Meeting in pairs to build deeper forum connections

When we meet in person, we informally connect one-on-one during breaks, and can socialize over drinks and dinner afterwards.  When we are meeting virtually, the opportunities for casual, pairwise connections are almost non-existent.

To make up for that deficit, consider implementing this plan to encourage paired meet-ups between forum meetings:

  • Set up a round-robin schedule with pairs of members (plus one trio if you have an odd number in your forum). The pairs rotate after every regular forum meeting or on a monthly basis.
  • Pairs are asked to meet by whatever means works for them: a virtual “coffee” in Zoom; a conversation by phone, perhaps while each is going for a walk; or email, text or WhatsApp exchanges.
  • The plan can be left open-ended and flexible with no reporting back to the full forum, or each member can be asked to share one thing they learned about their partner at the next meeting.

Try this for a month or two, and then check-in with everyone on whether all would like to continue on a regular basis, or only as long as the forum is meeting virtually.

Masked and unmasked updates

These days we all need to wear some kind of mask when we leave our homes and can’t socially distance from others. Forum, meeting on a virtual platform, is one place where we can take off both our physical and our “psychological” masks, be vulnerable and discuss what really matters.

Consider doing this combined icebreaker/update activity at your next virtual forum meeting:

  • MASKED: Please bring and show your favorite or usual mask, and tell its story (up to 1 minute each, go around the “table”)
  • UNMASKED: Take off the “mask” you are wearing in front of your colleagues, family, and/or self. How are you REALLY feeling at this time? What is the Most Important Thing you want to tell the rest of us? Can you be vulnerable with your fellow forum members, and can you ask for what you need? Up to 3 or 4 minutes each (depending on length of meeting and number of members).
  • NOTICING (Optional, 10 minutes): Members have one minute each to quickly notice what was said or unsaid, tone and body language, anything you resonated with by deeply listening. No dialogue, questions, judgment, or advice giving. Members will not have time and are not expected to comment on every other member’s update.

Note: It’s best to tell members in advance about this exercise so they can have their physical mask handy, and can reflect on the suggested update questions.

Credit: Thank you to Melissa Weiksnar for sharing this exercise.

Who do I choose to be during the COVID-19 crisis?

We have all experienced a range of emotions as the pandemic has changed so many aspects of our lives.

Manju Melwani, a YPO forum facilitator, suggests possible actions and attitudes which may be either in the zone of fear, of learning, or of growth.

In forum we might ask ourselves:

  • In the last few weeks, when have I been in each of these zones? Why? How does that make me feel?
  • Not as a victim, but as an active agent, how have I chosen to learn and grow?
  • Looking forward, who do I want to be when this crisis is over?

Moving to a “wartime” forum footing

Earlier generations remember where they were during the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor, JFK’s assassination, and 9/11.  All of us will remember the COVID-19 Pandemic.  These extraordinary times call for new modes of engagement with our forums, including these possibilities:

  • Meet more frequently but for a shorter time. Some forums are meeting every week for an hour.  Others are meeting for two hours every other week.  Still others are calling emergency meetings as needed.
  • Continue to emphasize the importance of being there for each other, but agree to meet even if you can’t have 100% attendance. Evolving needs mean that commitments are less certain than in more stable times.
  • Focus updates on M.I.T. – the Most Important Things on members’ minds, on which they think the forum can offer some support, ideas or experience. Get to the essence quickly, identifying 3-5 word headlines such as “Messaging to employees,” “supporting elderly parents,” or “conserving cash.” Combine any similar MITs into a single topic.
  • At the moderator’s discretion, or with member input via the chat function, identify the most urgent and important topics
  • Instead of longer, traditional presentations/explorations, try to allow time to address multiple topics, asking members to make short and concise requests for:
    • Ideas
    • Experiences
    • Feedback on any ideas/actions they are considering
    • “I Notice…” feedback
    • Connections and leads
    • “If you were in my shoes…” feedback
    • Opportunity to vent or emote (no feedback)
  • Be efficient. Everyone in the forum can offer feedback once about the topic.  No repeating; instead say “plus one” to another person’s thoughts. Avoid tangents. The moderator can call “tangent alert” to refocus on the topic at hand.
  • Encourage one-on-one, out-of-meeting connections to address or expand on what can be covered in shorter, virtual meetings.

Acknowledgment: Thank you to YPO and HBS facilitator Michael Bloch from whose work this blog post is adapted.  For more details, see Michael’s full “wartime forum” agenda.

For the unprecedented times in which we now live: Forum update questions

As you prepare your forum update in times of pandemic, you may choose to answer one or more of these questions:

  • What part of your life or family needs the most care right now?
  • What leadership challenge in your business has been exacerbated by the coronavirus crisis?
  • What personal or professional relationship has been stressed by the coronavirus crisis?
  • What is the greatest fear you have now?
  • How has/will the crisis affect your company or family’s burn rate (income vs. expenses)? What approaches are you considering to deal with the situation?
  • Do you feel you are over-reacting or under-reacting to the evolving situation?
  • What risks do you see to your business/industry as a result of changes to the global business environment?
  • How is the coronavirus global situation causing you to re-evaluate your priorities, if at all?
  • What can you stop doing right now that will help you focus on this current challenge?
  • What key transition is coming up in your life that you are most scared or uncertain about due to the crisis?

With every question you can also reflect: How does the situation or challenge make you feel? How can the forum help?

Ten tips for awesome virtual forum meetings

A forum member recently said to me his group’s mantra from the beginning has been “Forum is always on, always in person, no one calls in.”  In a time of pandemic, social distancing, and restricted travel, that approach may no longer be sustainable.

And yet, we need forum more than ever!  Consider following these recommendations developed by my facilitator colleague Vince Corsaro and others:

  1. Pick the right meeting platform.
  2. Use the technology well, following established best practices.
  3. Reinforce security and confidentiality.
  4. Set norms that support a virtual format.
  5. Plan a shorter agenda focused on deep, connecting conversations.
  6. Consider scheduling “virtual coffees” outside of full group meetings to support each other in tough times.
  7. Get back together face-to-face as soon as you can.
  8. Create a private social media platform (e.g., Slack, WhatsApp) to support ongoing communication.
  9. Use shared, community building apps (like those available for Fitbit users) to monitor members’ health and fitness goals.
  10. Find other creative ways to connect such as a virtual “happy hour” or a designated day to post selfies on the group’s social media stream.

For more details and suggestions on each of these ideas, see Vince’s Google doc.

Forum in the age of coronavirus

Given the virus and offices closed down, should we cancel our monthly forum meeting or connect virtually?

How should we adapt our meeting to be most helpful to all of us?

How can forum help me stay calm and resilient in these challenging times?

These are the kind of questions forum members are asking in light of the escalating health and economic crisis caused by the coronavirus.  I suggest keeping in mind three simple messages.

We need forum now more than ever

Many of us have cancelled upcoming travel; others have had essential supply chains or product launches disrupted; and some are even questioning the financial viability of their businesses.  The months and years we have invested in building our forum’s bonds of trust and support can be a powerful source of strength while the world whirls around us.

At this fragile and uncertain time, we may question our competence, priorities, or decisions. We need a place where we can take off our masks, be vulnerable, and discuss what really matters.  Forum can be that safe port in this “viral storm.”   The worst decision right now could be to cancel your next forum meeting.

Virtual hugs can be (almost) as good as real hugs

Your forum can now meet only in a virtual mode. To do so, follow these best practices:

  • Meet in Zoom or on another platform which allows members to both see and hear each other.
  • Ask each member to be in a quiet, private space, sitting in front of their computer (preferred), or else using their tablet or phone.
  • To accommodate the virtual format, shorten your usual 3 or 4-hour meeting to 1.5 or 2 hours. This still allows time for updates and one full or two mini-presentations.
  • Start with an appropriate icebreaker: What strategy helps you be strong during tough times? What part of your life, family or business needs the most care right now? What leadership or relationship challenge has been exacerbated by the virus?

Embrace the spirit of the Buddist monk Thich Nhat Hanh and consider ending your meeting with a virtual “hug.” Close your eyes as the moderator invites each member to breathe three times consciously, thinking with those breaths: “I’m glad I’m here; I’m glad you’re here; I’m glad we’re here together.”

Stay flexible and be open to new possibilities

As the old saying goes, “people plan, and God laughs.”

We are blessed if we have a forum where we can be truly safe and known.  Now is the time to seek out that place where you can be “respected and cherished, protected, acknowledged, nurtured, encouraged and heard.”

Bob Halperin