Our July event was facilitated by Leadership Group member Carol Houtot who led an insightful discussion of how we can have meaningful conversations in the online environment that many of us find ourselves in, both at work and beyond. Anecdotally we all agreed that we had experienced meaningful online conversations. Through discussion of our experiences, we identified that while the principles of building connection are the same regardless of context, the online environment has unique challenges that can be thoughtfully managed.
As OD practitioners the value of meaningful conversations relates to both those we engage in, and those we facilitate when working with teams or in workshops. In both of these contexts, we considered the role of building trust and connection in allowing conversations to dig deeper than the surface.
For our own conversations, the challenges we face in building trust and connection differed depending on the context. Some of our work relationships were formed in face to face work environments and had pre-established trust. Others, often the result of rapid organisational change, hadn’t had the opportunity for in-real-life contact. In either context having an intention to create, or maintain, trust proved valuable. It may require a bit more effort than we are used to; asking a few more questions, making the effort to really listen at the end of a day of online meetings, reaching out to a colleague who was unusually quiet in a meeting. Many of us found that the shared context of a pandemic to help build connection. While each of us has our own challenges, we are all living and working in a new way.
In the role of facilitator, we considered how we influence meaningful connection amongst others. We recognised the value of key facilitation principles such as holding space, guiding conversation and creating opportunities for informal interaction. These can require more forethought when online than in real-life settings, which include familiar routines, such as offline chats and morning tea networking. In the online environment the capacity for the conversation to be deeper benefits from careful consideration from the facilitator of how to design interactions to encourage the building of trust.
We also recognised that online interactions offer an opportunity that is lacking when we meet in a third-party space, such as a workplace. Cameras direct into people’s homes mean interruptions such as kids, dogs and deliveries. While these can be a frustration, they also create a personal context which can aid connection. Online interaction can also level the playing field for geographically dispersed teams. When we are all working online it seems easy to communicate with someone in a different office, whether interstate or (time zone permitting) overseas. This creates an opportunity to broaden our work relationships.
We wrapped up our discussion by identifying some of the ways in which we could take what we had learned from each other into our worlds. The ideas shared included:
For our own connections:
- Check in with others, individually or as a team shout out
- Take the time to really listen
- Use your video when you can – consider the value of connection against the discomfort of being seen with messy hair
For facilitating connection between others:
- Creating space for informal communication, whether in their own right, or as part of a formal meeting or program
- Build informal connection into activities
- Allow plenty of time for breakout activities
- Encourage ‘videos on’ in team meetings
It was a very engaging session which raised interesting considerations, as well as practical applications, to support us in having and encouraging meaningful conversations.