If you manage far-flung employees, phone meetings become an art. As you bring people together to brainstorm, exchange information and argue, remember to treat the ones who aren't in the room as equals.
In face-to-face meetings, it's often hard to control a strong-willed group. Vocal personalities can dominate.
The challenge becomes even tougher when some participants are calling in. Without the benefit of visual cues, team members may blurt out whatever they're thinking and wind up fighting to get a word in. Intervene to establish order ("Wes, you first. Then Cathy followed by Henry.").
Preparing a well-crafted agenda is especially important for phone meetings. You want everyone referring to the same road map so that they know how the session will flow and what topics to cover at what time.
Speakerphones pose particular problems. If you have some people gathered around a conference table and others calling in, then your role as facilitator grows more complex.
"Keep asking for input from those who aren't in the room," says Carolyn Campbell, senior director of marketing communications at InterCall, a Chicago-based conferencing services provider. "If they get cut off because someone in the room pipes up first, don't forget to go back to them and hear what they have to say."
Write the names of all the people calling in—and glance at it frequently. If you haven't heard from someone for a while, say, "Lisa, what do you think?"
"As conversations heat up in the room, it's easy to neglect the employees you can't see," Campbell warns. "By reminding yourself of who's listening in, you are more apt to invite each of them to comment. That prevents them from dozing off."
Let discussions flow naturally. Don't jump in as staffers bounce ideas off each other. Welcome lively debates.
Turn your employees into strategic assets by asking them to research competitors in your industry. Have each worker examine how rivals conduct themselves with customers. Then convene a staff meeting and have everyone share the results. Their findings can help you propose ideas to improve your product or service. And if the ideas are implemented, you can all bask in the success.