By: Bob Pothier, Senior Consulting Partner, Partners In Leadership 

Virtual meetings are a necessary evil. How you manage your meetings says a lot about how you're managing your organization; especially if your workforce is remote. If you start late, spend a lot of time chit-chatting, and wander around in your meetings with no specific outcomes, then your business likely runs the same way.

The strongest message about how you want your culture to perform is embedded in how you conduct your meetings.

Here are five ways you can develop more efficient and productive meetings that will, in turn, drive the right culture in your organization.

1. Start with a "culture moment"

Organizations that proactively manage their cultures do so in every meeting. Virtual meetings are no exception.

Use the start of your meeting to get your team aligned with your expectations for how people should be thinking and acting. You can't be everywhere, but your expectations should be.

Here are some suggestions for how to start those meetings:

  • Tell a story: "Let me start this morning by telling you how I saw Finance and Operations working together to advance this project ... "
  • Give recognition: "Before we start, I want to recognize Christy Jarvis for the extra effort she put in last weekend to make sure we got the numbers out on Monday ... "
  • Ask for stories or recognition: "Does anyone have a good story or someone we should recognize this week?"

These stories are more important when managing a remote workforce. All online interactions must be purposeful because we aren't gathering information while walking down a hallway. When we don't have the formal office setting, virtual meetings become the main hub of connecting your team around company culture.

When you talk about what you expect people to be doing, you will see more of it. Your people are always looking for clues as to what will please you.

But remember, keep it positive, not what you don't like seeing. There is already plenty of negative information floating around in most organizations.

2. Start on time

It sounds simple, and yet 95 percent of meetings don't start on time. When you don't start your meetings on time, you're sending several messages as a leader:

  • My time is more valuable than yours.
  • I'm OK with you sitting around doing nothing.
  • Schedules and deadlines are flexible.
  • Wait for me and my direction before acting.
  • I'm OK with you being late and starting your meetings late.

Are those the messages you want your team to believe? Are you seeing those beliefs pop up in other areas of your business?

3. Have an agenda

Having an agenda doesn't mean it needs to be drafted and distributed prior to the meeting. Having an agenda means you have a specific meeting agenda and outcome in mind.

If the meeting gets off track, you bring it back to your agenda. If it gets off track on something more important and necessary, then you know how to adjust the agenda.

Regardless, you should be operating as someone who has a specific plan for the time spent with your people.

The following are some of the questions you should ask yourself as you prepare your agenda:

  • What am I trying to accomplish?
  • What information do I need to make a decision?
  • Have I invited the right people to attend?
  • Is this meeting even necessary?
  • Am I trying to do too much?

As you get in the habit of asking yourself these questions, the answers will come more quickly and naturally.

4. Keep your team engaged

One of the biggest challenges teams face while conducting virtual meetings is the distraction of multitasking. When employees are behind their computers at home, there's no way to tell if they are opening browsing tabs and working on a different project. This unfortunately leads to unengaged team members and an unproductive meeting.

When people multitask, they disconnect from the conversation. Our brains aren't meant to focus on more than one task at a time. Developing ways to keep your team engaged will keep them focused on the meeting at hand and actively thinking about the outcome.

Try some of these suggestions for engaging your team:

  • Use the chat feature to ask your team specific questions. Their answers will be recorded in front of everyone on the call so you can refer to them when continuing the discussion.
  • Conduct polls with your meeting attendees to vote on any decisions or to gain their perspective on a question.
  • Utilize breakout rooms if your video conference platform has this feature. This activity is a great way to encourage your team to brainstorm in small groups and then bring their ideas to the whole group.
  • Ask for and offer feedback. Keeping a steady flow of positive and constructive feedback between yourself and your team will keep them engaged and increase collaboration during the meeting.

Higher levels of employee engagement mean higher levels of focus. When employees focus on the results the organization is trying to achieve, the company continues to move forward.

Developing a strong company culture can only be done when every employee is actively engaged. Practicing this skill during meetings will increase your team's engagement levels and ability to innovate.  

5. End with a "who's-going-to-do-what-by-when" list

If you've spent your time well in the meeting, you have some outcomes and next steps. Don't lose that productivity by assuming people know who is going to take the next action and by when. Be purposeful about it.

As you come up with next steps, ask "Who's going to take this action and when should you report back?" If no one steps up or it's not obvious, then you make the assignment. Here's some guidance on those to-do lists:

  • Assign tasks to individuals, not teams or functions.
  • Have a realistic deadline.
  • Hold your people accountable for their assignments.
  • Check-in along the way with those who have assignments.
  • Use the next meeting to get updates.
  • Meetings are only productive if they lead to timely actions that achieve results.

Everything you do drives your culture. Virtual meetings are no exception. Make sure your meetings reflect the culture you want in your organization.

Wondering who should be in your next meeting? Ensure that you have the right people involved in the discussion and sign off--check out How to Gain Alignment While Moving Quickly on Innovative Ideas.