Editor’s note: Staying connected with your team and your organization is even more important in these challenging times. Our latest series “How to lead remote teams” explores how you can make the most of the unique communication challenges we’re all facing — so you can keep moving forward in the face of change. Did you miss part one of our series? Read How to lead remote teams, Part 1: Team touch points.
As teams and organizations seek to quickly respond to a rapidly changing business environment and continue to move business-critical projects and initiatives forward, stakeholder workshops remain an important way to get feedback and drive consensus.
Stakeholder workshops are designed to bring together members of multiple teams to get everyone on the same page. During these sessions, participants engage in a common experience to align on goals, designs, and ideas. Yet running these workshops when everyone is working remotely poses a unique challenge to facilitators.
Stakeholder workshops — especially when done virtually — need a structured experience, with embedded accountability protocols and clear goals. If you’re tasked with facilitating this kind of workshop, it is important to elevate the voices of all stakeholders, to ensure that everyone’s perspectives are heard and discussed as you work toward consensus.
Here are four steps you can take to ensure your virtual workshops go smoothly — from making sure everyone knows what’s expected to achieving your objectives.
Step 1. Curate your list of participants.
Keep remote workshops small. While an in-person workshop can accommodate a larger group, remote sessions will be more successful if limited to six to eight people. This will create more time and airspace for everyone to contribute. If more stakeholders need to be involved, consider running multiple sessions. When inviting stakeholders, clearly communicate the goals of the session and the role each of them will play. This will set expectations and help everyone stay focused in the workshop.
Step 2. Establish clear goals.
Choose two to three high-level goals to share as part of your agenda, and surface them at the beginning of your workshop. If you’re kicking off your workshop with a presentation deck, include these goals on your first slide. Then, begin each workshop activity by clearly stating which goal the activity is addressing, so that stakeholders can see the connection between the workshop activities and achieving the outcomes you’ve established.
Step 3. Encourage visual thinking.
Virtual stakeholder workshops pose a unique challenge when it comes to helping participants visualize their ideas. Visually capturing ideas can help keep participants more focused and on-task than a free-form conversation. Ask participants a thoughtful question and have them write out a few statements in a shared virtual document. As participants write their responses, encourage them to read what others wrote and respond to their thinking within the virtual document. You might also consider using a virtual whiteboard tool to capture ideas in order to keep the group focused on a targeted brainstorm.
Step 4: Keep up the pace.
In remote workshops, keeping participants engaged and attentive can be even more challenging. Participants are already on their computers in order to contribute to the workshop through video chat, so they’re even more prone to distraction (chat windows popping up, checking email, etc.). In addition to sharing what’s expected of participants in advance, hold their attention by keeping up the pace of your workshop. While you want to give enough time for participants to think and converse on specific topics, keep the meeting moving forward. Use the “most people” rule. When most people are finished with an activity, regroup, discuss, and move forward.
You can keep your projects and initiatives moving forward through this time of change — even if that requires stakeholder participation in an interactive workshop. By communicating clear expectations, setting specific goals, and keeping everyone’s attention with virtual collaboration tools and an engaging pace, you can get the input you need to keep your work on track.
Managing larger group ideation sessions and remote workshops? Read part three of our series How to lead remote teams, Part 3: Group ideation sessions.