As organizations embrace a virtual meeting format, they must also contend with new obstacles, such as screen fatigue, competing priorities and nontraditional schedules. Yet with a little intention, planning and discipline from everyone involved, virtual board meetings can be just as effective, engaging and informative as in-person sessions. In this blog series, we walk board leaders through the virtual meeting process and identify best practices to maximize the experience in these highly unusual times.
Disagreements and disputes happen in the best of times; a once-in-a-century global pandemic dials up the pressure considerably. Right now, board members are contending with significant decisions about the organization’s long-term viability in the face of COVID-19, and they are doing it remotely. That’s why it is critical to develop a process to fairly and transparently manage the exchange of ideas and opinions and use the conflict to further the issues at hand – below are five ways to get started.
Five Tactics to Manage Conflict in a Virtual Meeting
- Transparency breeds trust: In moments of crisis like this pandemic, resist the temptation to sugarcoat bad news or less-than-rosy projections. Board members need to know the truth, as hard as it may be to take, in order to carry out their advisory and governing role. Board presidents, organization leaders and meeting presenters should not be afraid to share the truth – just make sure to have a plan to address follow-up questions.
- Draw out concerns with the right questions: As noted earlier in this series, nonverbal cues and body language that signal confusion or displeasure can be misinterpreted in the virtual format. Gauge the mood of the group and invite opinions by asking direct questions, such as “Do you need any other information to make a decision?” and “What do you think is the best approach?”
- Develop meeting format and rules for feedback: Dedicate a portion of the agenda for sharing feedback and asking questions, allotting each team member time to speak. In voting scenarios, members should be given the floor before or after a vote to express their views.
- Understand technology to manage the discourse: Depending on the ground rules established in the planning phase, deploy the mute button appropriately to ensure board members are not speaking over one another. Consider having board members use the raise hand feature to request the floor.
- Create alternate opportunities for input: For disputes or matters that only involve a few board members, do not be afraid to move discussion into one-on-one sessions separate from the full board meeting. Not only will this allow for more direct communication, it also respects the time of the rest of the board.
Conflict avoidance can be costly and corrosive to an organization; don’t use the virtual format as an excuse to deflect or divert efforts to resolve it. After all, conflict can wind up being a galvanizing experience for a board and provide opportunities to make meaningful breakthroughs and build greater respect and trust among members.
Questions about the strategies discussed here or need assistance improving your organization’s virtual board meetings? Contact your RKL advisor or reach out using the form below this post. Visit our Business Recovery Resource Center for more guidance and insights.