by Marsha Acker, CEO of TeamCatapult and author of “The Art & Science of Facilitation: How to Lead Effective Collaboration with Agile Teams“
Affective trust is the strongest and longest-lasting form of trust. It is built gradually as people get to know one another, and it’s crucial for effective and engaged teamwork—whether you’re meeting in person or online. It also takes active facilitation—someone who will help architect the right environment and help the team set new social norms that they agree to collectively uphold.
To have the greatest impact on making your virtual meetings more engaging, fun, and productive, start with these two norms:
Mute Button — “For Emergency Use Only”.
There is no greater way to catalyze better team connection than by asking people to be in a quiet place so they can be OFF Mute.
Why? Because hearing people laugh at a joke, sigh, or quickly ask a follow-up question creates connection. It provides instant feedback to the speaker so they feel acknowledged and heard. A collective, shared soundscape is often missing in virtual meetings — and it’s the cornerstone of building affective trust and better teamwork.
Tips to make it work:
1. Normalize the noises.
The dog barking in the background or the car passing by are part of daily life. Normalize these noises! Make it okay that they happen, as long as they are not continuous or overly disruptive. Use mute only if they do become distracting — and then rejoin the conversation when you can.
2. Embrace collisions.
When everyone is off mute, you will sometimes “collide” with one another — when two or more people speak at the same time. When collisions happen, just give it a moment for the speakers to sort out who will go first. Collisions not only empower the group to be responsible to each other, they increase the overall energy in the virtual room.
In a study by Forbes and Zoom, at least 81% of executives said they found that video conferencing could strengthen relationships, increase understanding, improve the quality of communication, improve team effectiveness, boost engagement, and promote deeper empathy and cooperation.
When it comes to building engagement and trust, it’s critical to be able to see one another. It’s the only way we can read the virtual room. When you pose a question and just get silence, video provides behavioral indicators about what’s happening for people. One team member might be addressing a child who needs something, another might be looking up or down in a thoughtful way. With video on, the team will have a better sense of how much space to leave one another for thinking, and no one will be sitting there wondering if they’re all alone.
Tips to make it work:
1. Be fully in or fully out.
We waste a lot of time by only showing up partially. When there is an imbalance in participation, it impacts everyone and lowers the quality of the group’s experience and conversation. Just like with in-person meetings, video on means you can see when team members are not responding. To avoid this, create a group norm to either be fully in or fully out. If you make a conscious decision to be fully out, get the summary notes after the meeting.
2. Just say ‘no’ to multitasking.
Oftentimes, video off is used by team members who are trying to multitask during meeting time — they just don’t want to be obvious about it. But the truth is, we can’t multitask, no matter what we may think. What we can do is “task switch.” And when we do, our tasks end up taking 40% longer to complete — and we’ve disconnected from the group conversation. If you need to write that email, you should skip the meeting and write the email.
To reap the benefits of a “video off” meeting culture, create a group norm that prioritizes presence and design meetings that encourage active engagement.
Preparing to lead behavior change.
Introducing new norms to your team can be challenging. Be prepared for people to push back, and take time to listen to everyone’s concerns. People have been trained that it’s rude to be off mute, and they don’t want to eat their lunch on video in front of everyone.
After you have really listened to the concerns, ask people if they would be willing to try it for one week knowing that it has the potential to make a positive and productive impact on the team. After the week, you can revisit the new norms and see how people feel.
This isn’t about making people do something they don’t want to do. It’s about making requests of people to try something new. It might be uncomfortable for people at first, but the result is better outcomes for the collective — better conversations, more voices being heard, higher productivity, and more positive engagement. Almost no teams will want to go back to the way they were working.
When meeting virtually, we can’t always avoid an unstable internet connection, but building team connection can be as easy as keeping your sound and your video on.
Marsha Acker is a professional facilitator and an executive and team coach with 25 years of experience supporting leaders as they tackle complex challenges and spearhead change in their organizations. The founder and CEO of TeamCatapult is author of “The Art & Science of Facilitation: How to Lead Effective Collaboration with Agile Teams“.