Meeting Facilitation, Training

Training “Professional Online Meetings”

In September 2018, I participated in a 2-day training on “Professional Online Meetings”.

What was my motivation to participate in the training?

Online meetings are messy and exhausting. And they are not a substitute for on site meetings. I experienced that during one of my last gigs at a company where the team members where distributed over three locations.

With only some experiences before that gig, I read some blog posts about the topic “Moderation/Faciliatation in distributed teams”, then simply tried out a lot in practice, always wanting to transfer the action, which can prevail in a meeting room on site, into a virtual space. Messy and exhausting it was. And also valuable. And funny. And we did a good job, I think.

I personally believe that the need for online moderation will continue to increase in the next couple of years (keywords: shortage or distribution of capacity of working people, less travel costs / time for working people, …). Therefore, I had researched if there are any training about online moderation. Furthermore, I was interested in whether something valuable is taught in the training (which I do not already know or apply).

In fact, there are hardly any training offers on the subject. I was all the more pleased that the Moderatio people are offering a training. Moderatio are the people around the German moderation guru Josef Seifert, who in my opinion are the leading trainers for business moderation in the German-speaking world. And yes, they are more traditional in terms of moderation compared to what a lot of Agile moderators or facilitators do. (Apart from that: Some years ago I participated in their training to become a certified workshop and meeting moderator and did not regret that. I actually recommended the training to a lot of people, who then enjoyed it themselves.)

What happened in the training?

The training was enormously varied, with an almost perfect mix of theory and practice. The exercises quickly evolved from being dry / unrealistically (We were all sitting in the seminar room imitating a conference call while looking each at our laptop.) to being very practical. (Everyone was in their hotel room dialing into the conference call and connecting to the platform via a browser.) This was precisely when we were confronted with all imaginable (especially technical) problems that you may have encountered in your online meeting. 😉

We worked with Moderatio’s own platform Six Steps. But the training was not a sales event for the software as you may think. The trainer themselves pointed out that other platforms have similar functionalities. Six Steps, however, is perfectly tuned to the Moderatio approach with the six steps:

  1. Introduction
  2. Gathering topics
  3. Selecting a topic
  4. Handling the topic
  5. Planning the measures to be taken
  6. Conclusion

Six Step Software for Online Moderation

Below the Six Steps agenda on the left, you can find a whiteboard for (instant) visualization. In the center of the tool is the working area, on the right the list of all participants and below that a chat.

In “Gathering topics”, the tool always uses a (virtual) card writing method, in “Selecting a topic” always a (virtual) dot voting, in “Handling the topic” always the (virtual) two-field method and always the (virtual) action plan in “Planning the measures to be taken”.

The software works smoothly, which I can not say of other software I tried. The simultaneously adding and editing of several people works without flickering. The handling of writing cards, sorting them and clustering them, I experienced better than with any other software I have used so far.

We worked with the software during the two days with different scenarios.

On the second day, there was an emphasis on dealing with difficult situations in online meetings. Furthermore we were introduced to various other tools. (See below)

Valuable ideas I took away from the training

More leading moderation necessary
In online meetings I as a moderator need to take on a more active part than when being a moderator on site. There needs to be more talking, leading and sometimes maybe even pushing from the moderator side.

My hope was that I would also learn in this training how to transfer the atmosphere and action of an on site meeting into an online meeting. I did not get a good enough answer though, so I need to keep on searching.

Greater integration and use of a chat
Using video transmission or not, it does not matter, but especially with no video: There are always situations in a meeting where a short (fast) vote or check is necessary. So instead of asking openly “Is this okay for you? / Can we continue?” (in the hope that everyone reacts verbally) you can have a quick query via chat: “Please give your feedback on the chat: Type “+”, if you agree, type a “-” if you disagree or you need more discussion.” That worked just fine in the training.

Less focus on video
Until the training my opinion was that I would always try to have everyone visible via video for everyone. I learnt that is a good option to turn off the video, especially while the group is actively working (p.e. gathering topics). You will have less visual distraction and as a consequence more focus.

2nd Screen / Monitor participant’s view
With almost every software, there is a moderator view, which shows more / other things than what the participants see. This can lead to confusion if you refer to something the others do not see. So try to use a second screen where you can see the same as the participants see.
Of course, in the beginning of the meeting you should make transparent that you do so (also as it explains why you appear twice in the list of participants).

Rule of thumb: Activate the participants every 3-5 minutes
Exactly. The concentration of participants drifts away much faster during an online meeting than during an on site meeting. Therefore more activation. You should think about that during the preparation.

Tools that I did not know before:

Vitero
Actually for e-learning. What I loved here is that everyone is sitting around a virtual table using an avatar

Team Speak
Actually a platform for gamers, but good for quickly opening new chat rooms (>> could be handy for Online Open Space Technology?)

Mural
Created by the Design Thinking people and seems the closest to a “real” virtual flipchart / whiteboard. I want to take a closer look in this one.

Conclusion

Online meetings are messy and exhausting. And I will always prefer an on site meeting. Still with a useable software and the right attitude as the moderator, you can have online meetings less messy and less exhausting, for you and the group.

I highly recommend to better gain skills in online moderation than to simply condemn online meetings or distributed teams (as it is popular in the Agile world). If you can speak German, this training is a very good start.

Please feel free to leave your experiences with online meetings in the comments.

Meeting Facilitation, Training

Different Scripts to Guide you through your Meeting or Workshop

You are planning to facilitate a workshop or meeting? And it’s not a routine workshop or meeting? Or you are an un-experienced facilitator who needs to facilitate a challenging group and feel insecure about getting it all right? You have checked all items on the meeting or workshop checklist and planned the meeting or workshop accordingly. You know in which activities you want the participants to engage. Everything makes sense to you in preparation land and still you are anxious you will forget something in the meeting or workshop itself. A meeting or workshop script that you can sneak at during the meeting or workshop could help you here. This post describes three different types.

1. Meeting/Workshop Time schedule

A very easy and straight-forward script is a flowchart or time schedule. On a document it simply gives you an overview of
– the sequence (check-in, gather data, discussion,…)
– the goal of the sequence
– the activity
– the needed material
– the duration of the sequence
– the words of introduction

Here is an example of a flowchart or time schedule to give you an impression:

workshop-schedule
Meeting Time Schedule

Especially the “words of introduction” helped me a lot when I began facilitating groups: As I was nervous or insecure I started babbling incoherent words or sentences (I still sometimes do…) and missed the opportunity to get the activity started. Taking preparation time and writing down the first couple of sentences I want to say helped me to gain more security.

2. Sketching your Meeting/Workshop

The idea of Sketching was introduced to me by Ben, who was a participant in one of our last trainings. Ben is working for the Berlin based company Momox. When we were discussing about different options how to script your meeting, he explained that it helps him to scribble the sequences of the meeting. As you can see in the photo: Ben not only scribbles the starting question(s), the sequential steps of the activity and the needed material. He also scribbles what might happen in the room: Where do the participants interact? Where do the materials go?

workshop-sketching
Sketching your workshop beforehand

What I enjoy about Ben’s scribble is that it makes your meeting/workshop preparation very lively. And additionally it helps you to find some (logistic) challenges beforehand (Where is the flipchart put in the room? Do I have enough space for what I have planned?) and gives you enough time to find options to tackle those.

3. Meeting/Workshop Flowchart

Using a Meeting Flowchart is kind of a mixture of the previous two types. I use those especially for workshops that last for more than one day. As you can see in the photo: It easily shows you the different activities I want to use including all important questions to ask, how I could structure the material and the time the activity will take.

flowchart-meeting-workshop
Meeting / Workshop Flowchart

So here they are: Three different types of a script that can guide you through your meeting: time schedule, sketching and flowchart. Especially for un-experienced facilitators scripting your meeting in one of the three ways can help to give more security. Of course, the more routine you have as a moderator or facilitator the less detailed your script will be. In that case you might want to have a look at stringing your workshop with Liberating Structures. And I’m sure there are more types of meeting or workshop scripts than those three.

It is important to prepare your meeting or workshop and the three scripts can help you in your preparation. It is more important still, to actually sense what the group or the participants really need in the meeting or workshop. As a consequence you might have to trash your meeting or workshop script and need to react on reality.

Please let me know how you are scripting your meetings or workshops.

Agile Coaching, Meeting Facilitation

DIY Flipchart for less than 15€

Most of the or rather all Agile folks love to work with flipchart when presenting or workshoping. Some are so obsessed with the “flipchart-marker-visual-facilitation-universe” that you could think they have a Neuland tatoo. 🙂 Or they want to have a flipchart even at their home. Like me! 😉

In this post I will write about building your own flipchart: a very low-budget version for less than 15€, an advanced version for less than 45€ and, with a little more effort, an awesome version.
I created an Amazon wishing list with all material you could use: http://nearn.de/Zw

1) DIY low-budget flipchart for less than 15€

Very easy, indeed: Buy a set of over the door clothes hanger, find a flat door in your home, hang the hanger and the flipchart paper. Ready to go. No tools needed.

door clothes hanger 
2) DIY advanced low-budget flipchart for less than 45€

Buy 2 pieces of plywood and stick them together. Drill 2 holes for the door clothes hanger. Find a door in your home, hang the hanger, then the plywood construction and finally the flipchart paper. Basic crafting tools needed here.

door clothes hanger for flipchart   DIY flipchart 

 3) DIY awesome low-budget flipchartDo the same as with 2). Additionally, saw a stripe off of the plywood, drill well-fitting holes for big and small markers and glue or attach the strip to the plywood. And your awesome flipchart for your home is ready!

marker holder 
If you have DIY flipcharts as well, please let me know and send me a photo!

Good Question!, Meeting Facilitation

How to Set Off a Brown Bag Session in Your Company – In 60 Minutes

First of all: What’s a Brown Bag Session? “A brown-bag seminar, session or lunch is generally a training or information session during a lunch break. The term “brown bag” refers to the packed lunch meals that are either brought along by the attendees or provided by the host.” (Wikipedia) At my current employer it is called Feed Your Brain and at my former employer it was called Pizza Driven Development.

At my current employer I successfully set off a “Brown Bag Session” with minimal effort (60 minutes), so I like to share this experience with everyone who is thinking about setting off a Brown Bag Session at her company but doesn’t know where or how to start.

This is what I did:

1) Find a sponsor – 10 minutes
“Do food” is always good and it is even better if you have a sponsor who is willing to pay for the pizza (or salad or sandwiches or…).
Adequate sponsors for your Brown Bag Session could be HR, CTO or CEO. Those people are interested that company folks get together and learn: Personal development and team building are the magic words. And both can be achieved very low priced with a Brown Bag Session. (The average costs for food for 30 people are about 180 €.)

2) Find a suitable day and room – 5 minutes
Check Outlook (or other tool) to see which convenient room is available over lunch in the next months. Block the room.

3) Find initial speakers – 10 minutes (2 minutes per speaker :))
This maybe the hardest part: Inspire some of your colleagues (you will know who to ask) about the idea of Brown Bag Sessions, offer yourself for the first sessions, ask external friends or ex-colleagues, … If you’re really having problems to fill the speaker slots for the first 3-4 sessions you could even show some TED talks or other conference videos (LKCE, SmashingConf etc.)

4) Inform everyone about the first session – 15 minutes
Depending on your company culture there will be different options how to do this: E-Mail, Intranet, Wiki, Flipchart… Even better a combination of those options.
You should provide at least the following information: What is a Brown Bag Session? Why are we starting this at our company? What is the first session about? Where will it happen (room)? What time? What will be future sessions be about/Who are your speakers? Who to contact if someone is interested to be a speaker in a future session?
Use an easy Google form (or other) to get information with a deadline: Who wants to attend? Who wants which pizza (veggie or non-veggie)?

5) Find a Pizza delivery service (or other) & talk to them – 10 minutes
Exactly. Find it and then talk to them. In my case I stopped by and explained that there would be an easy way for them to earn around 180 € on a weekly basis if they will deliver on time. They liked the idea… 😉
Maybe you even have an in-house canteen or cafeteria? Maybe you have a good reason not to ask them…

6) Order Pizza (or other) – 10 minutes
With the Google Doc (see 4) you know who will attend and who wants which food. Order on time because there is nothing worse than hungry people in front of a speaker. In my case I order already in the late afternoon on the day before the Brown Bag session.

That’s it. Start like this and then inspect & adapt…

Advanced ideas:

  • Think about how to document your “Brown Bag Sessions”:
    We record every Brown Bag Session with a camera and then provide the video plus PDF-presentation in our Wiki. It’s cool to review and there may be people who missed a talk.
  • Ask people what topics they like to hear about:
    Either at the beginning of a session using Post-Its or again via a Google form.
  • Have a shared Brown Bag Session:
    Some people are afraid of or think that they do not have enough to speak about for 1 hour. It is fun to have three different speakers with three different topics in 1 hour. Alternative: Do it like a world cafe with three groups. In that case the initial speaker stays at his table and repeats his talk for three times.

Let me know what you are thinking about Brown Bag Sessions and comment if you’re having trouble to set one off.

Videos from Brown Bag Sessions
Videos from Brown Bag Sessions
Meeting Facilitation, Training

Instant Feedback Meeting Artefacts

What are Instant Feedback Meeting Artefacts (IFMAs)? 
IFMAs are artefacts that help meetings to get instant feedback in meetings from participants.

Why would you use IFMAs?
All participants should feel responsible for a successful and meaningful meeting; it is not the sole responsibility of the meeting moderator or facilitator. Most reasons why meetings do not produce successful and meaningful results are either endless discussions, lost focus or dwindling concentration.
IFMAs can help to address those causes in an entertaining and easy way by participants themselves.

How to use IFMAs?
IFMAs are introduced at the beginning of the meeting or the workshops. Each IFMA has a name and a meaning. Whenever a participant feels the urge to use the IFMA she grabs it, holds it up high and shouts the name of the IFMA.

Example, please…
Here we go! I experimented with different IFMAs in the last years. Those are my favorites:

Instant I need a break clown Feedback Meeting Artefacts

(I need a) Break-Clown

Instant Focus-Police Feedback Meeting Artefacts

(I need more) Focus-Police

Instant I'm lost - Feedback Meeting Artefacts

(I am) Lost-Professor (please rewind that conversation)

It is important to introduce the IFMAs at the beginning of the meeting. It will raise the willingness of the participants to ask for breaks, focus and orientation and thus help your meeting or workshop to be more successful. You will most probably earn some smiles as well, when holding up those Playmobil® figures when explaining their meaning.

Of course, you don’t have to use Playmobil® (although those are fun). LEGO® might be a bit small here, but a buzzer (on a mobile phone application) or a hotel bell or simply some colored cards will work as well.

Instant Feedback Meeting Artefacts

Meeting Facilitation, Scrum

SWOT Matrix: Validating results after 4 months

Have you ever used the SWOT Matrix? Did the results bring about a decision? And then? Have you used the results after some time to validate your decision again? This post describes how I used a SWOT Matrix to help a team to try working with Scrum. After 4 months we validated what we thought then defined as strength, weakness, opportunity or threat.

A “SWOT analysis (alternatively SWOT Matrix) is a structured planning method used to evaluate the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats involved in a project or in a business venture.”
Prepare a four-square quadrant using 4 or one huge flip-charts. Each quadrant is named one of the following words: Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats.

SWOT MatrixStrengths: characteristics of the business or project that give it an advantage over others
Weaknesses: are characteristics that place the team at a disadvantage relative to others
Opportunities: elements that the project could exploit to its advantage
Threats: elements in the environment that could cause trouble for the business or project
(Source: Wikipedia)

I asked the team to write on post-its what the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities or threats are if we try working with Scrum for 3 months. After everyone had finished writing, explaining and sticking their post-its, we simply clustered the post-its and then dot voted the cluster (“What are the most relevant cluster for that quadrant?”).

SWOT Matrix

By now the SWOT Matrix helped the team already to identify and address all factors related to the change (“Try working with Scrum”), both positive and negative. It also helped team members to understand that they are not the only ones who see a threat or an opportunity. Or the other way around: Team members understand that their identified weakness of the change might as well be ruled out by several strengths of other team members.

Having identified all the factors with the SWOT Matrix I pushed them in a direction with the final question: “How high is your resistance to try working with Scrum for 3 months?” (I made some good experiences in the last months with avoiding “Yes-No-Decisions” but rather to start an experiment with asking about the resistance to something and then try to reach an agreement.) As the resistance to try it was rather low, we worked with Scrum in the last 4 months.

P1010096

This week we validated our decision to work with Scrum and as well checked which of the assumed strengths, weaknesses, opportunities or threats really came true.
It was great to review the dot voted clusters from 4 months ago and then validate if those have proved true. For this purpose I simply prepared a flip chart with a range from “yes” to “no” next to the names of the cluster and asked for each “After 10 Sprints: What has proved to be true?”

As a result we had a good discussion about the clusters that didn’t turn out to be true and what to do about it. (Could be a nice topic for a post as well. :)) Again we finished the meeting with asking about the resistance to keep on using Scrum. As you can see: There is hardly any resistance.

P1010097

Books, Good Question!, Meeting Facilitation

Activity for Team-Building event: The one thing…

The other week the team I’m working with as a Scrum Master had their first team event. We tried an activity that I found quite useful: The one thing I didn’t know about you before this meeting.

Some of the team members know each other already from working together in former teams, others just joined the team or our company and are not very familiar with the others. Our team event was planned for only half a day, the activity was an ongoing activity until the team stand-up the next morning.

At the beginning of the event I presented The one thing I didn’t know about you before this meeting simply on a flip-chart with a QR code and explained the rules:
team building activity

“During the event find out one thing about every team member that you didn’t know before the event. Remember it and post it via the Google Drive Form that is linked to the QR code.”

The Result

The result the next morning was a long list of things we discovered about our team members that we didn’t know about before the event. So with 10 team members we gathered over 90 things. Of course, everyone got access to the list and could read what the others found out about others and about oneself.

Not all of mentioned things can be taken seriously, but we definitely learnt new stuff about the others. When we start to share other aspects of our lives than work with our colleagues, we also start to speak openly with them about other things. Here is again a connection to Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. (Read related post “Job or Joy” here)

the one thingWhy I liked the activity?

  • It is an on-going activity during the team event.
  • It is easy to generate via Google Drive From.
  • It has a straight-forward list as a result.
  • It has a “Nerd” flavour. (Uuuh! QR code! Uuuh! Type in stuff with my mobile phone! Uuuh! So cool. :))
  • It influenced the “quality” of small-talk during the team event as you needed(wanted to gather data…

If you try this activity, please let me know your experiences.