We have reached the final post of our Facilitation in the Days of Social Distancing blog series. We hear your whimpers and see your tiny tears. Don’t despair! We will be adding many more posts over the coming weeks and months that will add more depth and detail to the ideas in this series. In addition, be on the lookout for an announcement from us about hosting virtual office hours later this week (if you are reading this much later, we would love to hear from you regardless). If you have questions about remote facilitation, coaching, or agile at distance let us know.
Today, we are going to focus on what to do in the After the Meeting stage of our facilitation framework. This is where you bring all the great stuff from inside the meeting out into the world through action items. There are many possibilities for what could or should be done, in this post we are going to talk about a few.
Here is our biggest point: doing something is better than doing nothing. After a meeting, keeping the momentum going is essential, and the need for your stewardship here is heightened in our currently remote world. As you may have noticed, most meetings are not a one-and-done affair. Each symbolizes a brick in the much larger cathedral of the vision. To ensure that the next brick is laid in the best spot, and at the best time, we must take care of the necessary follow-ups between our meetings.
Now, don’t get us wrong. We are not advocating for you to take on all necessary tasks to move things forward. If you read Part 4, we showed you how to ensure that the right actions are taken by the right people. That’s often not you. There is, however, one ever-present exception to this rule, and it’s a little bit sneaky - take the action to follow up in a week if you don’t hear from someone. Now, if you know the two of us, you know that if we were in class, we’d follow that statement up with encouragement and direction on how that might sound, and more importantly, how it should NOT sound. It’s not a micro-management kind of ‘hey you owe me an action item where is it” kind of a tone; and it’s also not a “oh hey gentle reminder to get that thing you promised a few days ago”. Neither of these approaches is effective, and you will quickly lose the trust of your participants with these too-harsh or too-soft approaches. Rather, be upfront, and be supportive in the followup. It might sound something like “Hey Joe, I want to follow up on the action item you promised for Monday. What is in the way of you delivering? How can I support you?”
The easiest path after a meeting is to kick back, relax, and enjoy your success. We’d be lying if we said we haven’t fallen into that trap from time to time. To help you avoid this pitfall (are you reading this Atari??! Give us money! No more tiptoeing around! We’re almost out of time!), here are some practical things you can do:
Send out a summary of the meeting including actions items with owners and due dates, key decisions that were made, and high-level summary of important discussions. This doesn’t need to be many pages long. In fact, better if it isn’t. And, there is a built-in “double-win” (as Kat would say) - it provides a natural follow-up plan for everyone and it serves as a great focal point for clarification if people heard things differently (and they will!). There’s nothing better than putting something in writing to surface misunderstandings. Look for this and allow for adjustments.
Set the example with your own follow-up. We’ve long been on the soapbox about leadership and agility starting with ourselves. Practice is the best teacher, hands down. When we respond on time and with clarity, others are more likely to do the same.
Set up the time for the next meeting on the subject, if there is one. This gives people confidence that things are moving forward, and a clear target for completing whatever work they committed to.
If there isn’t a natural next meeting, send out information radiators when major items have been completed to keep people in the loop.
All of these actions are useful, necessary, and will benefit your team’s productivity and cohesiveness. Above all these, especially in these days of unprecedented remote meetings, we want to recommend you make yourself available. Let people know how and when to contact you if they need you, or they need clarification on something. There’s the practical side to this recommendation, of course, but moreover, it is a move to help people through these challenging times. To the extent that your team is able to settle into this ‘new normal’, they will do better work. We have often talked about the role of a ScrumMaster or Agile Coach being much more than the ‘doing’. And now, in these days of remote facilitation, there is no escaping that truth. Our role includes helping people through this emotionally stressful time, and that stress likely includes more than just work stuff. After all, our team members or meeting participants are human beings.
So listen, you and I know that when facilitation is done well it doesn’t look like you are doing a lot. And we all know that’s just not the case. As full as your schedule probably is, it is essential to add one more thing to your plate: taking time to take care of yourself. How do you do this? First, actually schedule in the time required for followup. Just as you need to build in time to plan your meeting so that it will go well, you must also plan in time to do the follow-up. Follow-up is not something that happens after hours - it’s part of the package. Second, and most important, you need to plan in time to re-energize yourself. Take a break, open the window and smell the fresh air, look out into the sunshine (or rain if you’re like us here in Seattle). Listen to the birds. Seriously, really listen to them. Like, really.
<insert scheduled pause here>
In all seriousness, your capacity to be ‘on’, and fresh, has a direct correlation to the success of your meeting. If you are not taking care of yourself first, you will not be able to show up in a way in which your team feels cared for. And, even though it might sound hokey to you, having your team feel cared for is undeniably important. That has never been more true than right now. The world feels crazy, and we, as facilitators, can really make a difference to people by creating spaces that allow everyone to contribute meaningfully.
We truly hope that this series has given you some new ways of thinking about remote meeting facilitation and offered some new things to try. As we said in our first post, remote meetings are less effective if they are treated the same as if they were in-person. Our goal for these posts was to highlight some ways in which we can bring facilitation skill into your remote meetings in service of amping up the value and effectiveness of the time spent. We’d love to hear from you, and if we can be of service, please let us know.
Best of luck. Stay healthy. Don’t forget to breathe.
Kat & Tim