Virtual Meetings Have Types

Virtual meetings are a bit different than in-person meetings. Here’s how we approach them at Infinite Red

Have you ever encountered one of these scenarios?

Scenario 1

Have you ever been in a virtual meeting where you’d like to break the formality and talk about what’s really important, but the meeting had a rigid agenda? Was that a useless meeting?

Scenario 2

Alternatively, have you ever been in a virtual meeting where you’re pretty sure everyone else was either working on something else, or cruising reddit waiting for someone to call on them? Are they bad people?


There are (at least) two types of virtual meetings that seem to happen organically. If you aren’t distinguishing and communicating each meeting’s type, then you’re flipping the coin of fate. It’s never good when half of your attendees are either frustrated with indirection or tuned-out during critical decisions.

Identify beforehand what kind of virtual meeting you’re conducting. This gives everyone a clear view of the expectations for each meeting. Here at Infinite Red, we call these Gig & Jam.

Gig

A Gig meeting is your traditional, well-run, high-expectations, high-attention meeting. As anyone who throws good meetings knows, it takes effort to put together a Gig, but the payoff is high.

Why “Gig”?

You don’t rehearse at a Gig, you perform. Attendance is mandatory, on-time, and time-boxed. There’s a setlist (agenda) and everyone is expected to play their individual parts together to make it a success.

Sure you can call this a “traditional” meeting, but the library called, and they want their boringnicity back.

Properties of a Gig Meeting:

  • There’s an agenda identified for all before the meeting — If there’s no agenda, the meeting is cancelled. No major improvisation is allowed; if something comes up, it’s noted in post-meeting action items and you move on. The agenda designates a person to conduct the meeting and all other executive roles needed. Clarity is key.
  • Time is respected — You are expected to show up on time if you have a role. The Gig ends when the Gig was scheduled to end because the duration is set, and the agenda serves as an indicator along the way.
  • Attention is mandatory — Everyone should be focused on making the Gig work and be ready with all notes, pre-work, to-do lists, etc. New or distracting issues are parked outside the meeting for a different meeting. Though minor distractions are inevitable, each person makes a sedulous effort to dedicate themselves to the meeting. Hold people accountable if they do not.
  • Follow-up — Just because the Gig is over, doesn’t mean you’re done. There should be a record of the Gig posted with what was accomplished, what changed, what was parked, and what action items (assigned to which people) came out of the meeting. The follow-up is critical, and you may even need a follow-up meeting.

Gig poisoning

You’re asking a lot from people when you have them for a Gig. Gigs can burn people out and dominate their schedules. Some companies have the infamous meetings about meetings. Be picky about scheduling Gigs and who you ask to attend them. Gigs are high cost, and so they should be effective with high return or not at all.

“A band can’t play a Gig where the travel is more expensive than the pay.”

Jam

A Jam meeting is a meeting with an informal structure. It’s a chat where lots of information is exchanged in a stress-free way, and creativity can take hold in a way that could never be predicted. This is a powerful meeting type for recurring weekly meetings.

Why “Jam”?

Jams are needed because Gigs are a bad place for experimentation, exploration, and finding new frontiers. In the world of music, people do this in a “jam session”. A Jam meeting is a more relaxed meeting.

Properties of Jam Meeting

  • The meeting schedule is loose — If someone needs to go make a cup of coffee, that’s fine. People can have a “hard stop” at a given time, but outside of that there’s no guarantee when the meeting will end. It’s almost based on feel and approximate time.
  • Attention isn’t mandatory — Much like you have to say “Alexa, what’s the weather”, and you can’t say “What is the weather, Alexa”, the same goes for attention. You have to activate the person you’re talking to with their name. They may have some or all the context of where you were. The power comes in the opportunity to have resources ready to activate, but working elsewhere when they are not needed.
E.g. you can call on your specialist in sales who was focused on invoices during the Jam. It’s okay if they need you to re-explain something.
  • Attendance isn’t strictly mandatory — If you have to skip a Jam here and there, the meeting can move on. Continuously skipping a Jam means you should evaluate if you should actually be part of that session at all.
  • Depth Value — Without time-boxed agendas, you can explore any topic as deep as you’d like. If at the end of the Jam, you’ve only explored one thing exhaustively, that’s great.

Jam Poisoning

If every meeting is a Jam meeting (or unidentified), then people can get too far in the weeds, objectives are lost, and efficiency turns into wasting valuable time. Jam sessions are easy to schedule, and thus you can easily diffuse someone’s focus with large gaps that compound existing time constraints on other deliverables.

A band shouldn’t jam so much that their life responsibilities fall by the wayside & they pass all opportunities to command an audience from the stage.

Communicating the meeting type BEFORE

Now that you have the two types of meetings, it’s important to be explicit BEFORE a meeting which one it will be. This lets everyone know what to expect of them (time/pace etc.). It would be unfair to everyone to designate the meeting type after it starts.

For simplicity, we put the meeting type on the calendar item:

Once your team is familiar with the concept, you could simply prefix with G: or J:, but “Gig” and “Jam” are only 2 more letters, so feel free to keep things clear with the full word on all meetings.

The wording feels natural

Utilize these words for you. It’s a low-cost high-gain system for keeping meetings effective, while clarifying everyone’s expectations.


Gant Laborde is Chief Technology Strategist at Infinite Red, published author, adjunct professor, worldwide public speaker, and mad scientist in training. Please clap/follow/tweet or visit him at a conference.

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