10 people. 5 countries. 4 time zones. Some might say this is a recipe for disastrous meetings. In many cases, that may be accurate. A team setup like ours presents various challenges, including communication, relationship building, and conducting team meetings.…
The business conference call has been an important tool for some time, and these days it is often essential for colleagues who work virtually. When you need to interact in real time with one or more teammates, the business conference call is a 'live' audio channel for the virtual team. It is the quickest and easiest way to discuss strategy, review key deliverables, check project milestones or brainstorm options.
Today's technology-based contact systems offer speed and convenience as well as the ability to instantaneously communicate with large numbers of people over large distances. So many of us participate in conference calls because managers believe they have some measure of control over events when their team 'checks in'. Many teams conduct weekly or daily morning calls. Others have calls at the end of each week or each day. Some conduct calls on a certain day while others rotate them by time zone. Whatever your virtual team does, you are probably on numerous conference calls each day. But are they effective? Most people don't feel very positive about these calls; my clients use words like "nightmare," "pointless," and "tedious" to describe them.
And yet, potentially there is much value to be had with a well-structured business conference call. So, the question is, how can virtual colleagues make the experience as useful as possible? We know that it is easy for team members to stay in the background, impassively witnessing others participate in e-mail strings and calls. In the virtual workplace, a lack of contribution is less noticeable than at on-site meetings. Even motivated team members may be quiet during these times.
I call colleagues who do not contribute during conference calls 'Silent Riders'. Silent Riders may be full functioning members of your team, fulfilling their responsibilities and producing quality work. Yet, they may need an extra push to join the discussion. I have come up with several approaches to encourage quiet team members to speak up and participate during business conference calls.
If there are global language barriers, Silent Riders may need an extra nudge. One of my clients, a virtual manager at an international insurance conglomerate, had to conduct regular conference calls with ten people from five different countries in Asia. During his first call, few team members spoke, and he found that the added difficulties of language barriers and background noise made it even more difficult to communicate. Together we came up with the guidelines to draw out his Silent Riders that I have shared in these posts.
Conference calls are indispensable for moving complex projects along. Your job, as the virtual manager, is to create the Context from which meeting attendees can connect the dots (from their own perspective of what needs to be done) to the bigger picture of what the entire project requires.
Throughout this blog section, I will give practical suggestions and tips to help you make your next business conference call more productive. For more information on having productive conference calls, check out my book A Manager's Guide to Virtual Teams.