Yesterday I facilitated a Skype session with a board. The board members had completed the GEM Assessment board self-evaluation survey and I was guiding them through a discussion of the collated results. Although doing a facilitation with this technology presents some very different dynamics than a regular face-to-face meeting or a conference call, in the end, both the board and I were very pleased with how well it went.
We both connected from rooms that were wired for internet service, and the board’s room had a large wall-mounted screen, a wide-angle camera, and good speakers. I connected from my notebook computer using a webcam and the internal microphone.
Some advance preparation for the meeting ensured that it would go as seamlessly as possible. A few days ago, their technology expert and I connected on Skype and made the necessary adjustments to the placement of the wide-angle camera, the connection with the speakers, and the volume controls. Yesterday we met about twenty minutes before the meeting started, and were able to adjust where some of the board members were seated so I could see them all on my screen.
A few interesting dynamics I encountered during the meeting were:
- I wanted to call participants by name when I was seeking their input, so I asked them to have large print name tents. Unfortunately, I could only read those closest to the camera. Solution? As everyone introduced themselves, I wrote down their names on a quick map of the room. (This, of course, was only helpful until I had them change seats to work with other small group partners…!)
- Microphones are another thing to think about. There were several instances where I had to ask people to repeat themselves, as the mic did not pick up voices all over the boardroom very well. I also had to keep my distance from my microphone because when I leaned too close my voice did not come across clearly in the boardroom.
- When I assigned activities to pairs or threes, the video feed was very helpful. I went around the board room telling each person their group number and then I indicated where I wished each group to meet. Only after everyone was in their new groups did I assign their task, such as “You have three minutes to share with your partner your initial reaction to the graphic summary of the assessment results and prepare to report to the whole group one thing that your partner noted.” Then I could observe as all the board members engaged in reviewing the collated report, in talking to and listening to another board member, and in talking to the whole board. All board members participated in small groups and contributed to the discussion at least five times during the two-and-a-half hour session.
I received very positive feedback from all the board members. They (and I) found it much superior to an audio-teleconference. We started to develop relationships. From their body language I had a feel for when they were done each assignment. They could focus on my picture when I was talking instead of their mind wandering when they looked into space. The consensus was that although it didn’t flow as seamlessly as face-to-face facilitation does, it was much superior to an audio-only teleconference. I was able to engage all the board members throughout the session because I knew who was there, could see them so I could more readily call on them when each had a contribution to make, and systematically facilitated the process to the final result of the board preparing a list of six things it would consider doing to maintain and enhance its governance effectiveness. Skype technology enabled quality interaction with a moderate budget.
What are your experiences with using technology for group meetings? What worked well? What lessons could you pass on so we don’t have to all learn the hard way?