Necessity is the mother of invention, right? Well, the pandemic may be the father. When we were slated to give our proprietary BrandLab workshop to a new nonprofit client, TerraCorps, we knew we’d have to invent. Fortunately for everyone involved, Microsoft Teams was up to the task of hosting this highly collaborative, deep-thinking event.
Microsoft Teams answers the workshop collaboration challenge.
The usual BrandLab is a 2-3 day in-person workshop in which we and our client build a shared understanding of the answers to these questions:
- Why do you exist?
- Who do you serve?
- How do you help them?
These are deep, rich conversations that we facilitate through a series of activities and exercises that allow for both individual and group work, interspersed with lots of laughter and serious thinking. In-person, our team of two presenters alternate talking and taking notes. Workshop participants also move around the room… a lot… in various small group activities.
How then, to recreate this deeply immersive, highly interactive experience online using Microsoft Teams?
Arriving at the same place…just via a different path
The challenge was not to replace or substitute pieces of a proven workshopping process, but to arrive at the shared brand understanding via a virtual path. We’ve conducted a number of these workshops in real life and understand the critical moments where fresh insights happen. Knowing this, we realized that we could adapt how we use Microsoft Teams and how we structure our workshops to deliver an experience on par with “in-person.”
Based on what we’ve learned, here are my top tips for a successful virtual workshop experience:
Virtual Workshop Tip #1: Get Prepared.
While this is definitely not a “virtual-only” tip, it is particularly important for the virtual world. In the physical world, our main mechanisms for communication are our voices and bodies. However, in the virtual world, we need to prepare and practice both the content of our activities and the way we deliver them.
For our BrandLab workshop, we built out a content outline, then a just a handful of PowerPoint slides (not too many or with too much information!). We set up tested the third-party tools we’d need (more on those later). Two days before the workshop, we did a dry run that included a few crisis scenarios like dropped Internet or participants who couldn’t access Teams for one reason or another.
Virtual Workshop Tip #2: Don’t Be Camera Shy.
People have become more comfortable appearing on video conference calls (hello, new normal). While we didn’t all have our video streams on 100% of the time during the BrandLab, we made sure everyone had their videos on at the beginning and ending of the workshop to create a sense of shared space.
Microsoft Teams has two very interesting recent additions to video sharing that we put to work. The first is the Together Mode, where all participants appear to be seated in a virtual auditorium, so it’s easier to imagine everyone…together. While it looks a little funny at first, we find creates a virtual shared space that is so necessary to deep, thoughtful collaboration.
The other tool is the customized background option. While Teams offers you a multitude of stock background options (on the moon, anyone?) to replace that basement room or bedroom closet door, you can also upload your own image. Explaining your choice of custom background is a natural, fun icebreaker.
Virtual Workshop Tip #3: Use Third Party Tools.
We used a couple important add-ons to help facilitate our virtual branding workshop.
Microsoft Forms allowed us to conduct snap polls and facilitated writing exercises. It was super-easy to prepare a form beforehand, paste the link in the Teams Meeting chat window, and then share a screen to track the results. If you set up the form so that entries are anonymous, you can share results safely with the group.
Miro Boards is essentially a white board with sticky notes (what’s a workshop without sticky notes?). Again, we were able to prepare these ahead of time and share them through the group chat. Bonus feature: You can save them for participants to return to as part of their post-workshop homework. Imagine not having to clean up at the end of the day AND being able to leave all the post-its on the walls of the conference room for days. That’s the virtual Miro Boards experience.
There are a handful of other tools you may also find useful:
- Microsoft Teams Whiteboard. You may find Microsoft’s version to suit your purposes just fine. Plus it’s integrated, so no need to go elsewhere for basic whiteboarding.
- Mural. For sticky notes and collaboration.
- Breakout Rooms. Okay, Microsoft hasn’t added those yet, but we created parallel meetings in Teams as a workaround.
Virtual Workshop Tip #4: Have fun!
Again, this advice is not limited to the virtual environment but especially important to it. Participants who are comfortable with in-person small group settings may not be comfortable in virtual workshops. Some people may not be fully comfortable with technology no matter what the context. And some may be trying to concentrate on the workshop while chaos reigns just offscreen.
Virtual Workshop Tip #5: Roll with it.
“Embrace the awkward.” That’s the advice—or perhaps more accurately the wisdom—of John Bwarie, CEO of L.A.-based community engagement consultancy Stratiscope. Having a good sense of humor and patience with the technology, your colleagues, and yourself goes a long way to making the workshop enjoyable for all.
Microsoft Teams is endlessly adaptable.
As our team adapts in-person events to the virtual world, we keep learning that Microsoft Teams can serve a lot of functions. We’ve been using Teams for three years now to collaborate around projects and department work. We’ve also been using it internally and with clients for meetings.
Our BrandLab with TerraCorps was the first full virtual workshop we’ve conducted in Microsoft. We just presented our first webinar in Teams—and we’re setting up a Webinar Series for the fall. And in under an hour (and with literally just a few clicks), our VP of Content Andy Peterson scripted, rehearsed, and recorded a video product pitch and mini-interview with a medical device entrepreneur, using Teams.
#UseTeamsBetter. Let us help.
Is your organization fully tapping into the capabilities of Microsoft Teams? Is your Teams structure streamlined and optimized? Do your Teams governance practices work for everyone?
We too often hear “no” when we ask organizations these questions. But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you’d like to talk about how to #UseTeamsBetter, just reach out anytime.