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‘In the cyber society of today – in the virtual teams […]- the building of trust is even more important, and even more of an uphill battle’

Manfred Kets de Vries

Last week we facilitated a two-day leadership development workshop for the top executives of a large organisation. Two weeks in advance it was decided we had to do it fully online. We did. The results and the level of trust between the participants were remarkable.

Some tips that are easy to implement and make an impact:

  • Ask participants to place their camera at eye level and at a distance: the full upper body should be visible. Not only the nostrils. Why? It will prevent people from multitasking: doing their email while listening intensely or chatting with others. Besides that, the hands can be used to express non-verbal behaviour.
  • Bring structure and variety to the meeting. Open the virtual room 5-10 minutes before the start and ask people to login early. Do as least as possible in the large group and alternate between different small groups. Give these specific assignments to deepen what was discussed in the plenary. Ask for more than people usually feel confident to share.
  • Your intention can’t be seen and hardly be felt on screen: formulate more clearly and explicitly than you’re used to. Charisma and body language don’t travel well online. Be clear about what you ask from the participants and why you do so. No hidden agendas or clever multi-layered interventions.
  • Make conscious agreements about the use of mute, hands, chat, camera use etc. In small groups you better don’t use the mute function. The dialogue will feel more natural and alive. You’re only allowed to turn the camera off when you’re not behind your desk.
  • Limit to the minimum to share your screen. People want to see your and each others reactions. Only then trust will be developed.
  • Online meetings increase transparency. There is no informal talk at the coffee counter and there is little chatting afterwards. Hence, create an atmosphere where people share what’s really going on within themselves.
  • Make sure that everybody shares her/his ideas and observations. Especially the introverted have interesting viewpoints that are easily missed. In virtual meeting it’s even harder for them to be noticed.
  • Make use of a moderator so that you can fully focus on the team. Be aware that there will always be technical difficulties but don’t let these distract you from what you’re hired to do.
  • Let participants give feedback on each others background. What message is shared (un-)intentionally? People get hardly any feedback on how they are being seen. When we go to work we pay attention to how we dress. When we show up online, we share more of the context we’re living and working in. What do you want to transfer?
  • And remember: ‘We will forget what others said, we will forget what others did, but we will never forget how they made us feel: strive for emotional closeness’  – Peter Hawkins

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