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Telephone conference calls usually use audio conferencing technology to conduct a project meeting. Because this communication medium is relatively inexpensive, readily available and generally reliable, conference calls occur regularly for geographically dispersed teams. To optimize the experience for all participants, project managers should establish some meeting rules at the beginning of each project, such as keeping phones on mute when not speaking, using a headset rather than a speaker phone, and calling in promptly to every call to avoid wasting valuable time.
Project managers need to set an agenda, send out review documents or other project information in advance, and verify attendance at the beginning of each call. Limiting the agenda to one or two topics for a one hour call ensures all input can be accommodated. Acknowledging that the call may occur at an inconvenient time in some times zones creates an atmosphere of respect. Incorporating at least one of these 10 great ideas for conference call activities can help motivate the team and promote collaboration.
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1. Rotating Facilitation Duties
The project manager does not need to facilitate each meeting. By rotating that responsibility, each team member has a chance to play a leadership role and have an opportunity to have their voice heard as they lead the conference call activities.
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2. Using Icebreakers
Using icebreaker exercises on conference calls can help participants get to know each other better, before solving complex project problems. For example, the facilitator should ask all participants to close their eyes and imagine the days of week as colors to illustrate how powerful mental associations can be. He should choose one day and ask for a volunteer to speak up with his answer. The facilitator can then ask each of the remaining participants in turn what color they chose. A lively discussion should ensue.
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3. Making Introductions Interesting
When a new team member or guest speaker joins a meeting, the facilitator should ask him to state two truthful statements and one falsehood about himself. Participants on the call can each try to guess which statement is false. In the course of the lively discussion that typically ensues, participants learn more about the new member forging the way for fruitful collaboration.
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4. Conducting Breakout Sessions
Most audio conferencing systems support breakout sessions that allow participants to use a separate conference line to discuss issues with fewer participants. Using this capability, the conference call facilitator can pose a question, allow for small group discussion and then reconvene the entire group later at a set time. Small venues for discussions encourage everyone to participate fully and break up the monotony of a long conference call.
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5. Running a Poll
By asking for feedback during the meeting, the facilitator ensures that all participants agree with decisions made. Taking a break from the regular proceedings to confirm all participants recognize the topics discussed and their impact can prevent misunderstandings and confusion later.
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6. Conducting Virtual Brainstorming Sessions
Using conference calls activities to get input for solving complicated problems works well if each person contributes a solution or comment at the beginning of the call. Debate can follow. The facilitator needs to help the group reach a conclusion on the best course of action given the situation.
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7. Using Just Three Words
Constraining participants to using just three words in response to a question can serve as both a fun activity and functional tool for limiting verbose participants. The facilitator asks each participant for their answer using a particular order, such as alphabetically by the participant's last names.
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8. Using the Clock Metaphor to Guide Participation
Structuring participation allows everyone to have a chance to speak. The facilitator assigns each person an hour on the clock, depending on how many participants the conference call includes. The person with a “1” gets to speak first. That person speaks until the next person’s time arrives. For example, they can speak for five minutes until the “2” hour mark on the clock is reached. Sequencing participation in this manner ensures all participants have an equal chance to be heard.
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9. Playing a Trivia Game
Playing a trivia game during a conference call can serve as a break from more stressful conference call activities and also serve to reinforce knowledge and facts required to complete project tasks. The facilitator asks participants questions about the news, industry information or project facts. Participants speak up with a phrase such as "I know the answer" and wait to be recognized before giving the answer. The facilitator can keep score and provide small rewards for correct answers such as gift cards or coupons.
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10.Using Brain Teasers
Using brain teasers can help prepare a team for thinking critically about a problem. For example, the facilitator can ask all conference call participants to count the number of occurrences of the letter “f” in a sentence he speaks. Or, the facilitator can ask each participant to sit with his right foot off the floor and draw clockwise circles in the area. At the same time, each participant should draw the number six in the air. Typically, participants report their foot changes directions.
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Although project team meetings by conference call can limit the interaction somewhat, by incorporating at least one of these 10 great ideas for conference call activities, a project manager can enable his team to bond and forge productive working relationships. Supplementing audio conferencing with video conferencing and the occasional face-to-face meeting can also help build team synergy.
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References and Image Credit
- Image Credit: SBA Representative on the Phone Making Calls in Ohio (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:FEMA_-_33005_-_SBA_representative_on_the_phone_making_calls_in_Ohio.jpg)
- Image Credit: Make Conference Calls Fun - (http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/43928)
- Andrejev, Robert. Virtual Team Building Exercises: A Guide to Managing Human Resources Over Space and Time. Pittsburgh: Dorrance Publishing Co. Inc., 2006.
- "team building games, business games and activities for team building, training, management, motivation, kids activities and childrens party games.." Web. 2 Oct. 2010. <http://www.businessballs.com/teambuildinggames.htm>.
- "Virtual Teams (teams developed and/or operated over the Internet/Web)." Free Management Library (SM). Web. 2 Oct. 2010. <http://managementhelp.org/grp_skll/virtual/virtual.htm>.
- White, Nancy, and last updated 8/04. "Teleconference Call Facilitation Tips." Full Circle Associates: Nancy White. Web. 2 Oct. 2010. <http://www.fullcirc.com/community/telephonefacilitation.htm>.