As business analysts, many of us have experienced the unique challenges and obstacles faced when working in a virtual environment with geographically disbursed teams. In my previous position with a firm that handled invoice financing within the boundaries of the United States and had only limited experience with virtual meetings. However, in my current position, not only am I participating in virtual meetings, many of them cross international and cultural boundaries.
I have since learned that virtual meetings invariably conclude with too few having actively participated and no real assurance that anyone has learned anything. Usually, down the road, mistakes surface confirming the fact that not everyone got it and everything has to be repeated in a subsequent virtual meeting. Boring, and inefficient! There must be a better way to accomplish knowledge transfer.
Developing a New Framework
By asking ourselves what knowledge and experience we have in our respective tool kits, we can consider alternative means of sharing knowledge. One thing most analysts do well is training. We have practical and theoretical knowledge on this subject and if we simply shift our paradigm from sharing knowledge to one of training we may improve the virtual experience.
Based on this theory and the fact that practical knowledge has taught us training sessions are most effective when subject matter is presented in short focused segments, with each segment geared to specific objectives, coupled with exercises to drive these points home and sprinkle the whole affair with regular breaks. The result looked like this:
- A few short modules
- Specifics on module development will vary with the subject matter. Suffice it to say that keeping the length of session in the 30 to 45 minute range seems to offer the best results. The number of sessions will vary with the complexity of the information you are attempting to impart.
- Defined objectives and target groups
- Learning objectives are nothing more than a simple statement of what participants should expect to learn by the end of each session. One advantage of this requirement is that a more organized flow of information is achieved and the sum-of-the-parts are more likely to equal the whole. This is a great outcome for everyone involved!
- Exercises to encourage participation and strengthen learning
- You need to decide what will be most effective for any given situation; exercises for each module or a single exercise that comprehends the whole. This is up to you and your team. The challenging aspect is to create an actual exercise—not a quiz!
The Test Run
My own team agreed to try the theory out in an upcoming virtual meeting regarding platform changes we needed to implement which would affect our Philippine team.
It is important to note that cross-cultural interactions, virtual or face-to-face, present additional layers of complexity as compared to interactions which do not cross international and/or cultural boundaries.
That said the presentation created was typical of prior sessions, consisting of power point slides demos and pertinent screen shots—only shorter and preceded by an overview of the learning objectives.
The learning objectives, as anticipated, turned out to be beneficial for creating a stronger focus.
In the final session the Filipino team was expected to present answers to the exercises. For cultural reasons, we chose to encourage the Filipino team to work on the exercise as a group. In other interactions you may choose to have individuals respond to the exercises. Filipino culture favors a team approach and individualism takes a back seat to the needs of the group.
Because we approached the sessions in this manner, we crafted the exercise to comprehend all the modules. As mentioned earlier, these exercises are not intended as a quiz. Rather, the exercises should force, or at the very least, encourage our Filipino colleagues to examine they actual process.
The exercises were discussed in the beginning for the express purpose of emphasizing that they were a learning tool and not a test. Although the exercises were completed by the group, it is suggested that the group select a spokesperson to present the results of the exercise in the interest of time.
The final session was largely the work of our Filipino counterparts who presented the results of the exercises. Although the responses fell short of 100% accuracy, the exercises provided a road map for what needed to be reviewed. The sessions worked out well overall and the platform changes we implemented went much more smoothly than any had gone previously.
Acknowledge the Effort—Offer Praise
How you handle this is entirely at your discretion. The effort should be acknowledged in some fashion and positive outcomes should get some kudos. Again, how this is handled may have cultural undertones.
Our team and the Filipino team regarded the overall experience to be a positive one and superior to previous methods used. Everyone was appreciative of shorter sessions and the exercises were well received by the Filipino team.
We noticed a significant increase in dialogue and more questions were asked using this framework, no doubt because of the concluding exercise.
The Final Analysis
While it is true that all the evidence supporting the validity of this method for sharing information is empirical, that doesn’t diminish the fact that it has worked for us.
It has resulted in a better experience for those providing the information and for those receiving it. We plan its continued use and improvement.
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