Bridge the Virtual Divide with Focused Conversations
Reducing office space and travel expenses is a great way for entrepreneurial businesses to save time and money. But the downside can be a lack of collaboration and esprit de corps among members of the team. This presents a considerable challenge as we know the number of companies doing business virtually is growing exponentially. According to GlobalWorkplaceAnalytics.com, the number of work-at-home employees has grown by 115% since 2005, nearly 10x faster than the rest of the workforce.
Working virtually isn’t for every business type, yet some thrive. The reason? Matt Mullenweg, WordPress inventor and CEO of Automattic (WordPress parent company) put it this way: “Communication is the oxygen for a distributed company.” WordPress is perhaps one of the largest and most successful examples of a virtual business model. With over 400 employees in 40 countries, they have been able to attract and retain the best people wherever they are in the world.
But we don’t think the word communication goes far enough to explain the underlying dynamic that keeps remote teams thriving and productive. We are besieged by collaboration tools and communication technologies all attempting to bridge the virtual gap. Yet why do so many fall short? We believe it’s because they lack the human element. They fail to address the value of structuring focused conversations in a way that effectively captures the collective intelligence of a group. Focused conversations require designing the dialogue in order to achieve common objectives and goals.
Designing Dialogue for Focused Conversations
So how do you apply this idea to running part or all of your business meetings virtually? It all starts with asking the right questions – in the right order. Diving into an agenda on a conference call isn’t a conversation. It may seem focused, but it’s not a conversation. One or two people typically drive a meeting while everyone else listens, waiting for gaps and reasons to participate. We all know how challenging it is to engage people remotely. However, when you design the dialogue to achieve a specific outcome, you are creating a conversation with purpose.
Meeting leaders don’t need to have all the answers. What they need is the vision and the tools to ask the right questions of their teams. Asking questions leads to participation. Participation leads to conversation. Conversation leads to results, and results are what matter the most.
A wonderful resource is “The Art of Focused Conversation,” a book published by the Canadian Institute for Cultural Affairs way back in 1997, now in its eighth printing. The principles in it still hold true today. The book focuses on four categories of questions that should be included in any type of meeting: Objective, Reflective, Interpretive and Decisional. Putting these into context, Objective questions are reality based, for example “What important items did we miss from the last meeting?” Reflective questions might include something like, “What items strike you as easy to deal with?” The answers will draw from each individual’s experience and expertise. Interpretive questions draw out meaning, values, significance and implications. An example might be, “Which of these items is most critical to deal with at this meeting?” Decisional questions bring the conversation to a close and enable the group to decide and agree on the next steps.
Interestingly, these principles for designing dialogue not only work well with your teams and colleagues, but also with business partners, suppliers, and customers. And you can use purposeful, focused conversation to engage those with short attention spans, an attribute used to describe Millenials and Gen-Xers. They can also be used to prevent the one or two dominant team members from hijacking the conversation and leaving everyone else disengaged – and discouraged.
So what does it take to effectively implement a truly focused, engaging conversation, particularly in a remote setting?
This is precisely the question that spurred the development of GoWall – the only meeting collaboration technology that integrates the principles of focused conversation, what we call Designed Dialogue™, to deliver outstanding meeting results. It is cloud-based and compatible with all video conferencing technology. Whether you’re using Skype, Webex, Zoom, or any other conferencing tool, GoWall brings the human element to the meeting with tools that enable meeting leaders to design focused conversations while providing an intuitive UI for keeping teams engaged. Customers operating virtually have reported amazing results: 100% meeting engagement, 50% less meeting time, a 33% increase in the volume of ideas and much higher quality outcomes.
Drawing from the principles of focused conversation, GoWall’s unique Designed Dialogue™ approach finally cracks the code for effective communication especially in virtual working environments. Which is why companies use GoWall to bridge the virtual communications gap.