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Collaboration dynamics changed dramatically in March 2020, especially for business meetings expected to foster groups effectively innovating. Organizations moved to video calls when in-person collaboration vanished. This relatively easy answer helped maintain connections among employees and with customers. But quickly adopting Zoom or even implementing Teams or Slack did not address the new and broader opportunities for collaboration.

The Worst Online Meeting Hall of Fame

The pandemic eliminated many persistent challenges to increasing collaboration. These challenges represent the friction impeding stronger collaboration:

  • Excuses
  • Costs
  • Capacity Limits
  • ROI Expectations
  • Engagement Barriers
  • Culture and Politics

Here are how virtual environments should have suddenly changed these collaboration barriers to boost inclusion and diverse thinking:

  • Excuses Evaporated – Classic excuses for not innovating collaboration methods went by the wayside. “I need to see butts in seats to get engagement,” “It’s not viable to fly more people in for meetings,” and “The technology is too cumbersome to get people together virtually,” were no longer viable excuses. Their absence forced reluctant executives to accept new and previously untried ways to collaborate.
  • Costs Dropped – Virtual meetings drop the incremental direct costs of including additional (and new) collaborators to nearly zero. This created unprecedented opportunities to involve people with diverse perspectives, fresh thinking, and previously unnoticed ideas to drive innovative collaboration.
  • Capacity Limits Weren’t Relevant – The challenge of finding sufficiently large conference rooms disappeared as an inclusion roadblock. Virtual meetings removed the physical space barriers that impede adding people to in-person meetings, workshops, or training seminars.
  • ROI Expectations Eased – Before 2020, longer-format meetings requiring travel meant that everything needed to fit into a pre-set time window. Not completing the planned work people traveled in meant falling short in maximizing the collaboration investment. With travel not an option, opportunities emerged for a series of shorter, more-focused meetings. Time between meetings allows for adding value to the previous meeting’s input. The result? The next meeting could be more targeted and impactful.
  • Engagement Barriers Equalized – Putting everyone on a virtual platform for a collaborative meeting levels the playing field for participating. It eliminates the challenges that arise when remote individuals try to engage equally and meaningfully with in-person participants. With everyone remote, engagement opportunities and challenges were equalized.
  • Culture and Politics Shifted – The power dynamics and cues of in-person meetings vanished. This removed fraught issues such as the seating preferences of senior executives, and the age-old routines to control and dominate conversations. Who can tell where the power seating positions are in a Zoom gallery view? Intriguingly, senior executives frequently became the communication-disadvantaged ones as employees with less tenure and far more technical expertise fared better at connecting and engaging.

Taken together, these developments represent a tremendous amount of positive change for collaboration and innovation. They all developed in a very compressed time frame.

Collaboration, Inclusion, and Diverse Thinking Ahead

The big questions you need to ask and answer now, as we enter the Business Meeting 3.0 era?

  • Did your organization take advantage of these opportunities to increase inclusion and diverse thinking?
  • How will you ensure that the return to more in-person and hybrid meetings doesn’t increase collaboration barriers again?

Whether or not your organization took advantage of these six enablers, it’s vital that the opportunities in the pandemic’s first year to expand collaboration don’t disappear in the near future.  – Mike Brown

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