virtual meetings with your team.

Where do most meetings go wrong?

The reality is, when you get people together, we must have action as a result of it. Some concrete action plan needs to come out of it. Meetings are a great opportunity to generate trust and psychological safety, so we need to make sure we make the best of them. These are some of the points where meetings go wrong:

  • The meeting turns into a talking shop
  • You don’t have a clear agenda (Get our Rhythm Meeting Agendas here. They can help you get back in control of your workflow whilst making the best out of your meeting time.)
  • There’s no action after the meeting
  • The meeting goes off topic
  • The meeting is too long
  • The meeting has too many people (NOTE: always aim to limit it to under 7).

The purpose of a meeting (with a virtual team)

When you consider meetings, particularly with a virtual team, you need to remember that the meeting has a purpose other than just talking about current work.

Opportunity to strengthen relationships within the team

Meetings are a great way to strengthen relationships within the virtual team. So, make sure you make space for a bit of fun and non-work-related conversation. This will help create trust and psychological safety within your virtual team. It will also strengthen the sense of community, and reinforce the importance of each team member beyond work.

Gain engagement and consensus

Meetings are a very good opportunity to engage your team in the resolution of common challenges, to get them to brainstorm around new ideas, and business opportunities. This is particularly critical during these changing times when the capacity to reinvent your business constantly can be the key to remain competitive.

Establish focus and priorities

Meetings can also help you set, share and establish a clear purpose for your business. Before you call for a meeting, make sure you have a clear idea of what is your focus, what is that particular objective you want to beat the drum about. Your focus and your priorities as a business (whether it’s client service excellence or the importance of over communicating with each other) need to be always front and centred and meetings are a great opportunity to position them as such.

Management by exception

Whilst managing by exception, you need to focus on: where are the gaps? What do we need to do as a team to move a project forward? It is about using meetings to make sure the right messages are going out to the team so that you are using contact and interaction time purposefully.

How you can use technology to support efficient virtual meetings

When it comes to virtual meetings, technology should help take a lot of heavy lifting away. These are some of the ways you can use technology to run efficient meetings with your virtual team:

Use dashboards and reports to see at a glance where there are problems

Dashboards and automated reports can help you get a clear and visual picture of where your business stands, and they can also help you quickly identify problems. Keep in mind that when you are setting up your practice management system, this will be very manual at the beginning, but you’ll be able to have them run more smoothly with consistency and incremental changes.

Get updates on work progress

Getting regular updates of work in progress was really easy when we were in the office, but it is still possible if we use technology in our favour. You can establish the habit to have your team send you end-of-the-week or even end-of-the-day reports via your practice management system.

On the other hand, dashboards and reporting can also help you see updates of work in progress at a glance without that ‘physical’ report from your staff members.

Ensure on-going communication about the work to be done

Having the right technology in place also makes you ensure on-going communication about the work in progress. Based on our experience, we strongly recommend you handle daily communication in your practice management system. Sticking to one place makes typically the process run smoother for everyone in the team.

Use virtual whiteboards for brainstorming in meetings

Virtual whiteboards work wonderfully for brainstorming and meetings. One way to use them is to put up a question for the team, and you get them to write about that on the board. You can do this anonymously too, so that people don't feel on the spot. This is a nice approach if you're a bit worried that people are not going to speak up. Zoom does have a great feature for this.

Tips for running efficient meetings with a virtual team

Start the meeting positively

I remember an excruciating day when the owner of the firm I was working with basically started the day by lambasting the team for the high levels of client churn. To say that the rest of the day did not go well, is an understatement. It was the worst day I've ever had at work, but I did learn a lot from it.

I learned to never, ever start a meeting on a negative note. Now, sometimes we are in one of those situations where there aren't a lot of positive things to talk about. In those cases, try to start the meeting by giving some context ‘Everyone, we're going to have a tough meeting, but I know that I've got the best people around the table to help us get through this meeting.’ Start by being honest, by saying that once you've had this conversation, everything is going to become easier.

Another thing that usually helps create a positive atmosphere even when discussing unpleasant matters is to acknowledge upfront your responsibility as a leader for the issue you are bringing up.

Have an ‘open’ agenda for the team to create (alongside standard items)

The next thing is, particularly if you've got a very introverted team, is having an ‘open’ agenda for the team to co-create before you get started. You can use a tool like Google Docs to create an interactive place where people can add talking points or open a note within your practice management system so that everybody can contribute to the agenda beforehand. This gives ownership, and it helps put priorities in the right order.

Put the high priority items first

Make sure you put the high priority items first. During meetings, whether virtual or in-person, we always tend to spend more time walking about whatever is at the start of the agenda.

Don’t fall into default of meetings being 30 or 60 mins, and starting on the hour or half-hour

Remember, it doesn't need to be a 30-minute or a 60-minute meeting. Your meetings depend on a lot of factors. They could take 5 minute or 2 hours, and that’s OK. Also, remember you don't always need to start your virtual meetings on the hour or the half-hour (i.e. at 8.00 or 10.30).

If you are planning to use technology during your meeting, make sure you get things ready in advance. Technology can wobble, so plan to start your meeting 5 minutes before or after the start of the hour.

Also, keep an eye out for behaviour patterns within your team when it comes to showing up to meetings. Lawyers, for example, tend to set meetings to start on the hour, but everybody gets there 5 minutes past (you know it’s true!).

A good way to avoid and address tardiness is by putting a reminder on your diary at the hour, and you tell the team that the meeting is about to start, clearing saying that if you're not there by 5 past, you will consider them late. That way, you actually give people a bit of license to finish their client chats, to finish sending that email, and then, when the reminder goes off, they've got 5 minutes to clear this stuff up, get their head in the right place.

Run effective meetings like a pro to boost trust within your team

As you probably understand by now, running effective meetings can help you not only know that work is getting done but also, along with other strategies, can help you build that trust within your virtual team, both downwards and across team members.

Time for social time interaction and team building is always scarce, so make sure you use it purposefully!

Ready to kick-start the growth of your firm?