My choice – an eight hour drive on winter roads or facilitating a hybrid session online

I live in a cold winter climate. 

My choice this week was to drive an 8-hour round trip on snow-covered winter highways at 25C temperature and stay overnight OR facilitate for 7 hours online. With the support and agreement of three wonderful client organizations, we held the session online in a hybrid format. I was the only person online and nine people plus two tech hosts were in one room.

This approach was feasible because of the acceptance by clients of online technology. I have worked with these three organizations over the past five years. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the idea of doing anything online was not considered. No one had the technology or the understanding or willingness to use it. 

At the start of Covid, one of the organizations installed a phenomenal camera and microphone system, trained staff to operate it, and implemented online meetings as a normal part of doing their business. Currently, they regularly utilize the technology. When the weather and driving conditions turned for the worse, they readily agreed that I would facilitate the session online while they were in the room. 

What did we do?

I created a Zoom meeting and invited the client. The participants were at a large u-shaped table so I was able to see all of them. The tech host was able to have a full shot of the participants or zoom the camera in on each person or flipchart. Each person had an independent permanent microphone at their place at the table. The participants could see me displayed on three large screens strategically placed throughout the room.

I used a Mural board which was also displayed on the three large screens.

The participants could flash a red light when they wanted to talk as well as raise their hands. The committee chair called upon the participants which gave us a speaking order and allowed me to follow their conversation. 

I facilitated pair and share activities, small groups of three or four people, and large group conversations. We used a consensus card method (affinity clustering) with the small groups reading their ideas and I would type them on the Mural. They were able to carefully listen to each other and see the words being typed. I then facilitated a whole group conversation where they would direct me on clustering the ideas on the mural into similar themes. I typed their key comments and decisions directly onto the mural using text boxes.

The tech hosts and I had a backup plan to use flip charts in the room if the Mural was not clearly visible to the participants.. The seven hours flew by. We held regular breaks and brought in lunch. The participants commented on how well the hybrid format worked.

Why did it work? 

  1. The technology was effective. I have facilitated in similar situations with technology limited to the camera and mic on one laptop and it’s not very effective.
  2. The number of participants was small. Nine people were easy to see, hear, and move into small groups. My design would change if we were doing 20-plus people.
  3. The participants were willing and able to work within the hybrid format. We had held several 2-hour meetings in this arrangement and knew how to work together. The chair, the tech host, and I each had specific roles.
  4. I have facilitated the participants in person several times. They knew my approach and my style. They trusted that I would create an atmosphere and use a design that let them converse, exchange ideas, and make decisions.

One week earlier, when the temperature was a balmy minus 5°C and the roads were clear of snow, I wouldn’t have hesitated to drive to the community to run the session in person. I am grateful that we now have this option to go online and achieve the results that the participants want.

Read my earlier blog from June 2022 about one of the two-hour sessions with the three organizations in a hybrid format.

My choice – an eight hour drive on winter roads or facilitating a hybrid session online
Tagged on: