Co-operantics guide to co-operative online meetings

Meetings are the life blood of a co-operative. They are where information is shared and discussed and where decisions are taken. Where members can get updates on progress of the various jobs and tasks that have been delegated and where people are mandated to take action.

It seems it is going to be a while until we are able to meet together f2f (face to face), thanks to the coronavirus attacking our communities, so here are some techniques and tips to help you make your online meetings as effective as possible.

While it’s true that f2f meetings are valuable, it’s also the case that online meetings can be extremely effective, since participants can be highly focused and can collaborate in ways that are not possible in face to face meetings. However there are a few potential hiccups and obstacles, including technical issues and poor facilitation.

Technical issues

Here at Co-operantics we’ve been using Zoom for a couple of years for our catch-up meetings, and I don’t remember ever having any issues with it. We find it easy and intuitive, as do many others. However there is potential for misunderstanding and people can be anxious about using an online technology they aren’t familiar with.

There are lots of platforms including Google Hangouts, Skype, Microsoft Teams etc.  Whichever online platform you use, it’s a good idea to have a short familiarisation session for people new to it, or encourage them to have a play. Once people start using it they will relax and start to play with the various options, especially when they discover you can choose to appear onscreen with different backgrounds such as the beach or outer space!

Most platforms allow you to join a meeting via a website, but many allow you download an app to your laptop to connect more quickly.   Most tablets or smartphones will require an app to be installed.

Online meetings can be quite tiring, so we recommend 1.5 hours max. Many platforms offer a free facility with some restrictions (e.g. Zoom allows up to 100 people, but for only 40 minutes at a time) However during the current coronavirus crisis, they appear to have extended that time period.  If there is a time limit, you can build in breaks and start each session as a ‘new meeting’, e.g. for a 1.5hr meeting you could talk for 40 minutes, take a 10 minute break then set up a further 40 minute meeting.

Role and responsibilities of the Facilitator

The facilitator has a responsibility to ensure that:

  • a link to the meeting and an Agenda, are circulated in good time before the meeting, along with any technical guidance or ground rules
  • someone has agreed to be the Tech monitor
  • other meeting roles are agreed and delegated at the start: someone needs to agree to take Minutes, time keeper* and temperature checker* are useful roles, (the latter especially if decisions are controversial)
  • the meeting starts on time
  • participants are welcomed, and have the opportunity to introduce themselves
  • if anyone has technical issues, these are sorted out quickly by your Tech monitor (maybe using a Chat facility, or in worst case scenario via a phone call)
  • everyone knows how to use other facilities they need for the meeting: mute, screen share, etc. If you have the time it can be a good idea to allow a 15 minute window before the meeting starts for new users to familiarise themselves with the platform.
  • The meeting starts with a check in – e.g. a brief go-round to give participants the opportunity to share anything that’s going on for them at the moment – recent achievements, successes or issues that are currently a problem. (Depending on the nature of the meeting)
  • there is equal participation, we recommend using rounds, i.e. participants speak in turn, while everyone else is muted
  • people stay on topic
  • discussions are developed
  • agreement is checked and any decision repeated clearly so it can be minuted
  • responsibility for carrying out tasks is clear and minuted
  • the meeting has breaks when necessary
  • there is a meeting check-out (e.g. a brief feed-back on the process of the meeting, what worked well, what could we do better next time)
  • a date and time for the next meeting is agreed
  • the meeting ends on time

Additional roles

  • Tech monitor: Assists the facilitator by keeping an eye on technical issues and resolving them so that a problem with one individual’s tech doesn’t hold up the entire meeting. Can also monitor any Chat or Q&A functions.
  • Time keeper: to help everyone stick to the agreed timings, remind the meeting from time to time how much there is left to get through and how much time is left. Might prompt the facilitator to ask if people can stay longer, or if not, to decide which items to drop.
  • Temperature taker: some teams like to have someone to watch out for unhelpful behaviour or to suggest a break if tempers are getting high around a particular topic

In a small meeting, the Tech monitor could fill all 3 functions.

Meeting behaviours, ground rules and guidance

Distribute any ground rules and guidance for how to improve the session before the meeting.  Things to consider include:

  • Will all participants be muted upon entry? This is advisable for larger meetings such as a community business AGM but not necessary for a small worker co-op
  • How will people contribute ?
    • In a round, one at a time
    • Or indicating they wish to speak by clicking on the ‘hands up’ facility on the platform (remember to check with anyone joining by phone if they wish to speak)
    • Or by physically raising hands on camera (won’t work if some participant are joining by phone, of course)
  • If votes need to be taken, (for example at an AGM) how will they be counted?
  • Make sure there are no disruptions like a noisy TV, radio or conversations in the background. If disruptions are unavoidable use a headset.
  • Check your audio settings
  • Try to limit the number of other people /devices in the building using your WiFi connection for the duration of the meeting
  • Close applications on your computer that you won’t need.
  • Turn off the video camera if you have limited internet connectivity – this will improve the signal for the audio feed
  • If possible, pick a location with a simple background behind you, good light in front of you and then adjust your video settings
  • Have refreshments to hand

and enjoy! online meetings can be fun as well as highly productive!

March 2020