How to effectively survive global ‘calls’

Global callI guess at least some of you have already spent parts or even most of their day glued to a telephone or other device trying to participate in ‘global’ calls, brainstormings or discussions with various others. Being a virtual team member is far from being easy, even if you don’t have to lead a session in a particular moment, that is for sure.

The hardest thing to follow is actually when you have a group of people sitting together in a room and others participating on the phone in different locations. The team sharing a physical location has definitely an advantage over the other participants as its members can visually interact and see each others faces and gestures. It gets especially difficult, when not everybody can be clearly understood through the phone. Another tricky thing is that you might not even know who is speaking as you don’t know all the people on the line and hence cannot recognize the voices. Very few people actually state their name when they speak as they tend to forget that not all the participants can see them.

How do you make the most out of such sessions without giving in to the temptation of doing other things while your phone continues to speak, on mute?

As a participant you should look at the agenda right from the start, before the call has even started and identify the areas of interest to you. Write down a couple of points that you want to touch upon, or simply note some thoughts. This will help you to stay focused during the call especially for the parts that are important for you.

Remember: nobody can listen for hours in a row! If an agenda is set up in a right way, it will leave enough breaks to allow for the participants to re-focus. It will also take into account the different periods of the day the participants are in and hence move the parts where solid input is expected to reasonable times so that the people are still awake.

As an organizer, this website provides a helpful oversight over time zones and lets you easily schedule global meetings.

If you need participants from all over the world, I would also highly recommend scheduling various meetings having the same topic, even if it means that you have to repeat yourself. You will ensure that nobody will be expected to attend at an unusual hour, which makes people happier and hopefully they will contribute more actively. You could for example structure your meeting like a World Café, where every contribution actually builds up on the contributions of the previous sessions. By doing so, you ensure that even for you, it doesn’t get boring and the outcome will definitely be there.

Apart from that, if you can, try to make the sessions as short as possible. The shorter you time your meeting, the more attention you will get and the more focused your participants will be. Oh, and avoid lengthy power point shows, you will loose your audience in minutes. Write down bullet points of what is being said or accompany the discussion in a way that makes it more interesting to the participants, even those not being physically there!

If you have any more insights to share or tipps and tricks on how to ‘survive’ long calls, let me know!

Have an excellent morning, afternoon, evening, night! Jenny

Further reading:

Mindful leadership applied to virtual teams

Lately I wrote a post on what it takes to lead multicultural teams. It now struck me that many of us don’t just lead multicultural but also “virtual” teams; this adds a lot of complexity to something that is already not so easy on its own.

Wooden mannequins pushing puzzle pieces into the right place

What actually is a virtual team some of you might ask? Following Wikipedia, a virtual team is “(…)a group of individuals who work across time, space and organizational boundaries with links strengthened by webs of communication technology”. In clear it means that you might be sitting in one location, like me in Switzerland for example, and you actually lead and work with people all across Europe or even around the globe. It also means that you might not even see these people physically throughout the year. Additionally, it might be that you are not the direct line boss of some of these people but ‘only’ the matrix with less direct possibilities to motivate your staff as you are not the final ‘evaluator’ and ‘bonus giver’.

So, how do you then communicate and how do you walk the fine line of what is acceptable in one culture and what is not? I have to say that at first and being a coach, it was very difficult for me, not so see people as the non-verbal and paraverbal components of face-to-face discussions usually tell me the whole and hidden story and let me intuit the truth behind spoken words. Video communication through web cams or other means would have helped a lot but unfortunately this was not available. So what to do?

First of all and especially concerning team members from cultures I did not have had any work contacts before, I informed myself about the habits, the style and the usual work behaviours from colleagues who were willing to share. I also spent a lot of time speaking to my team and of course listening to them, in order to find out more about them as  persons, their lifestyles etc. Very often I also asked open questions like: “What does this mean for you”? Or “how do you interpret this particular objective or task”. Creating a trusting and open relationship where all partners and team members feel comfortable is extremely important. Of course I made mistakes, as we all do I am sure, misinterpreting things  or inadvertently creating a situation that for others could be quite uncomfortable. Learning from these mistakes, discussing and exchanging are the ingredients to successfully setting a viable basis for virtual work relationships. Interesting enough, when you listen emphatically, mindfully and with attention and when you are truly interested in what your counterpart has to say, you will quickly find that the tone of voice alone can tell you stories about the state of mind of the other person.

It actually is a skill to be able to listen and direct a conversation when there are so many things competing for your attention in the office at the same time. What is your experience with virtual teams? What works and what not? Looking forward to your thoughts!