7 Tips for Team Collaboration on Conference Calls
The days of everyone coming into the office a little after 8:00, settling in at their desk and then starting the first face-to-face team collaboration meeting at 9:00 are gone. People no longer work that way for a number of reasons. Large companies have disbanded or downsized and have left competent, capable and talented people starting their own small companies that are offsite.
The globalization of the economy has project teams that are dispersed throughout the world effectively completing projects through collaboration online. And, more people have realized they can be just as productive (if not more so) if they telecommute from their home office and use online collaboration software rather than battle traffic and delays going into the office.
Most of these changes are positive. However, these changes have also created challenges for many Project Managers. How can you manage project teams and clients you can’t see and keep tabs on what everyone is working on? One method is the quintessential conference call. But, even having a conference call that keeps everyone engaged can be elusive. The following are 7 suggestions you can use to help your project team make the most of these calls and ensure the highest degree of collaboration in the workplace:
1. Demand Everyone Show Up on Time
Yes, DEMAND that everyone that is on your team show up on time. It’s bad enough when there is a face-to-face meeting and people show up late. It’s exponentially worse when you are on a call and a critical resource can’t be found and everyone is left in limbo. To make it even worse, what do you do when a client is on the call waiting for your resource? You can only stall for so long and engage in only so much small talk before it gets uncomfortable for everyone.
Make a BIG DEAL out of this requirement to your team. Encourage them to be there a couple minutes early. Don’t train them that it’s OK to come late because you’ll just recap the last 20 minutes of the call they missed and waste everyone else’s time. The purpose of these meetings is for group collaboration, and they are part of the group! No excuses. If they know they are going to be late, a quick email, text, phone call, instant message or any other form of communication is all it takes for them to let you know.
2. Have Team Members Run Part of the Meeting
Looking to keep everyone engaged?Assign team members to run part of the meeting. This could range anywhere from having them provide a web conference update to moderating part of the team collaboration discussion. This will not only keep them engaged, but allow them to know how important it is for them to be tuned into the call when other people are talking.
3. Say Their Name Before you Ask Them a Question
We all know that no matter how hard we try, it’s irresistible to not catch up on our email, book a flight, or plan out the next week while we are on a call. Then we hear a deafening moment of silence followed by “Jim, hey Jim…You there? Can you answer that question please?” Of which Jim replies “I’m sorry, could you repeat the question?” leaving the part about “I didn’t hear it because I wasn’t really paying attention” out of his response. Awkward.
As professionals we shouldn’t allow that to happen to us. But, what you can do as a Project Manager that is running the call is simply state someones name before the question is asked, or send them a quick instant message through collaboration software that the conversation is heading their way. This alerts them to tune in, pay rapt attention and provide an insightful response.
4. Learn How to Use the Mute Button
This is a pet peeve of mine and a variation of #3 above. A question is asked of Jim, and this time he has the mute button on. Jim is talking away but nobody can hear him. This elicits “Jim, hey Jim…You there…?” which is followed by “Sorry, I was on mute…” and a coy giggle. Really? It’s not funny and the fact that this is the 12th time Jim has done this really kind of makes him look silly.
The opposite of this is true as well. Make sure your mute button is on when it needs to be. Nobody wants to hear conversations with family members, kids screaming, or whatever other activity is going on at that time that should not be introduced to the workplace.
5. Don’t Type and Talk
Nothing says “I’m not listening to you” more than hearing the clickety-clack of keys typing away in the background with some perfunctory “uh-huhs”, “rights”, and “really’s” thrown in along the way. It’s just rude, disrupts the rest of the call and does nothing to help with collaboration in teamwork.
6. Instant Message Behind the Scenes
Instant messaging (IM) is a great tool, especially if there is a conference call with a client where a sensitive matter is being discussed. Keep an IM thread going on in the background with your team for quick clarification of facts as well as potential commitments to deadlines or deliverables. This real time communication tool is great for presenting and providing a united front as well as instant collaboration. NOTE: See #5 above.
7. Get Yourself a Decent Headset
If you are on a lot of conference calls, invest in a decent headset that you can plug into computer or phone. Not only do they sound crystal clear, but they will also save you the discomfort and strain of having your neck bent all day long.
The ability to manage teams virtually is no longer just a “nice to have” skill for a project manager. More and more, people are coming together while working at remote locations for brief periods of time to accomplish an objective and then disband again.
The ability to effectively manage a conference call is critical for the success of such group collaboration and something that every Project Manager will need to master.
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