In these difficult times, it’s important to carve out clear space for the leadership development that will help us adapt and thrive.
And, wherever possible, we should aim to create calm places of learning and engagement for teams to connect, problem-solve, and support each other to stay buoyant.
So, how do we continue the important work of learning and leadership?
1. Prioritise the human connection
Just because we are separated physically, doesn’t mean we can’t have authentic, meaningful interactions that include all participants. Ask yourself: What can we do to help others feel seen, heard, and connected on a human level?
Schedule time at the beginning of a session to connect with each other. For first time meet ups, we suggest a story circle where each person introduces themselves and tells a story about one item in their homes. Bringing our whole self to work is easier, and even more relevant, when we’re dialling in, surrounded by our pets, loved ones and favourite things.
When speaking, try to look into the camera as if it’s human. Keep it conversational, and glance at others onscreen to see how the communication is landing. Remember, the nuance of body language is still important. Pay attention to everyone’s VIBE (Voice, Body, words or Intellect, and Energy), and if you’re unsure, check-in verbally. Try to engage each person by name regularly, to help gain flow from all and to create an inclusive space.
2. Crystal clear expectations
Don’t forget to do the housekeeping. Be absolutely transparent about the intentions and fundamental mechanics of the session. Ask yourself: what do participants need to understand and practise to have the best experience possible?
Make sure everyone understands the online etiquette, the functionality, the order of events and, importantly, the core purpose of the session. Agree upon clear, shared ways-of-working. You may wish to have this conversation ahead of the facilitation, so you can make the most of face-to-face learning time. Put it in writing for all to refer to and check understanding in-call.
3. Play to the beat
Prioritise learning objectives and map out the key beats of each session, and refine learning content into short, high impact online sessions – we’re test-driving no more than 90 – 120 minute “blocks”, broken up by breaks – with a maximum of two blocks per day.
To allocate time well and be purposeful in session design, don’t forget to consider the emotional “heartbeat” too – allow more time when there is likely to be deep conversations, tension, and when feelings may spike – high and low.
Ask yourself: What are you trying to achieve? And, how will you support the emotional arc, so the team is where they need to be at the end of the session?
4. Make it memorable
It can be easy to fall into pre-conceived notions of what an “online group session” should be, and risk chat fatigue. Despite perceived limitations, online delivery opens up a variety of opportunities to make the experience highly engrossing. Ask yourself: What is possible now we’re online?
Play with different sensory experiences. Integrate a sense of stretch or challenge by setting timed tasks. Experiment with different learning modes: We break up our sessions with information sharing, live demonstration, group reading, question and answer, small group breakout sessions, reflection, interactive polling, social media integration, chat functions and more. Ensure each activity is highly purposeful – but don’t be afraid to experiment.
5. Design end-to-end
Even when in-person facilitation was possible, they should never have been a singular event. Learning is an ongoing process. Ask yourself: How can your online session support an impactful, interconnected learning journey?
By breaking up learning over a number of shorter sessions, you open up greater opportunity for participants to apply their learning in the workplace between sessions. Set pre and post session assignments – being mindful of the stretch on team members in these times. It helps to align all content to support existing projects and workplace challenges.
6. Rehearse for reality
As we use technology in new ways, we have to plan for a learning curve. Our advice? Rehearse wherever possible. Ask yourself: what possible scenarios do we need to practise for?
Last week, as we were getting creative with the online medium, we had tech lead on standby and our own team tuning in to test how the session would land. We test-piloted a number of hypotheticals, and as a result of our test process, we decided to trial two facilitators each session to offer extra support and dynamic delivery. And we’re still evolving our approach. Check out Hayley’s top ten tips for facilitating on Zoom, drawn from her experiences.
To uphold quality and consistency, it helps to keep a live document of best practice design and preparation guidelines that can be regularly updated. We’ve also got a Slack channel dedicated to online facilitation tips and tricks.
COVID-19 presents an enormous challenge to leadership. But the reality is that our world is in a state of constant disruption, and we will always be adapting how we live and learn.The important thing is to focus on the possibilities within each situation.
And we can do this work together, even when we are apart.