Penny was just getting into her stride with managing in-person programmes when September 11th 2001 shifted her ways of working and forcing her to be an early adopter of virtual working.
Penny started her career as a Project & Programme Manager, working to ensure every programme was as good as it could possibly be and quickly realised that in order to achieve this she needed to focus on the attendees. She was just getting into her stride with managing in-person programmes when September 11th 2001 shifted her ways of working and forcing her to be an early adopter of virtual working. She was subsequently able to operate as a consultant to advise others on how to do this successfully and at short notice when COVID hit.
Penny believes one of the biggest lessons for people is that virtual working is not just about virtual meetings and instead looking at how to ensure the team are working effectively together. This means allowing people to work asynchronously around their other commitments and at a time that suits them, which all ensures businesses get their optimum output. At the start of the pandemic many people were sitting through back-to-back meetings, without breaks, which was not the best use of time. People need time to decompress, absorb and time to complete the ‘actions.’ If we try to shoehorn this in between meetings, then it will not be our best work. We need to create conditions where each person can contribute their best, so Penny advises that when designing a workshop or meeting this is taken into consideration. By thinking about the environment, you create and what is going to suit everyone; even asking the participants what they need you gain an understanding of what makes them tick – trying to make it work but with an element of fun and ensuring engagement.
As the facilitator it is important to remember that it is the attendees meeting and you are there as the catalyst to make it happen. This means that you need to be mindful of when you may have lost the audience and potentially pause and adapt. By gaining an understanding of each participant –their strengths/weaknesses/preferences and what they want to achieve from this meeting and how can you help them manage this, you are able to foster an inclusive environment. Without this you run the risk of a leader who thinks ‘I am in charge’ and ploughs on regardless. If this happens and the meeting is not going to plan, you risk the flight, fight, freeze response that is triggered when you are stressed.
Penny’s second book, which is released on the 12th July, ‘Making workshops work’, is about creating collaboration for our time. Within it she outlines her magic 6, which are questions you should ask yourself whilst preparing for running workshops/meetings. The first ‘we are here to?’, so try and summarise the purpose of the meeting in ideally 7 words. The second; ‘today we will?’ try and set 4/5 objectives against this. ‘Our plan’ – thinking about start/end times/ who is doing what/. One that Penny believes is often forgotten is ‘how are we going to work together’. The final step is ‘what next?’, so right from the beginning you are thinking about next steps. She believes if you are clear on the above both in your preparation and at the beginning of the meeting then the meeting/workshop will run smoother and shorter than it would be otherwise.
If you are able to narrate the agenda to the participants, creating a shared vision then you have their buy in from the very beginning. The core of how people work together is the same whether in-person, virtual or hybrid, it’s about helping each person do their best work.
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