Virtual meetings can present many big challenges for managers. “Water cooler moments” or small talk are those informal conversations that occur naturally and spontaneously between people because we humans crave connection. Allowing time for these unplanned moments is important. Science shows how “informal chatting” can help promote strong bonds between team members, and the absence of such personal exchange can be truly demotivating.
Here are three easy ways to bring friendly banter into your virtual meetings:
Make small talk an agenda item, not an afterthought. You could leave unstructured time at the end of a meeting for casual chit-chat or even dedicate an entire meeting to just catching up.
Start team meetings with an individual check-in or icebreaker. This could be as simple as asking each person to take a minute to share what's been happening in their lives, both professionally and personally. Or about the energy level they are currently bringing to the meeting.
Introduce agenda items that rely on opinions. Ask an outside-of-the-box question that has no right or wrong answer, such as “Who is your personal role model” Or “When will we see the next concert or sporting event with more than 10,000 attendees?” Poll your team for their views and let the conversation meander.
Check out our article, “Remote Legal Teams – What you need to know to make it work” where we explore and set out the steps to help improve virtual team working. In our virtual team, we also discuss based on our research how you can apply soft skills – like small talk – to help increase intrinsic motivation of the team. And not to forget, the vital role that leaders play in making the virtual exchange genuine and people-centered, with active listening skills and an empathetic stance.
Researcher Amy C. Edmondson explores this leadership topic in her article, Today’s Leaders Need Vulnerability, Not Bravado. She writes that in a complex and uncertain world that demands constant learning and agility, the most adaptable leaders are those who are aware of their limitations, have the necessary humility to grow their own and others’ potential, and are courageous and curious enough to create sincere and open connections with others. Edmondson’s original article was published in 2020 in the Harvard Business Review. Great read, have a look!