Effective meetings F2F and virtually

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How to activate the introverts in meetings?

Think of a traditional meeting: 8 people are discussing of a topic, maybe drafting a plan, or producing ideas, of making a decision based on a discussion. Now, remembering that 4 of them (statistically) are introverts (who prefer to finalize their thoughts before saying them out loud), what will happen? Maybe 2–3 of the most extraverted (who actually formulate their thoughts out loud) dominate the discussion (and the outcome of the meeting) – regardless of the actual value of their input. Some of the group maybe didn’t say a word. It may even be so that the quiet ones start their own discussions after the meeting, challenging the decision made “together” just a moment ago – which naturally astonishes the more talkative members of the meeting which was just held. 

Sound Familiar? 

Photo: Tuomas Linna

A simple way to involve all 

What if you can hold the horses of the most extraverted a little, and help the more introverted to contribute?

Try the following on your next meeting (making plans, making decisions, or producing ideas):

  1. Give 5 minutes to everyone to write down their own thought and suggestions on the topic at hand (interrupt friendly but firmly all the arising discussions at this stage. This should be done in absolute silence – yes, the extraverted do have a tremendous urge to share their thoughts and discuss; just ask them to hold their horses just for a few minutes;)
  2. Next, give the group 15 minutes to pair up with their neighbour, and share their thoughts and ideas to their pair. Based on their discussion, ask the pairs to produce 4–5 common suggestions they both agree on. As the pairs to prepare one flipchart containing these 4–5 suggestions as a numbered list. 
  3. Then, bring all the flipcharts in the front of the room, and ask the pairs to give very short presentations (2 minutes for each flipchart). Really, just a couple of words of each suggestion – to give a general idea of the suggestions for the group. Here, it’s important NOT to allow general discussion of the features of the individual suggestions (pros/cons discussion of each suggestion – again, dominated by the extraverted – would take forever, and it is actually not adding value to the topic). Ask, however, the participants to make their own notes of the suggestions that participants find interesting personally.
  4. Next, ask the pairs that worked together before, have a short chat of which 5 suggestions (or, 25% of the total amount of the proposals) they would like to vote on. Here, it’s important to allow only ONE vote on each pair’s own flipchart, regardless how brilliant they all are . Ask the group to have this discussion having seated – not coming up to the flipcharts to have this chat, allowing all to see them. When the group has made their selections, ask them all at the same time to come up to the front of the room to mark their votes on the flipcharts with a different colour marker (for example, a red +).
  5. Now, as the votes have been made, the final stage of the process is arranging the suggestions in groups or categories: For example, take 4–5 empty flipcharts, and title them according to the most voted suggestions (or if your group can see other categories that the suggestions can be grouped into). Now, allow your group to make suggestions, which individual proposals would go under which titles. Copy these suggestions under these topics.

As an end result, you will now have a categorized groups of topics that form a basis for future actions on your original challenge. An hour is a suitable timeframe for all this.

Photo: Tuomas Linna

As a end result of this process, you have involved everyone in to a common decision making or planning. From personal ideation, you have proceed into formulating topics for actions. These actions are easy to find volunteers to proceed with, since the outcome is produced commonly – not just the 2–3 most extraverted.

A "light" version of the process

If you do not want to go through the all of the steps described above, you can try to do the most essential steps in 15 minutes. Now: Instead of asking a "round of comments" from your team on a topic (which will – again be dominated by the same 2–3 extraverts), do the following:

  1. Upon your suggestion, upcoming decision, a plan, ask your group to do the 5-minute own notes moments in silence.
  2. Then, ask your group to turn to their neighbor, and ask them to discuss their thoughts, and to formulate a common view with maybe 3–4 separate points.
  3. Now: Take a few rounds around the table, and allow the pairs to present their comments very briefly (no general discussion allowed just yet). Here, it may be a good idea to allow only one comment per pair at a time, and make several rounds around the table (we may not want to dry the well of ideas by the first few pairs). Make notes of the comments on your notes or on the flipchart.

Here you just got a multitude of comments and additions to the topic, and most importantly, from all. Not just the 2–3 who always dominate the discussion.

Please look at the OPERA process described above at this link. Download here and try an application allowing you to do the above in online environment.

How to make actually valuable preparation for meetings?

Take almost any ”5 tips for better meetings” list that is circulating online. One of the tips is almost certainly ”Arrive prepared to your meetings” – or ”require preparation from your attendees”, if you are hosting the meeting. 



What is this “preparation” most often? Reading the PowerPoint presentation of the other attendees for the meeting? Sending yours to the others? Discussions of the topics of the meeting in an email discussion thread?

Try a Hybrid meeting for more valuable preparation

In a hybrid meeting, the meeting is partly held asynchronously (read a separate blog here), and partly in face to face or in a virtual meeting. First, the facilitator sets up the topic for the session, and the process itself is run as a combination of asynchronous and face to face or virtual phases. Asynchronous phases take a time of a few minutes to 15 minutes at a time, making it very flexible for all. The phases can be for example the following:

What if you can have a way of asking people to do some actually valuable preparation work individually, and also in pairs or small groups? What if – when your attendees arrive to the meeting – there will be a lot of pre-prepared material as a basis for your prioritization and decision making? What if the meeting itself would take, for example 30 minutes of your actual common meeting time, instead of 2 hours of discussion started essentially from scratch?

Here's how to run a Hybrid meeting

1. Asynchronous preparation phase

  • First, the participants are invited to write their own suggestions, and take their time to do it on their own working time. Maybe a timespan of one to a few days for this is given
  • Then, the team is set in pairs. The people are asked to contact their pair, share and discuss their own suggestions. Now, the pairs are asked to come up with 4–5 new suggestions they both can agree on.

2. Meeting phase

  • The next phase is to get together in a face to face or a virtual meeting. Now, the pairs briefly present the pre-prepared suggestions to all. Typically, there may be 15–25 suggestions in total.
  • Then, the pairs decide to which suggestions they give votes, typically 4–6. Only one vote can go to the pair’s own suggestions
  • Finally, the suggestions are arranged under common topics. Typically, there are often many similar suggestions made by the pairs. Here, the suggestions are often very easily arranged to 3–6 topics, where the similar proposals fall under the same headlines. 

All in all, you can have a well-prepared decisions made in a common meeting in 30 minutes

Certainly, you can do other combinations as well. Like doing just the Own suggestions asynchronously. Or, do the phases until the Ranking Asynchronously, and get together for just the arranging and actions. Or at the end of a meeting, do the Own suggestions and Pair discussion together, and finish the process asynchronously.

This is the Fourth and final blog in a series of different operating modes of how you can power use OPERAmeeting in your team work. Look at the first one here, titled ”OPERAmeeting in a face to face meeting”, and the second one here, titled "Is this what’s happening in your online meetings?", and the third here, titled "Having hard time scheduling a meeting with your colleagues?"

Read the tutorials of OPERAmeeting here, and download your free OPERAmeeting app here.

OPERAmeeting in a face to face meeting

This is the first blog of four in a series of different operating modes of how you can power use OPERAmeeting in your team work.

OPERAmeeting in improving your Face-to-Face meetings

OPERAmeeting is a powerful tool in ensuring the good decisions, ideas from all and activation, involvement & engagement of your whole team in a meeting. Read here why and how.

Problems in a common way of running meetings

Most of us recognize this dilemma In a ”traditional” meeting: You are in a meeting of, say 8 people. An important topic is handled. Possible solutions are discussed how to proceed with the topic.

Now, what happens: In the group of the 8 participants, 2–3 most outspoken individuals dominate the discussion, regardless of the actual value of their input. The inner circle feel very motivated and involved, and are very engaged to the outcome and "common" decisions.

At the same time, the rest of the group feel being left to the outer circle in the discussion. The people at the outer circle (often the most introverted) very easily are left without a slightest engagement on the decisions. They even may start their "shadow" meetings in small groups after the common event. "Wrong decisions were made", they might say. When the active people hear about these discussions, they are genuinely amazed: "We had a meeting about this! Why didn't you say anything, crying out loud!!" 

Then, in a traditional meeting, the presented suggestions are typically shot down as they are presented. This makes people basically shut up – and remain in the outer circle in the future. And typically, there is no prioritization (other than made by the loud people, at best). Wrap up of the results is often not made, results are not crystallized, and responsibilities are not agreed. Let alone if you'd find engaged people to volunteer for future action in the first place.  

OPERAmeeting: a way of improving your meetings

Same level of involvement.png

Allow Own thoughts first

In OPERA process (which is a basis for OPERAmeeting) all the participants are engaged on the same level of involvement. See more info on OPERA process here). After the challenge has been set for all, people are allowed to produced their own suggestions individually. Even the most introverted are contributing in "O" phase, Own Thoughts.

Pair work for safe sharing the ideas

Then, the participants are formed in pairs, or small groups of max 4 people. We call this phase "P" (Pair discussion). Now, the suggestions are shared, and common proposals are formed for all to see in the next phases. The introverted often are outright scared of speaking in front of a group (Actually, studies say that most of us are more afraid of public speaking than death). In a pair work, however, they feel "safe" to share their ideas.

Explanation and Ranking for common commitment

Next, Pair's ideas are visible to all. Here, the pair's suggestions are very briefly explained to all. The participants make here bookmarks of interesting suggestions as they hear the short presentations. What is important here, is that no discussion is allowed here. That's because "discussion" easily escalates into negative argumentation-counter argumentation debate.

Then, as all the presentations are heard, the pairs are asked to have a brief discussion of which suggestions they would like to support. The Pairs are typically allowed to give 3–6 votes to spread to all suggestions (typically: 20–25% of the total amount of suggestions). An important catch here is that only one of the pair's own suggestions is allowed to select. This will force the participants to find merit of others than just their own brain childs. Focusing the ideas of others mainly builds common commitment as a team. The another reason why we didn't allow for argument-counter argument discussion of "bad" ideas in the previous phase is that the "bad ideas" are forgot altogether, and the focus and energy is on 100% on the ideas the participants actually feel valuable

Arranging and Actions for making sure the actions are followed up

In OPERAmeeting, the ideas that gathered support in the voting phase, are primarily arranged according to their total votes. Usually, this pool of suggestions consists of fairly limited number of genuinely different ideas: Here, the suggestions are easily arranged into typically under 3–6 topics for further actions. Here, as the participants have been actively and commonly been producing the end results, it often is easy to find volunteers to take action on the topics after the session.

Look here at a Tutorial how to run an OPERAmeeting session.

Download your own free OPERAmeeting app here


The development of OPERA and the OPERAmeeting tool

Kari Helin founded Innotiimi Oy in 1984 around the OPERA method he had created. Since then, OPERA has become the ”workhorse” of Innotiimi-ICG, where the method continue to be heavily used in many Innotiimi-ICG’s trainings and facilitations. In fact, through OPERA and the insights behind it, the term participation was introduced in business vocabulary.


In 1996, in the infancy of data networks, Innotiimi created a Spin-Off company that produced the first LAN network operated digital OPERA. Later, in the year 2000, the service was available in web browsers and mobile devices. The solution was considerably ahead of its time, and specifically ahead of the development of operating systems and user interfaces of the time. The platform did not pick up then.

In 2007 at Hannover CeBit, Innotiimi-ICG was awarded ”Best Practice IT-award on Innovative Virtual Workshop Methods”, of using OPERA in virtual meetings. In 2011, Innotiimi-ICG started a partly public funded R&D project, which included developing a prototype of tablet and cloud based OPERA. Excited of the potential of the new platform, Innotiimi-ICG and some of its consultants founded a start up company Innotiimi Digital Services, Inc in 2014. The new company then produced a very easy-to-use cloud based OPERAmeeting tool. The tool works in Windows based PC’s and tablets.

Closing the circle in the development of OPERA, the original founding father of OPERA, Kari Helin, was making initial key contributions in the development and simplifying the OPERA to be suitable in virtual processes.

Download your own OPERAmeeting tool in this link.

Harvard Business Review: How to Run a Great Virtual Meeting

Harvard Business Review writes how to run a great virtual meeting:

Come prepared with the team’s opinions. Not only do you need to do your pre-reads, but once you see the agenda, make sure you discuss with your team what is going to be covered
A collaborative problem solving session replaces the standard “report-outs” that can weigh meetings down. It’s when the leader raises a topic for group discussion and the team works together – and sees each other as sources of advice – to unearth information and viewpoints, and to generate fresh ideas in response to business challenges.
Give each person time on the agenda. Along with collaborative problem solving, giving each person time on the agenda fosters greater collaboration and helps get input from all the team members.
Ban multitasking. Multitasking was once thought of as a way to get many things done at once, but it’s now understood as a way to do many things poorly. As science shows us, despite the brain’s remarkable complexity and power, there’s a bottleneck in information processing when it tries to perform two distinct tasks at once. Not only is this bad for the brain; it’s bad for the team. Managers should set a firm policy that multitasking is unacceptable, as it’s important for everyone to be mentally present.

The Future of work is all about collaboration

Michael Haberman writes in his blog about future of collaboration. In looking at the next five years, Haberman writes:

Futurists of many sorts see collaboration as a major workplace development. James Canton, Jacob Morgan and Meister and Willyerd all foresee highly collaborative and hyper-connected work places as being the norm by 2020. Are you preparing, training and equipping your workforces to be able to work in this coming environment? It will be necessary to remain competitive in a fast paced, global world with distributed teams. If you want your job and your company to be around in 10 years then you need to be adapting today.

"Electronic brainstorming" – a way to overcome the shortcomings of a group brainstorming

In late 1940’s, A Madison Avenue advertising executive Alex Osborn introduced the still popular method attempting to increase the quantity and quality of ideas within a team. Despite the apparent benefits in principal (getting more good ideas through increasing the quantity, no criticism, and evaluating the ideas later), however, studies since the introduction of the method have found little proof of the actual benefits of the brainstorming – especially in an open group setting.

Adrian Furnham (Professor of psychology and Director of the Business Psychology Unit at University College London) has pinpointed the shortcomings of traditional, open-group brainstorming in three problematic areas in his 2000 article "The Brainstorming Myth":

- Social  loafing:  the group context enables individuals to make less effort.
- Evaluation apprehension: fear of suggesting ideas which might make one look foolish.
- Production blocking: any one group member can suggest an idea at any moment.

Professor Furnham then suggests ”Electronic brainstorming” as an answer to the problems related to a group brainstorming in a traditional meeting set up. He refers to several studies made already in the 1990's pointing out the benefits of simultaneous electronic brainstorming. He writes:

Social loafing is less likely to occur because individuals may be concerned that the ideas they key in are logged and counted. Evaluation apprehension does not occur because the source of the ideas is anonymous. Production blocking does not occur because participants can assess and attend to others’ ideas when it suits them and not when others impose it.

In OPERA Meeting, the free-text O-phase suggestions are not ”counted” in a sense Professor Furnham suggests, but according to our experience, given a chance to think through the challenge on their own, everyone will contribute more than in an open meeting brainstorming, making the "social loafing" more unlikely. "Evaluation apprehension" is not a problem in OPERA Meeting process, since the free notes in O phase are not ”public” (they are seen by your pair in the next phase), creating a safe environment for you to express your suggestions just to your pair without ”publishing” them to all just yet. "Production blocking" is removed due to the fact that the ideation and idea refining with your pair is conducted simultaneously for all participants.

Hybrid Meeting is new Brainstorming!

The New Yorker writes here about the effectiveness of familiar-to-all Brainstorming procedure, and what could be more efficient than that:

In 1948, creativity guru Alex Osborn published his bestselling book ”Your creative power”, which outlined the principles of Brainstorming. Here, raw ideas are presented freely, with no criticism of negative feedback whatsoever. The aim is to get as much ideas as possible, with a great number of outright ridiculous in them – on purpose. The evaluation of the ideas would follow in the next phases, in order to find the actually feasible ones.

The principles of brainstorming were scrutinized in following years by the academic community. First, in Yale university in 1958, an empirical study was performed with two groups of students: one group was instructed according to the brainstorming principles; the control group was instructed to produce ideas on the same challenge, but working by themselves.  The New Yorker writes:

The solo students came up with roughly twice as many solutions as the brainstorming groups, and a panel of judges deemed their solutions more “feasible” and “effective – –  Numerous follow-up studies have come to the same conclusion. Keith Sawyer, a psychologist at Washington University, has summarized the science: “Decades of research have consistently shown that brainstorming groups think of far fewer ideas than the same number of people who work alone and later pool their ideas.

So how to get your team to clearly outperform brainstorming? How to get ideas and suggestions from individuals, and then pool them together in the team? Try a Hybrid meeting

  1. Let your team think though your challenge on their own, and taking their own time producing their own ideas and suggestions.
  2. In order to pool the ideas, let your team to discuss their suggestions in pairs to make a few common suggestions for all, that are more considered, from various angles.
  3. Get your team together to wrap up the suggestions and select the best ones for further actions.

Read more here about Hybrid meeting.

Why Some Teams Are Smarter Than Others?

The New York Times writes interesting stuff on how the smartest teams work. 

First, their members contributed more equally to the team’s discussions, rather than letting one or two people dominate the group.

And, they are challenging the conventional wisdom that says "you have to have face to face interaction for the best collaboration":

We randomly assigned each of 68 teams to complete our collective intelligence test in one of two conditions. Half of the teams worked face to face, like the teams in our earlier studies. The other half worked online, with no ability to see any of their teammates. Online collaboration is on the rise, with tools like Skype, Google Drive and old-fashioned email enabling groups that never meet to execute complex projects. We wanted to see whether groups that worked online would still demonstrate collective intelligence, and whether social ability would matter as much when people communicated purely by typing messages into a browser.
And they did. Online and off, some teams consistently worked smarter than others. More surprisingly, the most important ingredients for a smart team remained constant regardless of its mode of interaction: members who communicated a lot, participated equally and possessed good emotion-reading skills.
This last finding was another surprise. Emotion-reading mattered just as much for the online teams whose members could not see one another as for the teams that worked face to face. What makes teams smart must be not just the ability to read facial expressions, but a more general ability, known as “Theory of Mind,” to consider and keep track of what other people feel, know and believe.

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