Further to my post on best practices for conference calls, Al Gilman, an old Internet hand, to say the least (he's been chairing working groups for the World Wide Web Consortium forever, which means a decade and a half in webyears), posted a series of insightful comments on Facebook, where my posts automatically repeat. To follow what Al is saying, please read my original post for the Top Ten that I list. I asked his permission to post here. Pay attention. He really knows what he's talking about. And thanks so much, Al.
Comment 1: no agenda, no meeting: This depends very much on the mission or 'market niche' of the group. Volunteer groups tend to spend half their time sustaining the bond.In my principal group, we had no hallway contact and lived almost entirely by telecon and email. Two to four F2F [face-to-face] encounters with a subset of the group per year. Also there was an important intelligence-sharing aspect to the group's function.
I am such a task-oriented or event-driven bigot that I would have signed up for this guideline instantly before my experience leading this group. But I found that people were so scheduled that we needed a synchronous (repetitive) time slot for meetings or people couldn't work it into their calendars. So it was my job to make the time worthwhile for those who did show up, no matter how many. On the regular drumbeat. As we had constantly more work than we could do, there was no problem having things to do with the time. With small numbers, we could be more discursive and exploratory. With larger numbers, more structured and focused on test for consensus and assigning homework.
The challenge was to demonstrate closure, progress; in a workflow that resembled toothpaste. No over-arching ending milestone to steer toward. So I would tend to order agenda items in descending order of "likelihood of closure on this call." Some of this was banging the gavel on near-sure things to sustain the sense of due process and progress; some was putting things late in the call that I wanted to absorb more gestation time before people lept to conclusings.Take-away: order 'closure' items ahead of discursive topics.
Comment 2: screen sharing: I operated without this. There was a mission imperative
that blind people be fully integrated into the group. (We never coped
with deaf participation.) But I did miss it.
For an "accessible meeting desktop" I would have to go back to the W3C paper on accessible teleconferences and the U.Toronto prototypes of accessible chat tools to have an editable shared screen with suitable event queueing into the user's audio stream(s). FireVox is a good place to start in this regard.
Comment 3: rotate tasks (and timelines in agenda):
I worked hard to make everyone participate in note-taking.
I did delegate running the meeting at times, but without any such 'distribution goal.'
There was no designated timekeeper, as there were only two times in the agenda: end of preliminanries and start of wrap-up. Otherwise just sequence in a stack of agendables.
And I think that this lack of a rigidly-timed agenda was the best approach to finding a good balance of thought and action. I would move to assigning an action item to draft a proposal or run a poll, based on the progress of the discussion, not a timeout (at the agenda item level). We had access to asynchronous polling and voting modes. The real-time exchanges needed to clarify issues. And that didn't admit of good elapsed-time projection.
This is for a standing weekly telecon of 90 min.
Comment 4: voices in the room: The W3C has a tradition of "two minutes around the
table." This is a good example of this rule where each individual is to
say something, with the following two suggested topics: (a) what's
happening -- anything recent from your life outside the group; and (b) hot
buttons: your particular objectives for this meeting. (not over two minutes and say something about each of those if there is something to say about it).
OTOH I'm not one to spend meeting time on leave-taking. Maybe that's an excessive mission focus on my part. But to me, the mission was what kept us together; I had absolutely critical contributors that I didn't warm to personally. Social modes of bonding can only carry so much weight in sustaining the group. People will do it or not do it; I don't think it merits an explicit norm. Kill this one and you get back within the magic "seven give or take two" size for a list you have to remember.
Comment 5: general: I find this discussion to be biased toward task-oriented teams. Network-oriented teams such as the "coordination groups" of the W3C benefit from many of these practices, but have to re-build their terms of engagement a bit relative to this view.
Comment 6: good speakerphone? I have yet to meet one good enough to use on a telecon. Spend your political capital getting people to use headsets, and the quality of the audio will repay you in a more productive meeting.
NB: My list has nothing about a good speakerphone. This was from the post elsewhere that I was criticizing. Agree wholeheartedly with everything Al says (except the break buddies comments) and truly endorse the "everyone at their own desks for conference calls" instead of a bunch of people sitting in a conference room staring at a speakerphone that sometimes picks up voices and some-many times doesn't.