The #1 Meeting Every Leader Needs for Thriving Virtual Teams

Has your inbox been inundated with companies trying to tell you how to run a virtual organization? I am receiving several of these emails each day. Some of them have been beneficial, some have been laughable, and some have made me wonder if the author has ever worked remotely before a few weeks ago. Frankly, at this point, I am deleting all of them. So, why should you read this one? I am going to make it short and sweet: I have led a thriving virtual organization for nine years (accolades listed below) using two key tools: weekly one-on-one (1:1) (virtual) meetings and monthly (virtual) team meetings. You can adopt these two simple tools and take your efficiency and productivity to the next level.

Why you can trust this idea

Even though I started as a teacher and loved it so much that I never planned to leave the classroom, I have now been leading a virtual organization for nine years. On average, I either facilitate or lead 8-10 virtual meetings daily and spend upwards of 30 hours each week collaborating with our team and district partners remotely. In fact, I was in 1,327 video conferences in 2019 (we actually counted them just for fun!), and I have been in 380 video conferences already in 2020. At engage2learn, we maintain 48 remote offices, spanning both coasts from Washington state to Virginia…48 offices of one employee each. We have grown at an average rate of 47.6% per year, and we have been honored for our impact, our ability to innovate, and our mission for public education with the following awards, in some cases winning against large corporations that work together in the same office every day:

  • 2018 Stevie Award (Gold) for Female Executive of the Year

  • 2018 Golden Bridge Award (Silver) for Female Executive of the Year for Women in Business

  • 2018 State of Texas Small Business Award

  • 2017 Stevie Award (Gold) for Most Innovative Woman of the
    Year in Technology

  • 2016 Legacy Award Winner for Modern Curriculum for
    Gifted and Advanced Academic Studies

How have we garnered these awards as a virtual organization? The secrets to our success are twofold: (1) the pace at which we are able to respond to partner needs, iterate, and work; (2) our thriving, collaborative culture. The engine behind each of these factors is a standing meeting system. The key to our quick decision-making, iteration, and responsiveness is a standing weekly 1:1 for every person in the organization. The key to our award-winning culture is standing monthly team meetings across the organization, which we call Professional Learning Communities (PLCs). If we had not instituted these two-meeting systems, I believe our culture and our decision-making would have suffered. We would not have been able to innovate as quickly, have as much impact, or be as consistent.

Leading your virtual organization through one-on-ones (1:1s)

The idea is this: every person in the organization engages in a 25-minute, 1:1 phone call weekly with each person he or she supports. We use the phone for these vs video since it is faster, and we can work from the same shared Google doc, which is developed and shared beforehand. This is also helpful in the event that either participant may be traveling. Phone call meetings are easy to complete, even while waiting at an airport. Personally, I have nine separate 1:1 calls scheduled each week for each of the e2L leaders whom I coach. To do so, I block the first part of my workday and begin my day with one to three 1:1 calls Tuesday-Friday. 

The format and protocol for these are simple. Each of the leaders with whom I have a 1:1 creates a one-page brief (here is an example), and he or she shares it directly with me beforehand. (We link other agendas to the calendar appt, but since the info in a 1:1 may be highly sensitive information, we typically share these privately.) It starts with the one thing that person must get done that week, the three priorities for the week, and updates and questions. We go through that one-pager, answering all questions and making decisions on key issues. We rarely ever reschedule these meetings. Everyone in our organization knows that this time is off-limits to any other meeting. 

In a total of 4.5 hours, I can, essentially, lead our organization. This method ensures that I am not a bottleneck for any decision, that I am up-to-date on everything that is happening, and that every person in the organization has that same opportunity. Each person in our organization is only ever one week away from having any problem solved by collaborating with the very person who is a decision-maker for their specific problem. Therefore, most people leave their 1:1 doc open all week and add to it anytime they have additional questions. By the way, if you are thinking, “There is no way I can spend 4.5 hours per week on this idea,” just remember that you will no longer be spending time in impromptu meetings or in crisis mode as things come up. I guarantee that it saves me time because I rarely have an unexpected call, text, email, or IM from any of these leaders – even though we are serving nearly 40 districts and almost 80,000 educators.

There are several benefits to these weekly, standing 1:1 calls. We use them to stay connected, make quick, agile decisions, and avoid bottlenecks. They also enable all individual concerns to be addressed in this forum, which protects team meeting time for discussions that are relevant to all participants. Additionally, the one-pager brief is a way to quickly summarize all the hustle: work that is happening continuously, both state and nation-wide, creating that one-pager helps people to focus upon what is important for that particular week. Lastly, the one-pager becomes a record of our call, including the decisions that were made, so that we can reference them later if necessary. I firmly believe that the pace at which we are able to work and serve our partner school districts is greatly enhanced by our 1:1 system. 

How will you use 1:1s in your organization?

Stay tuned for next week: Building Your Virtual Team Culture through Monthly Standing Team Meetings! If you haven’t signed up for our Virtual Resources or Blogs, click HERE to stay connected and receive updates when new material posts.


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