Collaboration + Facilitation = The Formula for Virtual Meetings

Words by Leo Lallana Graphics by Ajj Morales

The struggle of finding new ways to work effectively

Nowadays, with the lack of conflicting schedules, prior commitments, and time spent commuting, it’s hard to say that you’re “too busy” to join a meeting.

As remote working becomes the new norm, it should be easier than ever to virtually gather teams— in theory. The reality, however, has been quite different.

Truly productive meetings are hard to come by. If collaboration was an issue for your team before the pandemic, remote working has probably not made it any easier.

Showing up to Zoom meetings is no guarantee that by the end of the discussion, your team will be able to plan out a strategy, delegate tasks, and create an organized system to maintain accountability for the work done.

Even the simple task of getting everybody on the same page can be difficult when everyone is virtually present but mentally elsewhere. This is completely understandable but in these times, collaboration and productivity are a necessity. We all need a new way to work.


It’s the only way that we can get past the obstacles brought on by COVID-19. And for most companies, adopting new ways to work productively isn’t a matter of fun, light-hearted exploration. For most, innovation is the key to survival.

Companies are seeking to maintain the same level of productivity that they had while in-office — or perhaps, even doubled productivity— to combat the negative economic impact from COVID-19. Effective team collaboration is needed now more than ever.

And before you rush into a subscription, it’s not about the collaboration tools we use either. While tools like Zoom, Basecamp, and Google Suite help the cause, it’s all about the conversations we have through these digital platforms. Productive remote working relies on how effectively we use the tools at our disposal. Most importantly, productivity depends entirely on the people doing the work.

Meetings are an integral part of getting work done. Through our client engagements and own employee experience, we’ve found that we can reach high levels of productivity during meetings by enhancing collaboration through guided facilitation.

By following these Design Thinking- based concepts and a few more tips we’ve prepared, you can hold more effective virtual meetings. This is just one of the ways this 5-step framework can help you design a new way to work for your remote teams.

Designing the right teams

An effective virtual meeting can be achieved through the collaboration of individuals assigned to specific, clearly-defined roles. These roles can be determined by formally assigning through the meeting email invite or simply agreed-upon at the start of the meeting. These roles should include:

  1. Facilitator
  2. This person will spearhead the conversation. It should be someone that can remain unbiased or can even be considered as an outsider to the topic. Their job is to give everyone a voice, provide a space for effective communication, and facilitate the discussion.
  3. Decision-Makers
  4. These individuals are the ultimate authority on the topic. These people are preferably the team’s manager or the person responsible for reporting to the upper management. They should communicate whatever output the team achieves during the session. Ideally, we would want no more than three deciders in a given meeting.
  5. Subject Matter Experts
  6. These people are the most experienced in the topic at hand. They can represent the users we’re designing for, in place of the participation of actual stakeholders. These experts should also have a deeper understanding or hands-on experience with the subject being discussed.
  7. Operations
  8. These are the team members that will carry out the work that is decided on during the meeting. It is important that they are involved in the decision-making process, even just as spectators, so that they understand the rationale behind the tasks assigned to them. This allows any questions and concerns about the work to be raised early on in the project.
  9. Stakeholders
  10. These individuals can be considered as the beneficiaries of the output of the meeting. They might be executives from the upper management, C-Suite, or other departments in the organization.

Divergent vs. Convergent Thinkers

To effectively take on a subject matter or problem innovatively, you need to consider two cognitive approaches: Divergent and Convergent Thinking. These contrasting modes of thinking are important to the Design Thinking methodology. These different concepts allow teams to work collaboratively by maximizing team members that naturally lean toward one of the mentalities.

People who are open, flexible, generate ideas, talk about opportunities and possibilities are considered as ‘Divergent Thinkers’. These people tend to enjoy diving into the unknown and unconventional. They do not fear trying out new things.

‘Convergent Thinkers’ are people who are analytical, critical, systematic, and enjoy critiquing ideas. These Thinkers are concerned with the logistics of how ideas turn into plans. They are the ones that tend to be more focused and find it easy to choose the best way to move forward.

Finding the right balance of people in a virtual meeting is necessary. Too many Divergent Thinkers can lead to a creative albeit messy and unorganized discussion. It will also be difficult to come to conclusive action points. On the other hand, too many Convergent Thinkers can create a rigid, overly serious environment where free-thinking ideation can be stifled due to fear of criticism.

The Facilitator should be aware of the types of thinkers present at the meeting to help the discussion run smoothly.


Getting everyone on the same page through Guided Facilitation

The Facilitator undoubtedly has the biggest load to carry during a meeting. An experienced moderator or facilitator will use various techniques to ensure that the meeting will flow harmoniously. An example of this is quick recaps and reflections after each discussion point to keep everyone on the same page.

The key responsibilities of a Facilitator include:

  • aligning everyone on objectives,
  • giving each team member a voice, and
  • moving everyone through the meeting agenda as a unit.

The Facilitator must also follow Divergent and Convergent Thinking throughout the meeting. This is done effectively by first, breaking down the problems so that the situation is understood by all and then, putting together the different ideas created by the team so that a collaborative solution is reached.

While there might appear to be a lot of pressure to be the meeting Facilitator, it isn’t a completely daunting task. You might have even acted in ways as the Facilitator in your own meetings without knowing it. But it goes without saying that it does pay off to have a Facilitator with vetted experience. This is especially true for crucial meetings with important, decision-making discussions.

Examples of Divergent vs. Convergent activities

The objective of these activities is to drive discussion, ideation, and decision-making. The shifts between divergent and convergent activities are led by the Facilitator. Knowing which mode of thinking we’re using in a given situation keeps everyone in the same mindset and on the same page. Below are some activities you can try out to achieve a more productive meeting:

Divergent activities: Explore

  1. Expert Interviews - Subject Matter Experts and Stakeholders share their thoughts on the topic while others empathize by listening and taking notes.
  2. Problem Brainstorm - All members list down specific problems and challenges expressed by the subject matter experts.
  3. Solution Brainstorm - Each team member rapidly creates solutions to the problems, giving room for innovative thinking.

Convergent activities: Decide

  1. Problem Voting - The team chooses a specific problem to focus on out of all of the problems unearthed during the session. The Decision Makers’ vote carries a heavier weight.
  2. Solution Voting - The options are narrowed down through a vote to move forward with the ideated solutions. Again, the Decision Makers’ vote carries a heavier weight.
  3. Top 5 Ideas - The team looks at the top 5 ideas that got the most votes. They must then build on top of each of these ideas, think about possible next steps, and lastly, delegate tasks to Operations.

Ideally, the flow of the virtual meeting would start from being divergent to create choices and then convergent to make choices. Along with introductions before and reflections after, this entire session can be completed in at least 90 minutes.

Here’s our recommended flow of the activities mentioned:


Pro Tip: Try not to extend each activity beyond the recommended time. Using the technique of ‘timeboxing’ can ensure that the participants will remain engaged and the discussion will be limited to the topic at hand.

The key to successful, productive virtual meetings is found through the combination of the right attendees, a smooth transition between divergent and convergent activities, and excellent facilitation.

By the end of the 90-minute virtual meeting, you’ll be able to keep your agenda in the right direction, create a list of potential solutions to an existing problem, and cultivate a team of engaged individuals who worked collaboratively to achieve a common business goal.

If you’d like to try this for yourself, we can also facilitate this workshop in a free session for you and your team. How can we help you and your team do your best remote work?