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Real interaction, Online?!

As discussed in a previous post about an online inquiry on trust in teams, having sufficient interaction cannot always be taken for granted. In meetings, it is often that a single person is talking and the other participants are passive listeners. And this is even a somewhat ‘ideal’ situation because many of us have the experience that while listening, it is highly seductive to check messages, mail or do other things. So, it’s safe to conclude that interaction is low in most online meetings.

For some part, this lack of interacting with other participants is due to the platforms and tools being used. In a video meeting (we all use Teams, Zooms or the likes), it is simply not effective when several people start talking at the same time. And using the chat to exchange ideas or questions does only produce limited results. There’s a strong disagreement between a lively discussion and being able to understand what others are saying. Although breakout rooms and other applications are better suited to accommodate this, a lot of improvement can be realized by a better design.


In my work as change consultant, I facilitate others – typically members of an organization – to get into dialogue with one another. To steer the process towards the desired outcomes, I follow certain steps that have a certain logic between them. For instance, the different phases in Appreciative Inquiry, modified to the specific assignment I’m asked to do. Process design is not simply defining the different steps to take in a (longer) process. It is about specifying the type of dialogue and desired outcomes for each step and making sure that is to be used in the subsequent step so that a logical ‘flow’ is obtained. These days, communicating and collaborating online, it all becomes a bit different. So process design has to change as well.

Some tips

  • To start, make sure that you identify the type of meeting (possibly as part of a bigger process) you want to tackle. A meeting in which you primarily want to share information (updates, developments) is very different than one in which you hope new ideas are generated.

  • When designing for more creative sessions (ideation, problem solving, etc.), don’t rely on video meeting alone. A whiteboard (Miro and Mural are advanced yet simple to use) can add a lot of possibilities in sharing ideas and collecting input from participants. This is best done in combination with video calling, so you can have personal conversations and submit your thoughts at the same time.

  • Think about what you can do without everyone present. Going back to the kind of meeting which is predominantly aimed at sharing information, ask yourself if it could have been done by sharing the presentation online. The same applies to client meetings in which (a lot of) general information is shared. Do you really need your client to spend its (scarce) time on listening to how many people your firms has and what their specialization areas are, when this could be ‘consumed’ at any other time?

In process- or meeting design, there is still a lot of room for improvement in combining “synchronous “ and “a-synchronous working”. And when we drive this to a more optimal balance, there is more time left for real interaction.

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