Keeping team members inspired and productive can be difficult in the best of times, but has become all the more challenging during the current crisis. While no one wants to jump on another Zoom call, virtual team meetings — when done well — can help employees feel refreshed, valued and more connected.
Below are 10 tips to consider incorporating into your next team meeting. I'm confident you'll see productivity rise as a result.
1. Breathe. OK, you've taken your deep breaths before the call, now invite your team to take theirs. Rather than jump in, lead everyone in a few deep breaths, such as simple abdominal breathing (which will relax participants and improve their blood flow, making them more alert and supporting brain health) or pursed lips breathing (which causes general relaxation, according to the Cleveland Clinic). This helps distractions fall away and ensures you are starting the meeting with everyone's attention.
2. Engage from the start. Consider inviting all team members to type a one-word intention for the meeting into the chat box. Or, use a one-word check in to see how everyone is doing. By monitoring your team's current state or intention, you help them get present for the business at hand. And by generating a group list in the chat box, the group coalesces as a team — from the start of the call.
3. Encourage movement. Movement enhances learning, so don't wait until everyone's antsy to move around. Take a minutes before diving into business for some stretching, gentle yoga or even jumping jacks. My favorite is gentle qigong bouncing. By getting your blood flowing throughout your brain and body, you and your employees will experience greater vitality, creativity and brain engagement. Continue to initiate or invite movement throughout the call. You can even use a standing desk for all or part of the call and invite others to do that too, as way to keep energized.
4. Ask questions and involve the "quiet people." If some team members tend to dominate the conversation, steer questions towards the quieter members who might not be as comfortable talking on screen.
5. Use breakout groups strategically. Breakout groups can help you get everyone involved in idea generation and problem solving, and ensure all voices are heard. Split people into teams of two or three for an exercise or portion of the call. When everyone returns to the larger group, ask what came up. Elicit questions, challenges, insights and ideas. With small groups, you'll retain the attention of all team members, including those distractible folks — like me— whose brains may need a variety of tasks and modalities to function effectively.
6. Use engaging visuals. Research shows that people are more likely to remember images than words, so try to share some interesting photos, videos or charts during the meeting if possible. "Evidence suggests people will remember information longer if you use visuals," says Damaris Lasa, online learning program designer and instructor at the digital learning company GreenFig. This is known as the pictorial superiority effect. According to research, "when we read text alone, we are likely to remember 10 percent of what we read three days later. But if that information is presented to us as text combined with a relevant image, we are likely to remember 65 percent of the information three days later."
7. Add a theme. Another way to make your meeting more engaging and to build up excitement beforehand is by selecting a fun theme for the event. Shalini Bahl, Ph.D., an award-winning researcher and certified mindfulness teacher, suggests adding a playful element by "inviting team members to choose a theme for virtual backgrounds like favorite movies, vacation destinations or superheroes." The team member with the best background will be awarded with a prize or gift card.
8. Show empathy. According to Bahl, "Leaders need to let their team members know they care." One way you can do that in the context of Zoom meetings is to reach out to participants ahead of time to inquire about whether they will have childcare needs to attend to, or have other special needs such as hearing disabilities and language barriers that will need to be accommodated.
9. Bring a prop. A prop can be fun or instructive: A book you're reading that the team might find helpful, or an instrument that will help kick off the meeting on a high note. Such activities grab our attention and draw us in, if done well. They can also put you and your team at ease and in a more relaxed and creative mode.
10. Keep an eye on the time. Let team members know how long the meeting will go and do your best to stick to that timing. In the best of circumstances, people can usually focus on a conference call for 30 to 37 minutes. Many people can't even last that long. The takeaway? Breaks are critical to engaging team members on calls that last longer than 30 minutes. And keep calls as short as possible.
Lisa Tener is a book coach, presenter and creativity catalyst. She teaches on the faculty of Harvard Medical School's continuing medical education publishing course and the women in healthcare leadership course. She is also a published author, most recently contributing a chapter to "The Creativity Workbook for Coaches and Creatives." Lisa Tener has been quoted in The New York Times, Vice, MarketWatch and more.