“Can we do this hybrid?” Almost every client with whom I talk about facilitating a meeting or workshop asks this question. Three-quarters of the time, I answer, “It’s possible. Let’s talk more about it.” We often decide that a hybrid session is possible with the proper design and planning, advanced preparation with the participants, and technology. For the rest of the time, it’s a hard NO.
By hybrid, I’m referring to a meeting, session, or workshop with participants in the room and others joining online, typically using Zoom or MS Teams.
Here’s a story about a recent situation for which I said, “No.”
A volunteer group has contracted me to facilitate an in-person session in their community to gain input from residents, politicians, and subject matter experts about a community issue. About 50 people are anticipated to attend. The session will run from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. The desired outcome is recommended actions to start to solve the community issue. The session is to be highly participatory, engaging, and combine hard work and great fun. We do not know if the participants are technologically savvy and do not have an easy way to find out. The facility is not equipped for technology beyond a few laptops being able to access WiFi. The community is in a rural area and Internet connection can be spotty at times. The group has a limited budget and cannot afford a second facilitator or specialized equipment.
When the question about hybrid format arose, I said, “No.” The complexity of design and technology to make this session work is not feasible. Achieving the outcome of the session could be jeopardized or hindered through the hybrid format. I suggested that we prepare for an in-person session and, in case Covid-19 restrictions intensify, we prepare for an online session. All agreed.
What are my current decision-making factors when I am asked about a hybrid format?
These are evolving as I facilitate and participate in more hybrid sessions. Since Covid started 18 months ago, I have facilitated three hybrid sessions: one with 9 people online and two in the room; one with 10 people in the room and 3 online; and one with 31 people in the room and 3 online. These are some of the questions I discuss with the client organization.
- What is the purpose of the session?
- What are the outcomes – concrete ones and experiential ones? (e.g. decisions and feelings)
- How easily will the group be able to achieve the purpose and outcomes with some in the room and some online?
- How much does achieving the purpose rely on equal and equitable involvement of each participant?
- What will we produce?
- What form will it take? (written report, a screen capture of data, graphic record, etc.)
- Would the products be different for those in the room and those online?
- Who is participating?
- How many will be in the room? Online?
- What are their roles and anticipated contributions?
- How experienced are they with technology? With online meetings and collaborative platforms?
- How easily will each person be heard and hear each other?
- How do you see the hybrid session occurring?
- How much of the session is a presentation?
- How much of the session is small group conversation?
- How much of the session is casual networking?
- How much of the session are plenary (entire group) discussions and decision-making?
- How much and often do you want participants to talk with each other? Work in small groups? Move around?
- What is the decision-making method: consensus, input and leader decides, voting, etc.?
- What do you think the “in the room” participants will experience? Online participants?
- What issues could arise?
- How reliable is the Internet connection?
- What equipment is available for audio-visual and technology?
- How well could all participants, in the room and online, see a presenter, a facilitator, and each other?
- What is the budget for the session?
- What is the budget for technology?
- What is the budget for co-facilitators and tech hosts?
What are your questions and factors to help you and a client decide if hybrid is a strong “yes”? I’d love to hear them. If you wish to discuss hybrid, in-person, and online sessions or other facilitation services, please contact me.