Question: I suspect that my colleagues are not paying attention to the speakers while on a conference call, to that matter, even in the live meetings. Our policies are pretty open and we do not impose that a laptop/PDA cannot be used during the meetings for people to look for client communication but this is working counter productive as our team members are not really concentrating on the call causing loss of time and production time.
JIB Response: It is difficult to monitor whether the person in the room is concentrating on what is being disseminated and it is even more so when the participants are attending via virtual modes (like an audio conference). HBR has published an insightful article on a conference call, which showed a 65% of participants are engaged in other work during the call. There is no single way that can help bring the focus of your team but there are few things that can be introduced to help regain the participation.
- Is the call absolutely necessary? The first step is to decide whether there is really a need for call OR can you send an email with what needs to be done, expectations and deadlines? Sometimes, laying out a plan in writing is easier to execute than talking about it.
- Have a clearly defined agenda: when you have clearly defined agenda – it tells people what is being discussed and how it relates to the meeting and the work to be performed.
- Allocate different agenda items to different parts of the team: To get the team’s buy-in – allocate (how much ever possible) different pieces of the agenda to different team members. This allocation gets individual’s attention as they have a vested interest to contribute and not dial and listen in.
- Cross connect the agenda items: While someone is going through a certain part of the meeting – you can chime in and say – “I think this will be more clear when Jay talks about such and such thing” OR “Jay can you help the team understand how this connects to what we will be doing in the coming months”. Your team members may find this surprising in the first few calls but once people understand that you are looking for active contributors and not passive listeners – the changes in their participation are going to be drastic.
- Pick a different scriber each time you have a meeting: When you allocate the responsibility to take notes to different team members – they will understand the need to be attentive and that carries into future meetings. It also gives the scriber an appreciation of the plethora of things being discussed in meetings and they will be more likely to be more participative than before.
- Follow up with action items after the call: After the call, always follow up with action items and in this action list – set up what each individual member will be taking up on the next call. This helps set a great tone for the calls ahead.
Making these simple tweaks should help steer the team’s behavior toward your desired stage without creating any conflict.
Let us know how it works for you.