A great source of knowledge to plan and conduct meetings is Liberating Structures — consisting of 33 different meeting types for Revealing, Analyzing, Spreading, Planning, Strategizing, and Helping. The site links to free mobile applications — Google Play & Apple App Store — that explain what each structure is good for, how to conduct the meeting, and the rationale behind it.
Liberating Structures can also help focus distributed work teams and groups. In addition, the restrictions created by the technology medium can provide more structure than many of the physical meetings we may have attended in the past. Moving these structures online might require a bit more planning, and likely more time, but can still get the job done. For example, online video conferencing platforms that offer breakout rooms are suitable for both large and small group discussions.
So if you want to articulate the paradoxical challenges that a group must confront to succeed, then Wicked Questions might be a good meeting structure. It requires groups of 4-6 and paper for note-taking. Just substitute chairs for a designated breakout room and use a whiteboard and recorded chat. Even the audio can be recorded. This exercise can be done as sessions over a period of time to promote more conversations and reflections. It does require good facilitation and curation skills by those conducting it.
Or perhaps you want to sort challenges into categories of complexity, then the Agreement-Certainty Matrix may be suitable. This might require a bit more technical expertise but individual responses could be notes which could be translated to a spot on the matrix. A 10 X 10 matrix could have 100 numbered squares and each person would send in their corresponding number for each challenge, which could be collated and reflected back to the group.
If you want to share know-how gained from experience with a larger community then the User Experience Fishbowl might be an effective structure. In this case you have a group of 3 to 7 speakers with microphones while the larger group (±35) are observers and ask questions. The outer group can ask their questions by chat or by being given the microphone. Sub-groups can also move to breakout rooms for deeper conversations on a single topic.
The challenges of distributed work can be addressed by good planning, practice, and learning from the experiences of others. With distributed work, we have to be clear about why we are doing our work, and how we do it. Distributed work makes everything more transparent. Perhaps that’s why many managers have been avoiding it for decades.
Nancy White has taken two more Liberating Structures and describes in detail how they can be used online. This is set in the context of moving to working online in light of the current pandemic. These two structures are meant to be done in sequence as you move to a distributed work arrangement. There are many more resources on Nancy’s blog.
1. Ecocycle Planning — Analyze the Full Portfolio of Activities and Relationships to Identify Obstacles and Opportunities for Progress
2. TRIZ — Stop Counterproductive Activities and Behaviors to Make Space for Innovation