Collaborative workshops from the beach

Or distributed workshops from different locations...

Your seat is waiting next to mine... Your seat is waiting next to mine...

 

During my career I had to facilitate a lot of Agile retrospectives and other collaborative workshops with people sitting in different offices, countries, continents,... and as such had a huge interest in the first Belgian conference on "remote working". I was looking for new tools, new techniques, new tips & tricks and was surprised to see how many people were not aware about some basic things to take care of when setting up remote (distributed) meetings. It is that observation that triggered me to write this short post and spread some knowledge.

Online Collaboration Tools

  • Innovation Games - Visual Collaboration: real time collaboration tool to prepare and facilitate online Innovation Games
  • Innovation Games - Virtual Market: real time collaboration tool to play "Buy a Feature" with a group of stakeholders and acquire group consensus on priorities for the items given.
  • Gamestorming Boardthing: real time collaboration tool to work with post-its on a canvas, either prepared with a background image or not. Easy to group things and dot-vote for priorities.
  • Web Whiteboard: real time collaboration tool that is simulating a white board where people can write, draw... together from separate locations.
  • Linoit: real time collaboration tool that is simple to use when in need of post-its being created, moved...
  • Google Docs: easily share in real time excel-like documents, word documents, powerpoint documents, drawing boards...
  • Online Planning Poker: real time collaboration tool to facilitate a planning poker estimation session with the team. Tip: prepare stories in the tool before the meeting.
  • Sococo: virtual offices where people could go from one office to the other to join the conversation, max of 10 people in one office limitation. This is great to create team rooms and allow people to go ask a team what they think.

Online Communication Tools

  • Zoom: best video conferencing tool out there at the moment. Can go up to 200 participants at the same time!
  • Google Hangouts: google version for Video conferencing, up to 8 participants is working pretty well (if a good internet connection is available) as well as desktop sharing, chat etc.
  • Skype: most known and used Video sharing tool but less stable than Zoom for a big group.
  • Slack : digital tool that allows us to have distributed coffee corner chats, quickly share information, aks questions and/or support... the options are endless!

Remote Facilitation Tips

  • Use the communication tools mentioned above to have a collaborative workshop from everywhere
  • Prepare your online environments to have a decent flow of divergent actions, exploring actions and convergent actions (Gamestorming model). If needed use different platforms for different things and try out how to get information from one to the other easily.
  • Do a dry-run of the workshop by yourself (or invite a guinea pig)
  • Do not reserve meeting rooms with shared telecom equipment in different locations! Everybody at their own desk with their own equipment is better.
    • Meeting rooms at locations would  provide an opportunity to create a We vs Them culture within the team.
    • Shared audio equipment does not work, people too far from the toy, people too close to the toy...
    • Video is not needed, difficult to share decent video from all people that need to attend
    • Video conference is good for video sharing but the value given is not bigger than the risk of We vs Them culture
    • When using Video make sure everybody is using it personally, each person has their own video equipment.
  • People only speak when asked for by the Facilitator of the meeting or when the one speaking is explicitly giving them the word
    • When going into a discussion the person speaking will identify the next person to speak
    • Facilitate this with a shared space where people can raise hands to speak so the speaker knows who to point out
  • Be creative with all different tools that are out there, there are no limits.

Golden rule: When 1 person is not in the room then nobody should be!

Violating the above rule will end up excluding the outside person unconsciously, so either do not include the person or better let everybody work from where they like to work... preferably a beach. Yes, Face-to-Face is working better and faster but these days there are a lot of tools out there that can help us get closer and we are just at the beginning. I'm pretty sure the IoT will bring more opportunities to us soon... Don't wait to try things out so that you are ahead of others when it comes to tapping into knowledge and experience from all over the world! Do not hesitate to contact us if you feel lost, if you do not feel comfortable to design & facilitate remote / distributed workshops yourself. We are here to help!

What are your tips related to collaborative workshops with people sitting in different locations?