Virtual Teams

Eight top tips for running international meetings

"International arrivals"Most of the training programs I run on matrix, virtual and global working include participants from a range of different cultures, sometimes from all around the world. I’m also participant myself as most of my work is conducted outside UK – over 20 countries so far this year.

Having done this for many years I’ve developed a few principles about running international meetings that may be useful to people new to the field. Here are my top tips:

  1. Make the topics worthwhile: flying people to international meetings to sit and passively consume PowerPoint presentations is not a good use of their time. Meetings should be about creation of new ideas, working on real business issues, networking and community building. If you’re not doing these things then the meeting is probably not necessary. You could share your PowerPoint presentations by e-mail.
  2. Make sure the venue is suitable: natural light is critical the people crossing time zones to help them reset their body clocks. A room with only artificial light makes a huge difference to participation, concentration and satisfaction with meetings.
  3. Don’t fill your day too much: it’s tempting when you spend so much to get people together to stuff their day with content. However, what people most value from these meetings is usually the networking and one-on-one time in the evenings. Design your day accordingly, with long enough breaks for people to talk, buffets  rather than sit-down meals to encourage networking, and a range of activities designed to mix people up, to meet and work with all their colleagues.
  4. Set up the room for interaction with colour, space to move around and activities that allow people to move and participate. Use small groups to encourage interaction rather than sitting quietly in rows where people with less strong international English are less likely to participate.
  5. Look at flight alternatives from your major locations to the venue you are considering. Choose venues with direct flights wherever possible, as flight changes introduce significant delay and hassle.
  6. Be sensitive to Visa timelines: it can be slow to get all change visas from certain countries to certain others. Be aware of the hassle you create by moving locations at short notice,
  7. Take into account dietary and other religious differences. A vegetarian meal is not a standard mail with the meat left out. Religious strictures and deeply held personal preferences can restrict diets or introduce a requirement for prayer breaks, for example.
  8. If you meet in a really nice location, make sure you give people some opportunity to experience it. It’s easy to arrive at an airport, take a Mercedes taxi, stay in an international chain hotel, and never feel you were in the country. Always eat outside the Hotel, ideally at somewhere with local flavour. Allow some time for people to walk outside and see the sights. You can combine this with an opportunity for people to network and chat.

This time of year we often get calls saying “We’ve got a global meeting in two weeks’ time and we’re trying to think of some content, can you help?” Our first response is: “if you don’t have compelling content, then cancel the meeting.”

Why not….?

(Ed: This article originally appeared with the inaccurate title, ’10 top tips’.)


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