What’s the single biggest organisational problem post pandemic? Well, many would say online meeting behaviour. So many people are struggling to chair effective meetings in this new world order. There are the obvious challenges like people choosing to be invisible, but there are the bigger issues like low contribution, selective mute, utter disengagement and ultimately switching to observer mode.
Add to this the hybrid challenge of facilitating meetings when some are online and others are colocated in the same room, it all adds up to frustration, inefficiency, waste and let’s be honest boredom! Inclusivity is also a growing issue, as individuals become increasing marginalised lacking any influence at all in their team meetings. Slido published some scary statistics (we speak about here) that suggest around 50% of people are woefully disengaged in online meetings.
In our opinion, part of the challenge is that we have tried to replicate the face to face meeting online, when in truth we need to totally discard those old practices, shake things up and create a new paradigm for online meetings.
Shake it up
We’ve been doing a lot of work to understand what we need to do differently in meta meetings, and we want to share some of this thinking here with you. However, you need to be warned, this is not going to be an easy ride. If you want to transform the quality of your teams online meetings, it will take a shed load of extra effort from you! Especially as you begin this journey. There’s a lot of unlearning to do, and there will be a lot of extra planning ahead of the meetings. But that investment will pay dividends later in the effectiveness of what you are doing. I also believe that over time you will need less preparation as you get more acquainted with the new practices and approaches.
If your meetings are not delivering for you currently, the good news is that you can turn this around and create dynamic, engaging, inclusive meetings that everyone will appreciate and value in the future. So let’s share the big idea and think through what this means.
The big idea; SPINCycles©
The new meta meeting paradigm needs to shift towards fast paced, dynamic meeting cycles. We are calling this SPINCycles and will use SPIN as a helpful acronym to facilitate meeting your preparation. Each meeting will become an individual or series of SPINCycles; each cycle having a distinct purpose, process and defined deliverable.
The pace of the cycle will be at a whole new level to what you may have experienced before. Here’s what I mean. Twenty years ago I began my personal journey into motorsport. I started with something known as sprinting. Sprinting is a form of motorsport that must comply with Motorsport UK regulation and safety requirements, but is a low cost entry discipline. Simply, you can use any car, which you take to an event and compete, one car at a time, for the fastest lap in your cars assigned class. It’s effectively like qualifying on your own, with no race. The speeds involved are a whole different league to normal road driving, and you have to work your way up to a competitive position. The same is true of becoming a full racing licence holder competing in wheel to wheel competition. I went into that thinking my sprint experience would serve me well. It probably did, but the truth is I was way off the pace, the standards, skill and speed was a whole different league once again. SPINCycles are a whole league of difference when it comes to pace. Forget the hours spent in traditional meetings, the prolonged discussion and meandering explorations, this is focus on a new level.
Here are the four elements of setting up a meeting SPINCycle.
S is for Shaping
In a SPINCycle the open two or three minutes are critical. It is the moments when you will shape what’s about to happen. The NLP recency and primacy idea helps us understand just how influential opening (and closing) sequences are. As meeting chair you must set the scene and condition expectations from the very first moment. In fact even before that, because shaping can start before the first minute of the meeting via clear and concise pre meeting instructions to the group. There are a multitude of little nudges that you can play to edge the meeting into a completely different place, and nudge is exactly what you must do.
Shaping has three key constituent parts we call patterns, purpose and process.
Patterns are where you condition the behaviours that you want to encourage. This is in part you role modelling what you expect from others. A simple example of this is you being the first person to arrive in the meeting and you having your camera and mic on before anyone else arrives. But behavioural patterns can be instructed too. Your pre meeting communication needs to spell out exactly what you are expecting from every attendee in polite, but clear unambiguous terms. This will include detailing the purpose and processes that will inform each SPINCycle.
Purpose requires laser like precision for each SPINCycle. This is a clear purpose statement for each agenda item (cycle). This purpose must be action orientated, for example; ‘to evaluate and agree the next three actions steps for the “X” project’. Or ‘to select the preferred supplier for X assignment’.
All agenda items should be detailed this purposeful way. A golden rule is that ‘to inform’ or ‘to update’ is not an acceptable SPINCycle purpose. If that’s what you want to do, then find another way that’s not a meeting at all.
A golden rule is that ‘to inform’ or ‘to update’ is not an acceptable SPINCycle purpose
The final part of ‘shaping’ is in defining the specific approach for each cycle. Very simply, what is the process that we will use to reach the desired purpose outcomes. This is covered within the ‘I’ of SPIN – Inputs. But within the shaping phase I must communicate the process for each cycle within the meeting. This conditions the attendees expectations of how they will be expected to contribute to the meeting.
P is for Players
The SPIN P is for Players. Who are the people, and what are they going to be doing during the meeting? Every single attendee should have a role to play, if not we should question their presence at the meeting.
Player roles also fall into three camps. Process, Content and Technology.
Each cycle has a process, this process needs a player who is responsible for facilitating it. Now this may be you if you are the chairperson, but it can equally be assigned to others in the meeting. In fact assigning this to others might be highly appropriate if for example the cycle is dealing with a topic that they are closely connected with or responsible for. Charge them with the management of that cycle process during the meeting.
Content is the player role for those that will be adding something needed to reach the cycle purpose. Effectively content players are contributors to the outcome. They may bring insights, information, opinions, facts and data, but the point is, this is a predetermined role so the expectation is that they will be required to contribute. Shaping allows us to condition that expectation. i.e. “This is what you will be required to bring to this specific cycle”.
Because you are chairing the meeting, online and (if hybrid) potentially also face to face, you will have more than enough to cope with. This means you must assign players to take the lead for the technology that is being used. This obviously includes the conferencing tool of choice (Zoom, Google Meets, MSTeams etc), but also any additional technology tool that you are using. Commonly this might be breakouts and or decision tools, polls, Onenotes, video etc. Having a technology player allows you to concentrate on engagement and ensuring inclusivity, instead of splitting your brain power across too many elements.
You may find that you need to assign some other roles in addition to these, but note, an ‘observer’ is not an allowable role in SPINCycles. Everyone should come with a pre-shaped expectation of the way they will be contributing.
It’s also worth noting that some people in the meeting may have more than one role! Just be careful about assigning content and process roles together – There is a potential for conflict and bias if this is the case. It’s very hard to be objective if I have a strong content contribution position, and I am facilitating the process at the same time.
I is for Inputs
‘Inputs’ is the element that requires most from you in pre meeting preparation. Remember each agenda item is now it’s own individual SPINcycle, each with a clear purpose. In addition to this each cycle now needs a clearly defined process. How is this cycle going to run?
Consider the purpose of the cycle and predetermine how you will achieve that purpose. The process is likely to be different for each cycle in the meeting. This is a good thing, in fact even when the purpose of each cycle could potentially be achieved via the same process, you still need to make it different. This will massively assist the level of participant engagement throughout the meeting. You want to avoid repetition as much as possible, constantly making small but noticeable differences to each cycle process. Here are a couple of simple examples.
SPINCycle 1: To agree which creative supplier we select for the marketing campaign.
- Prework – Everyone reads the three supplier proposals.
- Sarah presents a summary comparison of the three suppliers proposals with a supplier recommendation.
- Each participant has an individual two minute opportunity to verbally counter the recommendation.
- We use a voting poll (like Slido or similar) to make the final selection.
- Chair has casting vote rights if the poll result is tied.
SPINCycle 2: To reduce the X project time slip risk.
- Chair to present the risk details, consequences and rectification target.
- Breakout into pairs, for 5 minutes to uncover two creative ways we can reduce the risk.
- Each breakout pair presents their one preferred / best idea.
- All participants use the chat facility to indicate their preferred ideas from the group.
- Chair makes decision on chosen steps.
- Assign owners for each step.
Every cycle will have its own predetermined approach, so this is going to take some planning and in many cases set up in advance. For example you may need to organise which tools you are going to use ahead of the meeting, you may need to create poll questions etc. This investment is at the heart of shaking up your meta meetings, it will surprise you just how much this will transform the session.
N is for Nimble
The finale prompt in the SPIN acronym is ‘Nimble’ This is where you determine the pace. This is very easy to set, but needs good facilitation skills to implement.
Each SPINCycle requires a set duration, and that duration needs to be as short as possible. If you are going to stop losing participants to observer mode, you have to take it impossible for them to duck out of the processes that are in flow. Typically each cycle should last between 5 and 15 minutes in duration. As commented above, a totally different order of pace compared to what normally happens. So taking the example above we get very specific and detail the times for the process steps:
SPINCycle 1: To agree which creative supplier we select for the marketing campaign.
Process: (Total 15 Minutes)
- Pre-work – Everyone reads the three supplier proposals.
- (4 Minutes) Sarah presents a summary comparison of the three suppliers proposals with a supplier recommendation.
- (8 minutes)Each part participant has an individual two minute opportunity to verbally counter the recommendation.
- (2 Minutes) We use a voting poll (like slido or similar) to make the final selection.
- (1 Minute) Chair has casting vote rights if the poll result is tied.
The best way to manage the meetings timing, is to run an onscreen timer. At the start of each cycle, Show the clock running in a shared screen way so that everyone can see the minutes ticking away. It’s amazing how this drives focus, process and outcome.
Keep the cycle shorter than 15 minutes if you can, and don’t round it up. If your process needs 9 minutes, assign and stick to 9 minutes, if it needs 12, then 12 it is.
Nimble means that you will never have less than four SPINCycles in a one hour meeting, ideally more than this. But don’t get caught by the one hour paradigm either. If you have two SPINCycles one of 8 and another 11 minutes long, then your really only need a meeting length of 19 minutes not more! Practically it makes sense to allow yourself some opening and closing sequence time, but workout how long it is, don’t just default too obvious tidy units of time.
We find that the main challenge you will have is your ability to break the status quo and reposition your team meetings in a totally new light. It will help to talk with your team about this change, explain it, detail how it will work and propose a meeting where you will all give it a try. Remember your preparation is vital in this, you cannot successfully wing it! Start small with just one or two SPINCycles at a time, gain familiarity and confidence in the approach before you jump in with longer meetings and multiple cycles.
This is a transformational change, so be prepared for failure and then review and go again. In our experience it takes around three weeks of new meeting practice for everyone to start to get it, warm to it and buy into it. The difference though will be amazing.
At iManage we can fast track your teams adoption through some quick online training meetings that not only teach you how to approach SPINCycles, but also model the approach throughout. It’s a great way to kick start your meeting transformation, so get in touch to see how we can assist you and your people make the journey.