Awkward teams on screens


How do you find this online screen stuff working for you? How is it going with the people you work with, or would normally share an office space with? Are you new to zoom meetings? Does it feel awkward to see yourself on screen? If so, you’re not alone as this is a new situation.

Priya Parker who wrote “The Art of Gathering” has said recently about online meetings and interactions: “find out how this is going to be different from what we normally do”. She equates this to the Passover question: how is this night different from other nights? She also highlights specificity in purpose and intention. And she recommends “don’t gather more, gather better.”

Some observations from my own work with teams

Whilst many of us are working from home there’s also been a huge increase in working with each other on screens. I’ve noticed a few things about it that I’d like to share in case you find them useful. 

Sometimes it’s awkward. And at other times it can be unproductive or confusing. But what makes it like that sometimes and such a joy at others? I worked with a team the other day and they were hesitant to share. They didn’t know when to speak and let the host and one other do most of the talking. The conversation went something like this: “So the meeting today is to address the new project proposal. Has anyone got anything to add at the beginning?”…silence, no movement on screen, awkward pause…. “okay so let’s get started”.  I’ve worked with this team before and they are usually very vocal, have good humour and offer lots in the workspace.

Another team I accompanied was much more in a state of flow. They told stories and laughed, and made decisions about the things they were discussing.  A third team I facilitated was very focused. They had three really creative outcomes, one of which was totally unexpected, which was using online story-telling to promote their recruitment agency services. 

What is it that makes staring at the screen so different from usual work life?

I got curious about what the difference was and 3 things popped up.

1) Firstly there was a difference in intention and purpose.

One group of work colleagues said they were going to have a coffee chat and talk about what had worked for them during the 2nd week of isolation. It was set at 45 minutes long and attendacne was optional. The context was sharing and finding out if anything needed to be different for work the next week. They made some really practical points such as new small achievable projects to be done at home with online research for those at a loose end and feeling directionless. Another was a general meeting about a project which didn’t go so well. The last was a 30-minute thinking exercise about how they were going to manage time when apart, at home away from the team.

What struck me was that when there’s a clear purpose there’s more contribution and sharing across the team. This particularly happens when the purpose is different from the “normal”. So when the purpose is to connect, check in AND get ideas it’s different from just a meeting, because that’s what we’d normally do. Being specific about what people need from it and what the purpose is, makes a difference.

2) Then there’s equality.

I noticed that things were more focused as well as more relaxed and not tense (no awkward silences, most participants said something, lots of smiling, nodding, etc.) when whoever was running the meeting shared the talking points out and there was an inclusive “checking in” with everyone. This doesn’t mean everyone has to say something, it just provides the opportunity to do so.

3) Finally, there was safety.

When people wanted to speak and there were a few talking over each other I noticed there were one or two people who’d interrupt and manage the conversation so it didn’t turn chaotic. A little ground rule was subtly established which said: “we’ll manage how things are said and interrupt to allow turns to be taken”. Creating ground rules can sometimes be empowering!

So what really works best?

In overview, when we set up a specific intention or purpose, setting intention, purpose and some basic ground rules to allow everyone to contribute and make sure everyone is included, things naturally go much better. It sounds simple, but if you’re not used to this way of doing things it can seem daunting. If you’d like some support with running your workplace online meeting more effectively, or would like me to sit in on a meeting for feedback and guidance, please get in touch. I specialise in using Clean Language and Systemic Modelling tools such as a Clean Set Up which is ideal for online meetings and projects. My passion is to help people work at their best,  identify what they want to say and how to communicate it to others.