Successfully designing hybrid meetings – How hybrid teamwork succeeds

The best of all worlds - hybrid, online and analog

Hybrid teamwork has become an integral part of everyday business life. It has become established that employees work from home offices or from other locations on a mobile basis. This means that communication in teams is changing. The meeting structure and culture must be adapted to the hybrid setting.

Hybrid teamwork has become an integral part of everyday business life. It has become established that employees work from home offices or from other locations on a mobile basis. This means that communication in teams is changing.

Hybrid meetings are not automatically effective

It is not enough to master the technology and hold the meeting like analog or purely virtual. There are some challenges to overcome:

  • in the shared physical space, animated discussions automatically arise in which online participants cannot participate on an equal footing. There is a danger of a two-tier organization/society.
  • Conversations with the person sitting next to you and other background noise make it difficult for online participants to understand each other.
  • Online participants may have parallel chats that distract from active participation.
  • If hybrid meetings take place without eye contact (because individual participants refuse to turn on a camera, for example), it becomes difficult to build personal bridges.
  • Unconsciously, we prefer people who are spatially in our immediate vicinity. This is called proximity bias and it leads to an imbalance.
  • If topics without personal relevance are on the agenda, our attention span drops. Online, it’s easy to drift off.
  • Technical issues still exist. For hybrid collaboration, we definitely need appropriate equipment. Multiple cameras, multiple projection screens, properly sized audio equipment. No efficient and purposeful hybrid meeting without appropriate technology.
  • More planning effort to accommodate both groups of participants.

Hybrid meetings are here to stay

Despite these challenges, hybrid meetings will play an important role in our professional lives in the future. The decisive factor will be how well we prepare, moderate, conclude and follow up on them. That definitely means more effort. “Good preparation is half the battle.” Let’s therefore start with the initial situation:

  • Why is the hybrid meeting taking place, what are our goals?
  • Who is on board, who is needed?
  • What does the agenda look like?
  • Do we have the appropriate technical capabilities?

The technical equipment plays an important role

Ideally, we need two screens or larger screens. On one we see the online participants, on the other the media used. In addition, a high-quality audio conferencing solution is necessary so that we don’t “overhear” them and the background noise is filtered out. Incidentally, good audio quality is even more important than image transmission. This is because poor audio quality overstresses our brain and we switch off more quickly. The participants on site should also be visible to the online participants via a room camera.

For collaboration and shared visualization, it makes sense to use digital whiteboards (e.g. Miro, Conceptboard, Mural, Nexboard, etc.) or other tools that can be shared (e.g. Trello, padlet, OneNote, …). All participants should be familiar with the software solutions and receive a briefing if necessary.

Rules of etiquette are part of it

In the work environment, participants are mature and responsible. They know how to behave in a meeting, how to participate and what is important. Practice shows otherwise…

How often are meetings unproductive and not very purposeful. Often it is because no rules have been defined or they are agreed upon but not followed. In hybrid meetings, common binding rules are a success factor.

Examples of rules in the hybrid meeting:

  • We listen to the moderator / the moderation team
  • We let ourselves be heard, we speak up before we speak
  • We say our name before we speak so that everyone knows who the statement is coming from
  • We all make sure that we cause as little background noise as possible
  • We actively participate in the event
  • We act on our own responsibility and contribute to the success of the event
  • When we speak, we show ourselves (camera)
  • We try to speak loudly and clearly
  • We make sure that the environment is free of disturbances
  • We ensure that everyone has the same opportunities to speak
  • We document digitally and synchronously
  • We verbalize what is not visible to the other group.

Clear division of roles ensures efficiency

The hybrid meeting is not a one-man show. It makes sense to define different roles. These roles are helpful in the hybrid meeting:

The Moderator/Facilitator

The role of the moderator is to guide the meeting. To make sure that all contributions are heard, that the rules of the game are followed and that essential results are documented.

The Co-moderator

The division of tasks between moderator and co-moderator is not per se regulated by the title. Therefore, both need to agree before the appointment on how the division of tasks should take place. In a hybrid setting, it makes sense for the co-moderator to take care of the technical aspects, for example, so that the moderator can take care of the content. This can mean taking over the camera control as well as the audio control. But also to supervise the screen sharing or the chat.

The Timekeeper

This role keeps an eye on the clock and the agenda and gives appropriate signals if, for example, half of the discussion time for this agenda item has been used up or only a few minutes remaining. In addition, care can be taken to ensure that speaking times are relatively evenly distributed.

Energy Monitor

The attention span is shorter online, or online participation is more strenuous (keyword “zoom fatigue”). This is where an energy monitor has proven its worth. He actively intervenes when it is time for a break or he has the feeling that a loosening up action (energyzer) is necessary.

The Minutes Taker

Every meeting is only as good as the visualized result. What is not recorded will not be acted upon. In the hybrid meeting it is of great importance that the minutes can always be seen by everyone at any time. Documentation on a flipchart, for example, is therefore not expedient. Various tools are possible. Here, for a change, online participants have an advantage. They can access the digital medium at any time. Conversely, this means that the visibility of the minutes in the room must be ensured via a beamer, for example.

The Connector

This role takes care of relationship management at the beginning. This starts with a loosening up method (the Ice-Breaker) during the warm-up. The nice thing is that changing people show an incredible amount of creativity to offer variety. The social exchange during the meeting and the breaks is his field and here the task of providing shared laughter is part of it.

Reflection supports optimization

Feedback rounds are important to optimize the hybrid meeting. Retrospective questions and methods are helpful. You can go through the rules of the game and check whether you have followed them, or rely on observations.

Clear moderation is essential

Moderation has a special role in the hybrid meeting. In addition to the classic structural tasks, the following rules of conduct apply to moderation in the hybrid setting:

  • Moderation is always clearly visible to all participants
  • Moderation gives clear instructions
  • Facilitator explains during the welcome which participants are present
  • Facilitator personally bids farewell to all participants by name
  • During the hybrid meeting, the moderator always addresses the respective persons by name to provide additional orientation in this way.
  • Small talk with the online participants has priority! What we do automatically in the onsite room, namely to have a casual conversation with the arriving participants, often falls behind online. That’s why we, as moderators, deliberately start conversations with the online participants already in the room before the event.
  • Rule of thumb: Online first! Due to the Unconscious Biases, we as moderators tend to prefer the people in the onsite room.
  • Look as directly as possible into the camera instead of at the screen.

Position video and audio sources correctly

Depending on which camera is used, problems arise: A static camera does not capture everything that happens. The moving camera causes unrest because the image has to focus again and again.

Audio control is the next issue. If you use a conference phone and you move too far away (or a participant), the quality of the audio transmission will be poor. Here, too, you need to think carefully beforehand about where to place what and then stay at the defined positions as a moderator.

Cultivate the relationships

As in all settings, the warm-up is of particular importance. Meetings in particular are about achieving common goals. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about project meetings, team meetings, or individual topic meetings that are independent of each other. This means creating a good working basis.

Empirical studies show that successful collaboration takes place when the hormone oxytocin is released. It makes us feel a sense of belonging and well-being. It is released, for example, when we meet in the kitchenette in the office. In the hybrid setting, the release is also promoted when we “only” see each other via the camera. That’s why activation with personal encounters and a camera is particularly important in this phase.

Methods and collaboration in the hybrid meeting

The first hurdles have been cleared. Everything has been planned in detail, everyone has been picked up, the mood is good. Now it’s time to get down to the actual content of the meeting. The good news: With creativity and the right technical equipment, almost all classic moderation methods are also hybrid-capable.

One challenge is the joint development of results in smaller subgroups. Technically, it is easy if the small groups are “pure”. That is, only online and only analog participants work together.

However, this has the disadvantage that no community is created. This is not critical if the constellations change regularly, e.g. if in regular meetings sometimes one and sometimes the other is online or analog. Depending on how it fits into the daily work routine. In this case, moderation can be relaxed. Fewer fronts tend to emerge if we participate in the meeting in different constellations every week.
When things have to be done quickly and easily, the document camera can be a helpful tool for visualizing verbal contributions by shouting them out in front of both groups. The onsite participants see the camera on the screen, the online participants as a tile in the conference system.

The regular status check enables countermeasures

What is always helpful: regular interim feedback:

  • Classic polls with tools (in WebEx, mentimeter, slido, …) where the attendees vote via smartphone.
  • Optical voting into the camera: thumbs down/waagerecht/high or arm movements (arms hang down = 0%, right arm bent at neck level = 25%, right arm stretched up = 75%, etc.). For visual polls, the goal is again to make everyone visible everywhere at the same time.
  • Flash poll: Everyone has to give a short flash verbally.

Sustainability only comes about through protocol

It is best to have the minute-taker read out the transcript after each agenda item and visually display it. At best, everyone agrees verbally.

Conclusion on hybrid meetings

The hybrid meeting enriches our everyday working life, as it allows us both the flexibility of workplace choice and collegial exchange. However, the effort and the necessary technical equipment should not be underestimated.

Wenn Menschen gemeinsam auf einem Trampolin springen, können sie sich gegenseitig beschleunigen oder ausbremsen. Das ist in Teams und Organisationen genauso. Als Trainerin, Coach, Team- und Kulturentwicklerin begleitet Sandra Dundler die Menschen digital und analog dabei, die Herausforderungen der Transformation zu meistern. Sie war selbst lange Jahre Mitarbeiterin in einem Konzern auf unterschiedlichen Führungsebenen.

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