Some online meetings fall well outside what we would call “effective” and “productive” because the participants behave exactly as they want to. “Sorry can you say that again.. I wasn’t listening;  I just got an email from Bob” and “I can’t put the camera on because of haven’t done my hair” are just two recent examples. Every small action like these disrupts the quality of the online meeting experience. So, what one simple thing could you do to improve the quality of your online meetings? My earliest experiences of leading After Action Reviews were pretty terrifying. In the acute London hospital where we introduced AAR in 2008, the participants in the AAR could be many “ranks” above me and were used to having plenty of “airtime” in group situations. An AAR is a very different type of meeting, where all have the same status of “learners” and contribute equally, but at the start of the AAR introduction project, the participants in these AARs didn’t know this. Some of the behaviours I witnessed as people adjusted to the AAR process were direct challenges to the AAR principles. Texting on mobile phones, getting up and leaving the room to answer their phone, writing copious notes, continuing to talk over my request to allow others to contribute, were all common. In other types of meeting you might notice such conduct but it is unlikely to be considered unacceptable but in an AAR, where the aim is to create a good learning environment, such behaviours disrupt the quality of the thinking and challenge the psychological safety of the process.

The value of Ground Rules

So, in my role as the AAR Conductor, I had to learn how to overcome my own lack of confidence and status concerns to address these issues directly but I was beautifully aided by the use of a set of clear “Ground Rules”. In the armed forces where AAR is routine, the expectations about how to behave are a given but in every other AAR context, the AAR Ground Rules set the scene for the behaviours that are expected and act as a safeguard to the richness of the learning that can be achieved. At the start of every AAR I talk through the AAR Ground Rules and ensure all participants agree with them. From this solid platform, I can then address any individuals’ conduct that deviates from them which has the potential to disrupt the learning in the AAR.

One simple action

The value of these AAR Ground Rules made me realise how helpful something similar could be for the meetings that are now taking place online via teleconference platforms and have created a graphic of 8 Ground Rules. Adjusting to new ways of working can take time, so minimising the uncertainties around online meeting etiquette will be helpful. Showing and talking through these 8 Ground Rules at the start of the meeting will do just what they did for me and give you the permission to address poor behaviours and make the very best use of your time online. Please use them and share widely. And let me know how it goes!