Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Learning to meet together - some thoughts

Meeting with others, sharing information, sharing ideas, working together in real-time is incredibly powerful as a way to get things done. You can start a meeting from anywhere at any time and therefore:
  • be much more responsive to opportunities
  • work with the people you want to work with
An example of this for me is recently working on a project with an associate of mine at short notice with a tight deadline. If we had to meet physically then we would never have been able to do it due to other diary commitments. However my associate and I are experienced at collaborating online we both have Skype set up, alternate at screen sharing and we've used lots of different tools in the past. Getting started with a new group of collaborators is tough and even harder when it is your first time.

The key is to start slowly and build up. Using online collaboration tools are a stretch: it isn't always that intuitive and when you are real-time in a meeting it does create some pressure as the group are watching to see how things will work out! I don't advise taking too many risks during the start-up of a group or if the meeting is critical. The meeting content is the focus and the less that technology interferes the better.

At times it is still possible that the technology goes wrong perhaps someone loses connectivity, and you always need a back up plan. It is essential to deal with the problems in a way that suits the group you are working with and not just use a standard procedure.

Different people have different tolerances and I have worked with some collaborators who, when experiencing technical difficulties, wanted to get off line quickly and spend an hour of their time resolving the issues. Many others have wanted to work through with some support. Being mindful of the rest of the group this can mean either: carrying on or re-scheduling for a later time with a slight delay (or perhaps a new date).

Using new technologies can create some very different experiences some require long sign-in procedures and others are easy to drop in to. If the group members don't understand the technology then there is a need to enable them to use it. The safest strategy is to let them learn before the meeting and go through each technology on a 1 to 1 basis, you could also run a screen share training session or just jump into the software. Again this depends on the group.

One tip I would recommend is pick the tool that meets your requirement in the simplest way and highlight a simple way to use it. (e.g. if you are using a whiteboard like Scribblar for the first time with a group and they haven't had any previous experience perhaps ask then just to use the text tool to post up ideas.)

One challenge is knowing when to retreat and when to persevere when things aren't working well. My one recommendation is:- when you go from feeling some discomfort (which is ok) to bordering on panic it is best to move back to something you are more comfortable with. Don't give up though, reflect on your experience, solicit feedback from your collaborators and learn.

The great news is the more you use tools and collaborate online, the more comfortable you become and therefore the more able you are to influence others to stretch a bit further.

If you are working with a regular group you can build on previous successes and start to experiment in a safe environment. Have a go!

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