Episode 120: Making Online Meetings Work with John Monks

Are you sick of spending all day in front of your screen? The pandemic has completely changed how we interact with colleagues, clients, and patients. But love them or hate them, online meetings are here to stay. So it’s important to find ways to make them work and even improve them over face-to-face interactions.

John Monks joins us in this episode to discuss designing better online meetings and interactions. We clarify the difference between a meeting, a presentation, and a workshop. We also discuss creative ways to design online meetings that energise and infuse rather than drain and demotivate. And John shares some simple exercises on limits and boundaries that can radically improve our problem solving and creativity.

If you want to know how to make the most out of online meetings, stay tuned to this episode.

3 reasons to listen to the full episode:

  1. Learn the most effective ways to encourage participation in online meetings.
  2. Discover tips and exercises on how to make every minute of online workshops valuable.
  3. Understand the future of online and in-person work meetings.

Episode Highlights

[06:24] Online Meetings as a Norm

  • Digital interaction has become the norm for almost every organisation, including healthcare.
  • Online meetings can be more fun, efficient, sustainable, and turn people’s busyness into positivity and productivity.

[08:04] ‘What’s the point that somebody’s getting up, spending money, burning carbon, and going to sit in what’s basically a little kind of window lifts airless, almost like a coffin inside their office when they couldn’t be like, you and I are right now sitting in the comfort of their own home?’ – Click Here to Tweet This

[09:06] How John Began Improving Virtual Meetings

  • John trained as a coach around 15 years ago. Working as a consultant for organisations established his expertise in running workshops.
  • Curve offers workshops to help people do things they didn’t think possible.
  • Curve’s preexisting training on facilitating online discussions became their top-selling product from 2020 to 2021.
  • The experience made him realise that everything you could do in the room is also doable online.

[10:05] ‘ And what we do is: we help people to do what they may think to be impossible.’ —Click Here to Tweet This

[13:19] Recalibrating Curve’s Course about Facilitating Online

  • They discovered that many things were easy to execute in the online space.
  • Curve’s clients became more willing to try out new things during the pandemic.
  • Curve wants to help people understand that getting together at an online workshop can be joyful, creative, and productive.

[14:47] ‘You could bring a group of people together in a workshop for an hour or two hours or maybe even more, and you could solve a problem that could take a team of people months and months to not even get to the solution.’ —Click Here to Tweet This

[16:14] Different Forms of Online Meetings

  • They break down the notion of meeting into meetings, presentations, and workshops in the book Closer Apart.
  • Meetings are where people come together to make decisions and give updates.
  • Presentations are about disseminating new information.
  • Workshops are about solving problems or creating something new.
  • Understanding the differences between these forms is key to optimising them.

[20:19] Tips on Engaging People in Online Meetings

  • Research shows that diversity of opinion creates new solutions.
  • The earlier people speak in a meeting or workshop, the more likely they will contribute later on.
  • Regardless of the topic, there is a correlation between how equal the share of voices is to the outcome’s success.
  • A tip is to design an exercise right at the start of the workshop allowing everyone to talk. Another tip is to go around the online meeting.

[25:38] The Difficulty in Achieving Equal Participation

  • People tend to assume that the way they’ve always done things is the only way.
  • All it requires is training your mind. There’s nothing our technology doesn’t already have.
  • Acknowledge that we can get distracted from working on a device where every platform is. Then, give people tips on how not to feel bombarded with these.
  • Make sure that every minute of your meeting or workshop is valuable.

[25:59] ‘I would say nine out of 10, companies are still doing very uncreative, boring, non-participatory meetings, it’s a sense of like, we’re stuck in this world, there’s no way out.’ —Click Here to Tweet This

[28:29] Making Every Minute Valuable

  • There are a lot of excellent resources in Closer Apart and on Curve’s website.
  • One of Curve’s most powerful tools is its Remote Workshop Planning Canvas. It offers a way to design great workshops on a single sheet of paper.
  • One of the best things about running workshops online is the endless possibilities of exercises an online space can have.
  • The biggest pitfall is when you don’t structure the time very well.
  • Less is more. There is loads of evidence about the power of constraints to produce successful results.

[30:17] ‘I’m a great believer in the power of constraints to create, there’s loads of evidence for this as well. Reducing time, reducing resources actually sometimes gives you great outcomes. So I would kind of page or urge people to go a bit “less is more” in terms of how much time you give to something.’ —Click Here to Tweet This

[31:35] Setting Constraints

  • Typical workshops would have certain different parts to them.
  • Getting everybody’s voice into the room is key to creating fertile ground effectively.
  • You can divide work into multiple sections: vision, requirements, ideation, and closing.
  • Closing by assigning actions takes away the sense of momentum that a great workshop will create. Instead, close by urging people to reflect on the last piece.

[35:41] Failsafe Exercises for Engaging Interactions

  • The foundation of collaboration is trust between people.
  • Create exercises that generate mutual understanding as humans.
  • In the ‘Tell me more’ exercise, people get paired up to share about each other one-to-one. Then, they will draw the story they heard and share it with everyone.
  • Using illustrations moves the mind out of the black and white text where the work-life revolves.

[38:27] Exercises for Solving Problems and Issues

  • Problem-solving pieces and getting to good outcomes often lie in getting out of ruts.
  • One of the tools that can help people see problems from different perspectives is the exercise called Reframe by Kareem Benammar.
  • Closer Apart includes bonus video content on one-to-one conversations with experts in different fields.
  • Another exercise is the Five Whys, where you write down the problem and determine why it exists.
  • These exercises are straightforward and doable with what you already have.

[41:46] Deciding the Meeting Approach and Format

  • There’s a substantial beneficial overlap between facilitating and coaching. When coaching teams, Curve uses the GROW (goal, reality, option, will) model.
  • Be tight with your timing and stick to it.
  • Think about what you can do to manage people’s energy. Energy management is how people get way more done in a limited amount of time.
  • The key to making critical information stick is to design the meeting so that people engage with the content.

[42:05] ‘What’s your goal? What’s the reality? What are your options? And then what will you do if it was your way forward?’ —Click Here to Tweet This

[47:55] Making the Most Out of Breakout Rooms

  • The most significant risk of small breakout rooms is they can get sidetracked getting to know more about each other. You can address this by giving them a format to fill in.

[47:03] ‘I think the reality is that, you know, for adult life, the presentation format, from university kind of on into work life is just pretty bad. So how do you find ways to make it better?’ —Click Here to Tweet This

  • The sweet spot in terms of number for breakout groups is four or five. For small groups, it can get up to around eight.
  • In terms of collaboration technology, keep it as simple as possible.
  • The need for debriefing after breakout groups depends on the workshop’s purpose.

[52:11] Online versus In-Person

  • You can create an online experience parallel to everything you can do in person.
  • The goal of in-person meetings is now more about congregating than just doing work activities.

[56:52] Diversity and Inclusivity in Online Work Setups

  • The answer to including and making the best decisions for everyone is in the design.
  • There are some ways in which the online work setup is not as good for some people as others. But it’s easy to design them out.
  • Recording, transcriptions, live translations, and collaborative documents are a massive advantage of online meetings.

[59:53] John’s Top Three Tips for Getting Better Online Interactions

  • Walk, move, and get outside. You can do this collaboratively using online tools.
  • Focus on people’s energy.
  • Understand your participants.

About John

John Monks is the co-founder of the creative leadership company Curve. He’s an expert facilitator, team coach, and the author of the book Closer Apart. Through his work, John helps organisations innovate and transform to pivot and make the most out of the opportunities brought by digital technology. He is passionate about fostering creative leadership and assisting people in developing breakthrough ideas.

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Episode Transcript

But I’m a great believer in the power of constraints to create. There’s loads of evidence for this as well, like reducing time, reducing resources actually sometimes gives you great outcomes. I’ve seen many, many cases where a problem that people have been trying to solve if they’d had a two-hour meeting and just talked about it, they wouldn’t have got to the solution. But you could have an eight-minute exercise that’s got a set of steps that you go through, and you can get to the solution. And I think that often people don’t see how much potential there is there in their people and they think that adding more time helps. And often it is the opposite–it slows it down, it makes it feel like a drag, and at the end, you may not even get to where you need to get to, from I truly believe if humanity could solve the problem of bad meeting the bane of many people’s lives. This is world-changing.

Rachel Morris: Are you sick of the sight of your screen? Would you gladly not spend another minute in a virtual meeting, if you can help it? Yet you know they’re so convenient that some of your meetings and interactions are never going to go back to the way they were before COVID? Can you see the potential benefits of the new ways of virtual and hybrid working, but you’re sick of being stuck in meetings where most people have their cameras off. And you know they’re just taking the time to catch up on their emails rather than do the difficult work of making decisions, building relationships, or just getting things done? Love them or hate them, virtual meetings are here to stay. Even if you’re back seeing patients or clients face to face.

During the pandemic, we realised just how convenient, effective and time saving virtual meetings can actually be. Why is it that we’re longing for the days when face to face meetings were the norm rather than the exception? And how can we make virtual interactions and meetings as good as or maybe even better than face to face interactions?

In this episode, I’m joined by John Monks, a facilitator, team coach and author of a new book all about how to design better online meetings and interactions. He strongly believes in the power of good online meetings, and actually thinks they can be designed to be even more effective in some instances, then getting together face to face.

Let’s face it, most of our meetings are badly run, and are massive timesucks. But by spending just a few minutes before the meeting thinking about what type of meeting it is, who’s going to be there, and what you want to achieve, you can design an experience which is way better for everyone.

In healthcare, we urgently need to spend more time building good relationships and reducing the isolation which can come through working on the frontline in this post COVID world. And we need better team meetings where we can support each other and solve the wicked problems of workload, stress and burnout. This episode might just help you do both.

Listen if you want to know the difference between a meeting, a presentation and a workshop and why we get this so wrong. How to design an online interactional meeting which energises and infuses rather than drains and demotivates. And why giving people simple exercises with limits and boundaries in meetings can improve problem solving and creativity.

Welcome to You Are Not A Frog, the podcast for doctors and busy professionals in healthcare and other high-stress jobs—if you want to beat burnout and work happier. I’m Dr Rachel Morris, a former GP now working as a coach, speaker, and specialist in resilience at work. Like frogs in a pan of slowly boiling water, many of us have found that exhaustion and stress are slowly becoming the norm. But you are not a frog. You don’t have to choose between burning out or getting out.

In this podcast, I’ll be talking to friends, colleagues, and experts—all who have an interesting take on this and inviting you to make a deliberate choice about how you will live and work. Before we get to the episode, I wanted to mention that in June, we’re reopening the doors to the Resilient Team Academy, a membership for busy leaders in healthcare who want to support their teams’ resilience, wellbeing, and productivity without burning out themselves.

We know that for many leaders, escalating workload and staff shortages mean that you and your team are feeling increasingly overwhelmed and one crisis away from not coping. The Resilient Team Academy helps you to get a happy and thriving team by teaching you to use the Shapes Toolkit to support your colleagues, giving you all the resources you need. From monthly live webinars, which you can also catch up with on demand, to bite size videos, short team resilience building activities that are already done for you, and much more.

We already have several PCNs, training hubs, NHS Trusts and other healthcare organisations signed up. If you want to find out more about our special discounted packages for PCNs and other organisations, then do check out the link below in the show notes. Now on with the episode.

It’s fantastic to have with me on the podcast, John Monks. Now John is a facilitator–he’s a team coach is the founder of the creative leadership company called Curve, and he’s also the author of a book called Closer Apart, which is about designing and facilitating better workshops online. Something we all need, John.

John Monks: Absolutely.

Rachel: So it’s brilliant to have you here. The reason I thought it’d be really good to have you on the podcast is not all of my listeners are having to design and run workshops online. But almost everybody is in meetings, almost everyone is now having to do virtual meetings. Even if we’re back at work with our colleagues face to face, seeing patients face to face, seeing clients face to face, a lot of us are still got this hybrid next thing—patients on the phone or by video. And often our meetings now are around via Zoom or Teams or whatever. And that seems to be the norm for many people. You finding that in other organisations, not just healthcare?

John: Yeah, absolutely. I’m finding in basically every organisation, even ones like healthcare where there is quite a lot of face to face work, which happens. The norm, I think, for many of the kind of busy stressed people that listen to your podcast is there are an awful lot of Teams and Zoom and Hangouts meetings. And one of the things I think contributes to that busyness is the sensation of looking at your Outlook, or your Google Calendar. And finally, there’s no windows in between. Either you’re face to face consultations, which many of your audience have, but for many of the professionals I work with, it’s literally all meetings. And one of the things that is even more interesting, and an even greater opportunity for us to think about now is this hybrid world, where you get the be an extraordinary situation where people travel, go into the office and then plug into a computer and plug in their headphones and dial into a meeting as though they weren’t in the office.

There’s things which have been discovered through the unfortunate period of the lockdown that I think is the foundation for what I believe very strongly is like the future of how people get together online to do stuff that is more fun, more efficient, more sustainable, and actually just gets the busyness into something which is positive.

Rachel: It’s interesting. I was meeting a colleague for lunch yesterday and in their office area there’s lots of different offices and they’re all these new little pods being put up. So you can see all these people sat in there with headphones, just like we are sat here now recording the podcast and headphones talking to people, they’re in the office. But that’s still online.

John: And isn’t that crazy? What’s the point that somebody’s getting up, spending money, burning carbon, and going to sit in what’s basically a little kind of windowless airless, almost like a coffin inside their office when they couldn’t be like, you and I are right now sitting in the comfort of their own home with the kettle downstairs and you’ve got benefits there. And that’s before you think about the kinds of situations where people have got maybe an accessibility need that they have to contend with or they’ve got carrying responsibility.

Rachel: In a minute, I’d love to ask you that sort of office versus homes dilemma. Because it is a real dilemma. There’s, there’s absolute benefits to both. Obviously, a lot of my listeners don’t have any choice, you can’t actually perform an operation at home. Actually, I say that you probably could if the patient was there, and you had a robot, but at the moment, most of us have to actually see our patients do any practical procedures. But first of all, John, I’m really interested in how you got into all of this. How did you get into looking at virtual meetings and virtual workshops and thinking actually, ‘we could improve this.’

John: So if I kind of wind back through the journey of my life I, like you, I’m a coach. I actually kind of fell into coaching as something that I observed I was doing anyway through my job in the same way. So I trained as a coach maybe 15 years ago or so. And I’d be working as a change management consultant or working in organisations, some in healthcare, some in kind of public sector, like police in big private sector organisations like Coke. And in those, I was running a lot of workshops as a way to understand what people needed. And the two of those things came together in the last few years thinking well actually, there’s something about this intersection of bringing people together and using coaching techniques which are at the heart of them, help people understand what they can do, and give them the confidence to then go and do it.

So I’ve put these two ideas together to form Curve, which is my creative leadership company. And what we do is we help people to do what they may think to be impossible. We do that through running workshops and coaching teams. If I kind of went back to 2018-2019, we’d been doing almost all of our work face to face, going into meeting rooms, going around the world, bringing people together to normally come up with ideas or solve problems. So creating visions, creating strategies, dealing with problems that they had. And we’d started to do quite a bit of work online. But it was really seen as the only if you have to it was very much the second-best situation.

And we encountered an awful lot of that it’s not really possible, you can’t do online, what you could do in the room, like you can’t get the watercooler moments, it’s impossible to really connect, you can’t co-create effectively. That was the narrative that was going around lots of what’s not possible thinking, which grated on me as a coach, because I believe anything is possible. If we as human beings put our minds to it we can do incredible things. So come the start of the pandemic, when everyone locked down all of those, what’s not possible was just blown apart. Turned out that it was possible that all of it was sufficient in a situation where you couldn’t say, ‘Well, we have to get together in person.’

People found ways to do it. It kind of—it was a brilliant unlocking of possibility at that moment. And a product that we’d already created, which was training people to facilitate online, which had been really very rarely taken up by people because they thought, ‘Well, why would you bother?’ Suddenly became our top-selling blockbuster product, because everybody wants to do. So that was the journey that took me to facilitating online. And then through that period, 2020 2021, what came apparent to me was that not only could you do everything that you and I mean, everything, like literally everything you could do in the room, you can do online.

All of that stuff that people thought isn’t possible, is you can arrange to eat together, if you wish, you can arrange to have sidebar conversations, if you wish. All of that with preparation and planning is doable. So what that journey did was get me to the point of this is a huge opportunity moment for humanity, actually, to be able to truly bring people together to come up with new ideas and solve problems. And what more pressing need to solve problems was the pandemic. So we, at that point, Lizzy, my business partner, and I said, ‘Well, yeah, we know all of this stuff, what can we do to get it to as many people as possible?’ And that was the start of writing Closer Apart.

Rachel: Was that, like you said, loads of advantages of the online environment? I think loads of disadvantages as well, I think we’ll get back to that in a minute. Did anything change in what you were teaching in your course about facilitating online? So you already had that, that there in your back pocket and people were using a little bit before the pandemic? What did you realise and learn during the pandemic that might have changed what you were teaching?

John: Yeah, well, it was a lot of things that were always possible. But we discovered we’re actually pretty easy. So if you remember the last time that you and I spoke, both of us were out walking, you were able to get into nature. That’s, I’m a true believer, that is a great way to stimulate your creativity. But it’s also a super way to relieve stress. And think about the platform we’re on right now, or Teams or Zoom or, or even just a WhatsApp call all of this exists on your phone. There’s absolutely no reason you couldn’t get a group of people together online. And we’ll go for a walk. So I suppose what changed was an opening up a possibility, a willingness on the part of our clients to try things that that maybe they wouldn’t have tried before.

And then something that I know that you’re really, really interested in is how do we stay sane? Like how do we have a work-life that stays in balance? And what we wanted to do was to really kind of help people understand that these moments where you get people together, to do something together what we call a workshop, but many people would call a meeting. Those can be the moments which are joyful, that super creative, where actually the relationship between the time you put in and the output you create is massively out of correlation. So it’s not like you sit down for an hour or you do an hour’s work.

You could bring a group of people together in a workshop for an hour or two hours or maybe even more, and you could solve a problem that could take a team of people months and months to not even get to the solution for because that the ability of the hive mind of people working together in a carefully designed way, is extraordinary. It’s really absolutely brilliant to see it happen. And I think most people, when they experience for themselves, they come back at the end of the day and go, ‘That was amazing. I just couldn’t believe that what we did today was even possible.’

Rachel: It’s interesting you say that because I think the problem with a lot of our meetings in healthcare is they’re actually held for the wrong reasons. And if I’m thinking of doctors getting together for a practice meeting, or maybe a departmental meeting, it tends to be massive meeting, maybe some departments, 30 consultants there, or some practices, you might have five partners, four salary doctors, a couple of admin staff, the practice manager, the senior nurse, et cetera. And people just give lots of information, half the people sit there with their cameras off eating their lunch during their paperwork, and it just feels like a waste of time, because it’s purely a sort of information giving meeting and people feel they can’t interact or say anything. And so that sounds very different from that interactive hive mind problem-solving thing that you were just talking about.

John: Yeah, absolutely. One of the things that we do in the book is help people understand what the different forms of meeting are. So the word meeting covers a plethora of different things. But we break it down into meeting, presentation, and workshop, as a way to help people understand what outcome they want to create. So what will be happening, I imagine for a lot of your listeners is they’ve got a mix of those things happening. We say that a meeting is where people come together to kind of make decisions, give updates. So that’s you’re talking about the practice meetings, a lot of that will be that kind of quick updates meetings. There’s presentation; that’s ‘Okay, we’ve got maybe it’s a new regulation that’s coming in or something that’s been given to you, and it has to be disseminated.’ So that form we call presentation.

And then the third one where you’re solving a problem or creating something new that for us is a workshop. And what we hope to do is, as people can understand what the different things are, they can understand how to best do each different part. So for example, a lot of that presentation material that could simply be emailed could be a recorded offline video that people watch on their phone, there’s no need for people to get together to watch a presentation. If there’s a decision. Again, a lot of these things can be broken down and done in different forms online. Maybe in a Slack channel or in a Teams group. So that you can squeeze down the amount of time where people come together for things that actually aren’t super high value or could be done a different way. The huge benefit I think for all of us when you do that is you free up time to do something else to reduce the load. Understanding where the edges of the different forms are. And kind of being quite clear which one you’re doing is actually one of the things is generally one of the bigger holes for people go through our training course or for those people reading the book.

Rachel: I think that is so helpful. I think most of the meetings we have in healthcare are either meetings or presentations. And I guess possibly thinking ‘Oh we just need to completely get rid of them’, like you said, have discussions on WhatsApp or maybe more official Teams channels or things like that. And presentations, absolutely record it, record a podcast, record a video, just record a slideshow, sends it out. But then the other half of me saying, ‘If you never had meetings to do that people would literally never interact with each other at all.’ Because I think I could get all the things, on one hand, the amount of actual proper workshops that you did within a year, say the GP surgery to try and solve the problems. All the meetings we had were presentations, just an update, there was no time to solve the problems. But actually, like you said, that is where the gold occurs, presumably that’s where the connections occur, the relationships build up and that’s where the magic happens.

John: Yeah. Tell me a little bit, Rachel about your experience of those meetings online. Like what did they feel like for you?

Rachel: It’s interesting, I think, some meetings that I’ve been in, and the sort of information giving me since you’ve got lots of people there. A lot of people have their camera on there’s a bit of sort of banter at the beginning between maybe two or three people, everyone else sitting there being a little bit awkward, not quite sure what to do, but everyone’s gone ‘Okay, well, we know that it’s really important for five minutes to be there so we can connect.’ But maybe only a few people do and it’s all very superficial. And someone comes on, does a presentation, maybe share some slides, and a few people who ask for their input then there’s deathly silence before one or two brave people put their cameras on, offer a bit of opinion.

There might be a little a few little subversive comments in the chat. And then the person has to get things out of crumbs, I can’t go into time or whatever and makes a quick decision and goes and everyone thinks, oh, that was a bit of a waste of time. And you know what there was Bruce over there in the corner, ‘I really wanted to catch up with him. I haven’t seen him for ages. I wonder how he’s doing. And we didn’t get to that thing that we really needed to talk about.’ So that has been my experience of a lot of the meetings I’ve been at.

John: Yeah. So common that’s what we hear from literally hundreds and hundreds of people that we work with. These, ‘They’re boring, they drag. People aren’t really paying attention, they’re doing something else, then looking at their email.’ You get this, also the imbalance of participation. As you say, most people don’t participate, but some people will, and they may dominate. Interestingly, that’s less present online than in the room, the dominant personality appears to be less of a thing, but the not really present, not really interacting is a really big one. For me when these things are run really well like it’s completely different. Like it can be an experience that is truly memorable, or like going to an amazing concert. Like ‘I felt great at that workshop because it was designed really well.’

We would we give lots of tips in the book as to how to ensure that people participate.How to make it easy for them how to split people into groups, how to share the voice. It’s really, really important when we’re thinking about inclusivity. How do you make sure that all the voices get heard, and they all get equal input, especially when you’re solving problems? One of the interesting things is a lot of research that backs this up is that it’s the diversity of opinions that comes up with new and interesting solutions. So if you get the same old group of in many of my clients, you know, quite senior men that are giving their opinions, what you’re not getting is the diversity of thought that actually is going to be the key to something genuinely valuable.

Rachel: I think that’s such a good point. And that is something I’ve always wanted. What would your top tips be for getting everybody’s voice heard? When you’re brainstorming something or solving a problem, you know, genuinely hearing people and encouraging people to speak?

John: I mean, there are a lot and the book has got a lot of tips for this. But one of the simplest, I think is around how early people speak. There’s a brilliant writer, Professor Alex Pentland, who wrote a book called Social Physics really, really interesting. And he talks about how the earlier people speak in a meeting or a workshop, the more likely it is for them to contribute later on. And also, the images correlate that participation, how equal is the voice to how successful is the outcome, regardless of the topic, the more equal the share of voice between people, the more likely you’re going to have a successful outcome. Really, really interesting, really well backed up by research on this and just John’s hunch, it’s a well-known fact.

An easy way to do that is to design an exercise right at the start of the workshop where everybody gets, even if it’s only a few seconds to talk, they all get to talk. In a meeting of say, 10, like your practice meeting you are describing that’s, that’s pretty easy. You could have a simple question like, what do you have for breakfast? Or, what can you see out of your window? I like to steer away from the work-ey stuff because that comes later. Something that just gets everybody’s voice heard. If you’ve got a much bigger group, and one of the huge benefits of online is, I could run a workshop of 500 people in a few minutes time if we had their email addresses.

Of course, 500 people speaking, that’s gonna take a lot of time. But you can have the same effects by breaking people into groups of 10. And getting them to share their voice in a circle. So there are little tricks, which create a sense of participation from people early on, that then get them to contribute. That would be one. Another one, which is, again, super straightforward, which is literally just going around the room. And it’s brilliant, so easy to do on Zoom, or Teams, because you see people in an order their name is written underneath them, it’s a lot easier than it might be in a physical room where maybe somebody’s standing at the back and you were introduced a few months ago, but you’ve kind of forgotten whether they’re Rachel or Rebecca or something else. Those would be two tips, but there are lots of ways that you can get people to engage. And I think when people come away from meetings and workshops and feel like they have been able to participate and they have learned something or contributed something, that’s when they think, ‘That was worth my time. I loved that.’

Rachel: Right. So the first one, the first stock tip is to get people to speak really early. So if you’re in a smallish group, you can do that. 20 seconds what can you say out your window? What they do for breakfast or something like that? Or if it’s a really big group, breakout rooms, get them in there, get them to do that just for a couple of minutes and bring them back. How else can you encourage participation? I say, I’m learning a lot here because I run a lot of workshops on Zoom. And how you achieve equal participation is—and I think the problem for me is that when people aren’t participating, you think that they don’t want to, and it’s very hard to read their body language. But I think that often they do want to, but they just don’t want to be impolite, or they don’t want to jump in when they’re not, or they’re not sure how to. I don’t know if that’s right or not, in your experience.

John: I think it is. And I think the other thing that’s happened is that people have just assumed that the way that they’re doing things now, that’s the way. And I would say even in we were with a lot of creative industries, as well. Advertising, marketing companies were there, their stock and trade is ideas. Today, of course, this is super important to them, because it’s what they do. But even in that industry, I would say nine out of ten companies are still doing very uncreative, boring, non-participatory meetings. It’s a sense of like, we’re stuck in this world, there’s no way out. The reality is all it requires is training your mind. There’s no change in the technology needed, there’s nothing that they don’t already have. That’s where the coach in me is kind of crying out to say, ‘You can do better, you can do it.’

And in Curve, our kind of mantra is. ‘We are enough.’ And we mean that as like we as individuals were enough to solve our own problems. We as teams and organisations, we can sort out our challenges. And we as humanity, I think this is really exciting when we as humanity can solve the challenges—the big challenges we have in front of us: climate change, pandemic, etcetera, etcetera. If we can effectively bring our minds together and create that circumstance. So to go back to your question, like other ways to get participation, I think is breaking out of the norms. And one which comes up again, and again, and I think you referred to it already is being distracted. And my tip for that is, just acknowledge that it’s true for you.

One of the things about doing a workshop or a meeting online is, you’re necessarily doing it on the same device that you do your email, and your WhatsApp and your Slack channels and all of this other stuff, which is not only is it there but remember that these companies have spent literally billions of dollars, ensuring that you’re distracted by them. Every individual you meet anybody else, we’re fighting a losing battle. Just acknowledge that upfront and then just give people some tips like it’s helpful if you close all the other browser windows, turn your email off, put your phone on silent, or do not disturb. Just giving people tips or not making it feel like it’s train full, we’re all being bombarded with things that demand our attention, especially if you’re in a busy high stress job, which many if not all of your listeners are. A: acknowledge and then B: just make sure that every minute of your meeting in your workshop is valuable. Because if it is, you’re not going to get distracted, because you’re engaged.

Rachel: That’s the golden question, isn’t it? How do you make sure that every single minute of your workshop is valuable?

John: Yeah, well, we’ve got some great resources. In the book, of course, also on our website, and I’ll share the link in the show notes. We’ve got some tools, and one of the most powerful tools is what we call the Remote Workshop Planning Canvas. So it’s a way to on a single sheet of paper map out what’s the purpose of your workshop? Like why do you need to do it? What’s the vision for it? So in a perfect world, what will it achieve? It spends time thinking about the participants often people don’t think about the participants like how are they feeling? How are they behaving? What they thinking?

It’s very different to design for a group of people who will be brimming with ideas and really want to contribute to a group of people who are really annoyed, drains resistant to change. Both of those, you can design really great workshops, but you design them very differently. And then it has a way to break out the outcome that you want to create into a number of different, kind of, segments. And then below that for each of those great exercises. One of the brilliant things about running workshops online is there are literally millions of exercises, you just need to type it into Google. You don’t need to go on an MBA course or buy anything. It’s there, it’s free. So come up with exercises that get you to where you want to go to.

And then probably one of the biggest pitfalls, pitfall one is, people don’t structure the time very well and like, ‘It’s okay, we’re gonna get together for a meeting for an hour.’ Got a vague idea of the things we want to run through that we haven’t really thought about how we balanced the time. And as you said earlier, often you may run out of time because you haven’t time-boxed it. But I’m a great believer in the power of constraints to create. There’s loads of evidence for this as well, like reducing time, reducing resources actually sometimes gives you great outcomes. I would kind of urge people to go a bit less is more in terms of how much time you give to something.

I’ve seen many, many cases where a problem that people have been trying to solve, if they’d had a two-hour meeting and just talked about it, they wouldn’t have got to the solution. But you could have an eight-minute exercise that’s got a set of steps that you go through, and you can get the solution. And I think that often people don’t see how much potential there is in their people. And they think that adding more time helps. And often it is the opposite. It slows it down, it makes it feel like a drag, and in the end, you may not even get to where you need to get to.

Rachel: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So if you think you’ve got sort of 20 minutes to discuss something, then you can get someone who starts off in a very long story. If you know you’ve got two minutes against the outcome, you’re gonna get straight down to it, aren’t you? So I think that’s really interesting about giving people constraints, presumably giving people very specific tasks as well as importance.

John: Yeah, absolutely. So, a typical workshop for us would have certain different parts to it. So it’ll have that welcoming connection. So do the piece that I was speaking about just now of getting everybody’s voice into the room, it’s not going to be focused on the topic, it’s there to create the fertile ground effectively. Then you’ve got a number of pieces, which are like do the workpieces. And you can break those down, understand what is it we need to do in section one is come up with a vision, section two is understand the requirements, section three is ideate. See, these are the kinds of things that maybe would be in a workshop? And then the final piece would be, how do you close. One of the tips we give is to not close with assigning actions, it’s typically the way people will close meetings and workshops, it feels like the right thing to do.

But often it’s, it’s an energy drag. It’s like ‘ugh’ and it’s like it can take away that sense of momentum that the every great workshop will create. So great, definitely find places to make sure you know who’s doing what, but don’t do that as the final piece. What we would recommend is that the people reflect in what the last piece is, how was that? What one thing can I do to take this forward is something that’s anchoring the experience of the workshop, as opposed to turning it into the grind work, which typically is also like, ‘Oh, I’ve already got 1000 things on my to-do list and now I’ve got another 10.’

Rachel: I can see how that would be really helpful. And as you’re talking throughout, it’s really interesting. You keep talking about ‘workshop workshop workshop’, and I’m thinking ‘meeting meeting meeting’, but actually, it’s getting that mindset. I think of thinking of your meetings as workshops, because then why are you having them?

John: Yeah and almost all of these tools, like they work for every meeting. So in a meeting, you also want people engaged, you also want them to have that energy, you also want it to contribute to healthy work-life. All of these things they shouldn’t be, in my mind, reserved for the special meetings. You can think about them for every meeting and thinking about Curve that’s what we do in our weekly team meetings. The first thing we do every week is somebody tries a new exercise, it’s the very first thing. So it’s a little bit of a playground for us. It helps us to learn, it’s great. And then we go into the necessary pieces of so what’s on this week, and which clients we work for and what problems we got, how do we solve them?

We do a lot of that thinking about how do we shift every meeting to be better, and I truly believe if humanity could solve the problem of bad meetings, this is like, world-changing. This isn’t a little things, the bane of many people’s lives.

Rachel: Yeah, totally. I don’t know if you’ve had a look at the YouTube video about meeting acceptance syndrome, which is this guy talking about the fact that you would never let someone come in and steal your laptop or steal your office chair, but we let people come in and steal vast swathes of our time by inviting us to meetings which have no agenda, you don’t know why they’re there and they’re completely pointless life.

John: I saw that. Absolutely.

Rachel: That I thought ages ago and it really makes me laugh every time I watch it. It’s just so that’s interesting. and I wonder if some of my listeners are thinking, ‘Okay, well, it’s all right for them.’ They are a creative agency, they work with creatives and all that. How is this going to work when I’m on my local PCN meeting, where the PCN interacts with the manager trying to engage us all?’ There’s lots of people from different practices and often it’s just them giving a bit of information and nobody talking when there are loads of issues we really need to discuss. Do you have any go-to exercises that are pretty failsafe that you find work across the board with people?

John: So the foundation, I think, for people collaborating well, and I guess this is why you would want to bring any of these people together, it’s not a party it’s there in the context of your work, want to get your job done, whatever that job may be. The foundation for doing that is trust between people. And trust, I know, comes from understanding. So I would say, one of the things to do, and it’s very, very easy is to create exercises that generate even a very small piece of understanding of each other as humans. So an exercise we really love is called ‘Tell Me More.’ We put people into pairs, so we pair them, or when in breakout rooms of two on the platform, they’ll get a minute each to share. And there’s all kinds of prompt questions. But my favourite is just something surprising or interesting about you.

Gives them a minute each a very short amount of time. We’ve got a little bit of sharing going on between people, obviously, just one to one. And then what we do is we get people to come back and just draw the story they heard. And they typically do that on a post-it and over a scrap of paper by their desk. And then we ask them to show it to the screen. Few reasons for that. One is it moves the mind out of this—it’s black. And while it’s text, that’s where most people’s work lives are, including all of your health care professionals where even though they’re seeing patients, of course. Then the notes are on the computer, the email, it’s on the computer, a presentation is in PowerPoint.

We break out of that language. Super, super powerful, especially if the group is got different languages. If they’re not all English native speakers, then actually doing something drawing is good and it’s fun. That for me is, it’s done a few things all in one go. It’s got one to one connection, so you know that somebody else in the room knows a little bit more about you. It’s breaking you out of the kind of heavy workspace. Is done something, again, we give a minute for the drawing. So typically everyone’s going to get ‘I can’t draw.’ And the reality is everybody can’t draw like, they may think they’re not great. But we know that we give one minute to draw to a brilliant designer in a creative agency is not really any better than you and me.

Rachel: Yeah, that’s a great exercise. So that will really help build trust. What are your go to exercises for discussing and solving problems and issues?

John: There’s lots and lots of these exercises, there’s just so many on the internet. So I think that often the problem-solving pieces is that the nub of doing something differently is and getting to a good outcome is getting out of ruts. So typically, when people are trying to solve a problem, they come up with solutions they’ve tried before. It’s not new, it’s not different, it’s kind of known to be problematic. And it always brings to mind that the definition of crazy being doing the same thing over and over and expecting something different to occur. So we’ve got a number of tools, which help people to see the problems from different perspectives. One of my favourites, is one called Reframe. And actually, in the book, we’ve got a lot of bonus video content, which is one to one conversations with experts in particular fields.

And one of those is a brilliant philosopher called Karim Benammar, who invented this exercise called Reframe. And it is a relatively straightforward exercise that helps you to see your problem from a different perspective and as a result, come up with new ideas. That’s one of many. There’s another one which is great, which is literally the called the Five Whys so you just find your problem, you write it down and then it’s why does this exist? Why does that exist? Why does that only literally just push it so what I’d encourage people to do is to think well, how do I break out of what I ordinarily would think maybe that’s bringing different people into the workshop, I’ve got a different perspective. Maybe it’s using tools that help the same people who’ve asked the same question before, do it in a different way.

Rachel: I love the Five Whys, very, very simple, isn’t it? Why is that? Okay, why is that one? I think we’ve mentioned it on the podcast before. And then presumably, you just go to each of those why’s that you’ve got and go? Well, is there a different solution that you can have for each one of these?

John: Absolutely. And what you say that Rachel, I think is really important to underline, like this exercise, like so many of them is really simple. And what we wanted to do in writing Closer Apart was to kind of give these skills to everybody. So it is really interesting, to me, it’s a great parallel to some of your previous podcast guests, where you’re talking about coaching, and how everybody can do it like everybody can coach each other and coach themselves, you don’t have to go on a long training course. And we were all doing the same thing with how to run break meetings and great workshops. It’s not, you don’t need the magician, or at some, you know, super experts that are tied to like me or my team. Everybody can do this, they can all do it with what they have. They don’t need anything, probably more than what they already have.

Rachel: Interesting you say that about coaching. And I’d be interested to know what you think about this, because I have heard about really good meetings being run as a coaching exercise. What are we trying to achieve here, then? What’s the actual problem? And then, okay, what potential solutions are there? And then, okay, what are we going to do? And, and seeing it like that? And it would you advocate, that sort of approach as well?

John: Yeah, very much. It’s not by accident, that Curve does two things — facilitate and coach teams — so because we see that they, you know, they’ve got huge beneficial overlap with one another. The model that we use when we’re coaching teams is you’ll know very well, the most simple GROW Model. So what’s your goal? What’s the reality? What are your options? And then what will you do if it was your way forward? So very often, all of our workshops is designed around that flow.

Rachel: I’ve just got a few sort of practical questions because I’m thinking a lot of the listeners won’t be having these super long workshops don’t have two hours to do meetings, they’ll often have an hour. And you’ve got to probably fit a meeting a presentation and a workshop in that hour. And I think typically, probably, it just started meeting with ‘Okay, here’s the agenda, here’s what we’re going to talk about, here’s the items.’ And then you get to the ones for discussion and decision right at the end, when people have got two minutes left and actually, that was probably the one that was the most important or needed the most interaction. Do you recommend that use it and mix it up? And maybe even start with the decision discussion piece at the beginning? Was there anything that you’d recommend?

John: Yeah, I think so. I think they can, as we said, right, at the start understand what’s what. So is an update, like, how is that going to be done? Could it be done outside of the meeting? It’s always a good question. Then I think you really want to be thinking, well, what’s the most important outcome for this meeting and make sure that that has, it’s a high up enough on the agenda. Then I would say, be tight with your timings and stick to them. We use timers a lot. I think timers are brilliant people, are very open to being told, whilst you’ve got a minute or two minutes to feedback.

And then I set a timer on my phone, or maybe on the collaboration platform that we’re using. And actually, it turns out that people who thought they needed 10 minutes, they’re brilliant at doing it. And it also means that they’re, it’s more concise. So be thoughtful about how much time you give something. So be realistic, make sure that you think about what less rather than more so kind of squeezed the timings but then help people to stick to them with some time minutes. So I would do that. And then the other thing that’s related, so we haven’t really touched on this, but there’s a big section in the book on energy.

For me, this is at the heart of how people can mean that they get way more done in a certain amount of time than grinding through. I’m sure everybody listening has had moments in which they have powered through work, and they’ve just gotten an unimaginable amount of stuff done. And yet other days where they’ve come to look to their to-do list and they’ve spent hours and really got nowhere current or even fell, that list has gone longer. I certainly can feel that. Just thinking about what you do to manage people’s energy.

So if for example, it’s super easy to do, like if we’re sitting down as we are now and if I just ask you to roll your shoulders. Great. We’ll do that now. And let’s actually stretch up. If our listeners do that, and maybe stand up for a moment, you can feel instantaneously a change in your energy. And you know, it’s it’s, it doesn’t require anything, there’s a tendency online to stay seated. So encouraging people to stand, maybe even to walk, and that maybe it’s a 30 second exercise can speed up what comes next. So, one of the things to watch out for is, I don’t think I’ve got time to run the energisers. That’s always the moment say, ‘Oh, yes, that’s where I need an energiser.’

Rachel: We need to do it right now. It’s really interesting. When you think about, I think the main problem is that we just don’t plan our meetings properly. We think that getting an agenda is what you need. But actually, as soon as we get with this call, I’m going to go and look up to your Canvas that you’ve got, because actually, it strikes me just spending two minutes to plan that it’s going to make things much, much better. But John, I’ve got a few ‘Yes, but’ questions for you. If you did say, and I do agree with this, could you know if there’s something that could be done outside the meeting, like the information given in an in another way, you should do that? The problem is, what if it’s information that people really, really need to know and you don’t trust that they’re gonna look at it outside the meeting?

John: Yeah, one and two, yes, bump that back. Of course, if the camera is off, looking at their email, you still don’t know whether they’ve taken the meat, the information in, I think the key there to be more positive, is actually designing a way in which people engage around the content. So we pride ourselves in being a PowerPoint free company. So we don’t do slides, to where there’s content, we present it in a way that people interact with it. So either might be kind of a collaborative document where people work on it. There are some brilliant online whiteboards, we love Miro and Mural there where you can put information and then people can add digital post it notes. So you’re giving an exercise rather than simply just talking at people. I think the reality is that for adult life, the presentation format, from university kind of on into work life is just pretty bad. So like, how do you find ways to make it better? It’s pretty easy, actually.

Rachel: Death by PowerPoint. And that’s really interesting, actually, yeah. If you know an exercise where they have to engage with the stuff to do it. That brings me on to my next ‘Yes, but’, because we talked about getting people’s voices heard and getting the voice from the room, and then you said, suggestion is the big group to get them into breakout rooms? Well, I’m thinking the worry there for people, if they’re trying to make a decision, if they’re trying to hear people’s voices, I’m thinking of maybe a PCN director who’s sitting there that needs to know people’s opinions. But if you put them into breakout rooms, in smaller groups, how do you then make sure that you’ve heard people’s opinions, because you can’t be in all those breakout rooms?

John: Absolutely. And again, that’s huge, that’s a huge benefit of online is like, you could have 1000, people in breakout rooms, all groups of four, or five. So they’ve got the opportunity to really have a conversation about whatever it is you’ve given them. And the way in which you ensure that you’re hearing it all is you give them something that they’re inputting into. And often actually, my experience from— I have run 1000s of workshops online, is, in small enough groups, people genuinely do engage in the topic. And the biggest risk is actually that they get sidetracked getting to know more about each other because they’re genuinely interested. So again, you can use some of those, we’ll give them a format to fill in. But yeah, we love Canvases. So boxes to fill in with clear instructions. And then timers say you’ve got four minutes to do this and continually nudging through the chat. And all of that’s really easy to do, much, much easier than if you brought 200 people into a room. Because the noise alone is a new challenge.

Rachel: Yeah. And when you say tall enough groups, how small is too small, how big is too big?

John: Yeah, for breakout groups, I think the sweet spot is four or five. It’s a really nice group size, especially if you’re not having very long exercises, which for us, we typically don’t have any exercise that runs beyond 20 minutes, that will be a really long exercise for us, but they’re often 10-15 minutes long. So that gives each person enough space to contribute. I’d say in small groups, you can get up to kind of eight-ish. But beyond that point, you’re going to have necessarily some people stepping back and then for the bigger pieces of explaining exercises or presenting important information then of course sky’s the limit really in terms of how many people you could have

Rachel: So really using these online collaboration tools, and you said Miro and Mural two good ones?

John: That’s right, those are two that we love. I mean, there are so many I would say that you know it, one of the tips we give in the book for technology is keep it as simple as you possibly can. There’s often a tendency online to go for something that is shiny, and all bells and whistles. And of course, there’s going to be uses for many of these things. But especially the kinds of things maybe that you’ve been talking about where you might have members of the public in involved or people who, who really aren’t that tech-savvy, the simpler the tech, the better it’s going to be. So we actually run a lot of workshops with simply a shared Google Doc. It’s very, very simple. But everybody can type into it, and everybody can see each other’s inputs.

Rachel: And then how important is it to sort of debrief in the main group, if you send people off into their groups, they’ve written stuff down on a document that you can see, is it necessary to go around each group and get feedback? Or actually, is that just for the benefit of the facilitator rather than the participants?

John: Yeah, I think it’s a really great question, Rachel. I think it depends what the purpose of the workshop is. If you genuinely want everybody’s ideas to come together, you’re really creating something new, then, yes, you need to get that, you know, some level of play back from each of the groups. Those kinds of workshops typically don’t go beyond 30 people anyway, because that’s the biggest group of people that’s really coming up with new ideas. For example, you want to engage a lot more people, and really what you’re trying to do in that workshop is all that meeting is enable them to learn, or enable them to change their way of thinking about something, then, my top trick on that is to just pick from a few at random. Just allow everybody to be ready to present but say for time reasons, we’re only going to blast three.

Rachel: Okay, that makes sense. Because this is just through a wealth of hot tips, and really useful exercises. And I’m just thinking, are there any things that you really, really would say, actually, that is not suitable for online engagement, that needs to be face to face? Don’t even go there with that.

John: I would say no, I mean, I’m really banging this drum of everything you thought was impossible is possible. Everything you can do in person, you could do so eating together, drinking together, chatting together. I mean, there’s a limit to kind of like literally hugging together. But you can create a parallel to that, in an experience. One of the things Rachel that I found, that a lot of our clients are doing now is they’re saying, ‘We really do want to get together, both were able to get together. And what we want to do when we get together is connect as humans.’

We’re running quite a few off sites at the moment. So it’s one of the things we do a lot of is kind of retreats and off-site support for businesses and, and healthcare organisations that any group of people that wants to come together. And what they’re saying is, ‘We’re going to do the work content online before we join. And then when we get together, it’s all about learning about each other as people.’ So we, as the facilitators of that, are thinking about exercises that deepen the understanding that help people understand their different backgrounds and perspectives, deliberately builds trust. So I really like that idea of when you do get together, don’t spend the time doing the stuff that is better done online, like do that online. And then when you get together, eat drink, there’s a lovely term, I think, which is congregate. So the idea of people coming together with a shared sense of identity, then that’s sort of a perfect thing to do when you get together in person.

Rachel: And I love that idea. And it’s—I love the way you’ve put that it’s been something that I’ve been thinking about for a long time. Actually, that’s been really helpful. Because I think we waste those moments of congregating. And I like that, and I’ve had lots of feedback from our listeners, particularly the ones working on the frontline that even if they are still on the frontline, it’s still much much more lonely, it’s much more isolating because you’re going to see the patients then you’re going back into your office and you’re sitting on Teams or Zoom and you’re not seeing your colleagues in the same way apart from maybe there will be a face to face meeting where you’re just giving a presentation and what a waste of time actually if that presentation could be as a video or as an online meeting and then when you meet face to face that is for that trust-building in the getting to know each other those ad hoc conversations which we know are so so important.

And I think that is one thing that in healthcare, we do not do enough of and that is team building and team development. Now I know I don’t like those words. But we’ve both team coaches, we know the importance of building that basic trust not just as a nice to have but actually if you build trust, then you can conflict much better in a much better unit as Patrick Lencioni says many teams I see in health care that they suffer from a lack of conflicts and a fear of conflict. That’s because the basic trust isn’t there. So the face to face time is for building trust.

John: Yeah, absolutely. And just to touch on those face to face building trust, but I think again, remember that they will benefit enormously from careful design when you get together in person also warrants, investing the time using the workshop planning canvas, thinking about the exercises, and working out what you do to to create the conditions or that for the team you want to have.

Rachel: I think, as well, I think we are forgetting the importance of just the one to one connections as well, the fact that you can just wander to someone’s room and have a coffee or go for a walk or have lunch and things. And the final thing I just wanted to touch on because I had this on a Harvard Business Review podcast, I think, fairly recently. And this is the thing you’ve already mentioned about diversity and inclusion. And you said, home working is great for diversity and inclusion and I can see that in one way. But interestingly, this podcast was saying, it’s actually can be really bad for diversity and inclusion. And I have certainly seen this, particularly for women, if you can now do your job from home, there are quite a few women who are now not getting child care, or as much child care because they can be at home, they don’t need as much.

Which means they don’t go into the office as much, which means that after meetings, even if they’re online, a lot of people who are in the office, go and have their water cooler chats, their chats by the kettle, and then the people that have chosen to be at home because maybe because of a disability or because of childcare issues, or it’s difficult to get in are then being excluded from the times were actually the real decisions are being made. And this has disproportionately affected people with children, women, I think people with disabilities. Yeah. Have you heard that?

John: I have heard that and I think assuming that people want the best decisions to be made. And they do want us to do that. They want to include everybody who wants to be included. The answer is you have to design that you don’t do it by accident, you don’t rely on the corridor chat, that’s the way that really has everything stick the way it was. See your old white men making all the decisions blank, easy to design a different way to do that design. I think, yes, there’s certainly some ways in which maybe this is not as good for some people as for others and it’s easy to design them out. I think the problem is that people don’t think about it.

Rachel: I guess the other massive advantage of the online meetings is that they can be recorded, right. So if you can’t make it on your day off, then then you can actually watch it and you’re not going to miss massive amounts of information that was—

John: Recorded, transcribed, there’s actually a tool that will do live translations, if you’ve got somebody who’s got a reasonable level of one language, but actually is much better in a different one, you can get that done live it’s all possible now. And to go back to the collaborative documents that Google shared doc or the or the whiteboard. A lot of the benefit of that is that people actually record for themselves. So not only can you have an audio recording, but you’ve got what in a physical room might be kind of illegible post-it notes stuck to a whiteboard. Like there’s nothing illegible when you’re typing it though.

Rachel: And you know what? Maybe like the amount of times I’ve come back with 20, flip chart piece of paper, I’m like, ‘Yeah, no, I’ll get this down and get this to you.’ And that never happens. Because what does that say? No idea, you right? Haven’t you already have a sort of ready-made documentation. So what I’m hearing is, actually, meetings could be improved, just by spending a couple of minutes designing them, there’s tools everywhere that you can use. There’s exercises that you can use as exercises for everything. And even in a busy healthcare environment.

Even if you’ve got a short 20-minute meeting, there are still ways that you can improve it. And maybe what we should be thinking more about is when we have the face to face interactions, focusing on building trust those ad hoc reactions face to face. And so not entirely relying on the online stuff. But making sure you use the right tool for the right job. And I love the thing, like you said at the beginning that aha moment for me is a meeting is that presentation or is it a workshop. And having that idea that most of our meetings actually should be workshops, and then the other stuff gets delivered in different ways, I think is really helpful.

John: Absolutely. If that’s the one I’d love people to take away from listening to this talk.

Rachel: That would be brilliant. So we are definitely out of time. I’ve taken a lot of your time, John, but it’s been really helpful to me. If you were to give people top three tips for getting better online interactions, what would they be?

John: I think number one tip would be like just think about what you can do with the tools. I talked about walking earlier. I think is probably the biggest overlooked tool, because if you want to call it that, there is nothing to stop any two people getting on a phone call and walking outside. It’s a brilliant way to shift energy and create ideas. So that’s my number one tip, get on and this can also be done in Zoom, and Teams and Hangouts, all of these things exist have phone apps too, and you can run breakout rooms, all of that is possible. So walk, move, get outside.

The second one is to think about the energy. So one of the things we say in the book is like excitement and fatigue are both contagious. You could have your own ripples around the room, but at the same time, you could get there like, ‘Oh, I’m excited, this is something almost like being at a pop gig.’ So what do you do to build that energy? So tip one could build into tip two, because walking is a good way. But short energisers something that helps the team to have a clear mind and good energy. And then the third one, I think, is just about understanding your participants. Know not just what do you want to get through this. ‘Okay, I’m going to put four things on an agenda.’ Start with who’s coming, and what do I want to achieve? And a great way to do that is to use our planning Canvas as a framework to help you think through in an orderly way.

Rachel: Right, and really put a link to the planning canvas. Absolutely. And that’s fantastic. And I think, yeah, just to add to that, I now almost exclusively, do walking phone calls, and have phone calls with people unless we got to record a podcast when I need to get the audio just right or all better. And it just really made things very, very different. I find myself coming up with many, many more ideas. It’s odd. So yeah, recommend that. And actually, I think sometimes you can be more empathetic on the phone when it’s just audio, than you can seeing people too.

John: Yeah, absolutely. A huge number of benefits. And one of the oft-quoted factors that Steve Jobs had all his meetings, walking. And so as an exemplar of somebody who had great ideas and got them out into the world at an enormous scale, like he’s one of the few. So it’s also breaking out of that idea that it’s in some way not work. The reality is both, if you want it to be it is work, and it can be much better work.

Rachel: Well, John, thank you so much for coming on. That was really, really helpful. I’m sure we’ll need to get you back again, at some point to talk through more hints and tips as the wealth of such hybrid virtual working carries on. If somebody wanted to get hold of you, how can they find out more about you get hold of the book.

John: I’ll put the link to the Curve website on the show notes. Also the link to where the book is on Amazon. Or you can look at closerapartbook.com. And the best way to connect with me is either through our website or probably even better through my LinkedIn. And again, I’ll put that link in the show notes

Rachel: Thank you so much for spending the time

John: Bye.

Rachel: Thanks for listening. Don’t forget, we provide a self-coaching CPD workbook for every episode. You can sign up for it via the link in the show notes. And if this episode was helpful, then please share it with a friend. Get in touch with any comments or suggestions at helloatyouarenotafrog.com I love to hear from you. And finally, if you’re enjoying the podcast, please rate it and leave a review wherever you’re listening. It really helps. Bye for now.

Podcast links

PCNs and other organisations can get a special discounted rate at the Resilient Team Academy! Find out more about the Resilient Team Academy for your organisation.


Closer Apart by John Monks and Lizzie Shupak



Social Physics by Alex Pentland

Download a FREE COPY of Curve’s Remote Workshop Planning Canvas here!

TED Talk: David Grady: How to save the world (or at least yourself) from bad meetings

Learn more about Karim Benammar’s works here



Harvard Business Review Podcast

Connect with John: LinkedIn

THRIVE Weekly Planner

Looking for advice on a dilemma? Want us to cover a particular topic? Get in touch at hello@yourenotafrog.com.

Have any questions? Contact Rachel through these platforms:

LinkedIn: @Dr-Rachel-Morris

Twitter: @DrRachelMorris

Email: rachel@wildmonday.co.uk

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You can also join the Shapes Collective Facebook group where we chat about the hot topics and regularly post interesting articles.

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Episode 77 – Denial, displacement and other ways we neglect ourselves with Dr Andrew Tresidder

Dr Andrew Tresidder joins us to talk about how many medical practitioners and other professionals in healthcare and high stress jobs neglect their health and well-being. We're so focused on taking care of others that we forget to take care of ourselves but our well-being is vital if we want to keep doing the work we do. Find out why healthcare professionals need to learn more about health, as opposed to only learning about disease and if you want to know how to focus on taking care of your health and well-being, stay tuned to this episode.

Episode 76 – Tech Tips for Happy Hybrid Working with Dr Hussain Gandhi

Dr Hussain Gandhi, or Dr Gandalf of eGPlearning, joins us in this episode. He is a GP, PCN director and host of the eGP Learning Podblast that shares deep dives into health tech for primary care. He shares his tech and time hacks for hybrid working to survive and thrive in the new virtual environment. If you want to find out how to improve your hybrid working experience, then tune in to this episode!

Episode 74 – Managing your Time in a System Which Sucks with Dr Ed Pooley

Dr Ed Pooley joins us in this episode to share his take on time management techniques for busy individuals. He discusses the three types of competing demands and how to manage them. We also talk about being more comfortable holding difficult conversations about workplace issues - vital to help change the environment we work in. Tune into this episode to discover how time management techniques and communication can help you get a calmer and more time-efficient workplace.

Episode 73 – How to Find Your Tribe: The PMGUK story with Dr Nazia Haider and Dr Katherine Hickman

Dr Nazia Haider and Dr Katherine Hickman join us on this episode to discuss the importance of a work community. We talk about the inspiring stories from the online community they created, the Physicians Mums Group UK (PMGUK). Nazia and Katherine also share their tips on how to increase connections and find your own tribe at work. If you want to know how to create a network of supportive colleagues and feel more connected, then tune into this episode.

Episode 72 – Working well – from anywhere! with Dr Katya Miles

Dr Katya Miles joins us to discuss how to work well from home by creating healthy boundaries. She shares how to be more productive by using the third space hack and taking breaks. Katya also talks about how to be more active and better connect with people in the workplace. If you want to learn about working well from home and achieving a better work-life balance, then tune in to this episode.

Episode 71 – Create a Career You’ll Love with Dr Claire Kaye

Dr Claire Kaye joins us to discuss how to find a career you love. As an executive coach specialising in career development, Claire is an expert in guiding people how to find a career they love. We talk about the value of job networking and diversifying in our career journeys. We also share our tips and experiences on how to find a career you love. We do this by helping you identify the roles that best suit you and how to go about getting these roles.

Episode 70 – How Safe Do You Feel at Work with Scott Chambers

Scott Chambers joins us to talk about why we need to make people feel comfortable and safe enough to speak up in their workplace. When we create psychological safety in our team, we improve overall happiness and boost performance! If you want to learn how to create psychological safety for a better and happier team - whether you’re the boss or not, stay tuned to this episode.

Episode 69 – Make Time for What Matters with Liz O’Riordan

Liz O'Riordan joins us to share productivity life hacks. These have helped her transform how she approaches work. Now, Liz can spend quality time with her family and enjoy life. In this episode, she teaches us how we too can achieve this. If you want to learn some new life hacks, beat burnout and work happier, then tune in to this episode!

Episode 68 – The Revolutionary Art of Breathing with Richard Jamieson

Richard Jamieson discusses how we can utilise breathing techniques to feel calmer, make better decisions and be more productive. He explains the different steps we can take to change our breathing patterns. When you’re in a high-stress situation, remember this: just breathe. If you want to know how to use breathing techniques to beat stress in everyday situations, stay tuned to this episode.

Episode 67 – Bringing Your Best Self to Work with Dr Sarah Goulding

Dr Sarah Goulding discusses how to bring your whole self to work without leaving bits of you behind. Sarah shares her own story of experiencing burnout at her old job and rediscovering her true passion. We also discuss how applying our core strengths to our jobs can mean the difference between burnout and having a sense of fulfilment. Don’t miss out on this episode if you want to learn more about how to be yourself and how to bring joy back into your work!

Episode 65 – Passing the Naughty Monkey Back with Dr Amit Sharma

Dr Amit Sharma joins us to discuss the effects of taking on too many of other people’s ‘naughty monkeys’. We talk about why professionals in high-stress jobs so often take on the rescuer role and how to shift that mindset. Amit and I also discuss the importance of empowering patients to take control of their own health. If you want to know how to avoid being weighed down by too many naughty monkeys, stay tuned to this episode.

Episode 64 – What to Do When You’re Out of Fuel with Dr Jess Harvey

Dr Jess Harvey, a GP partner and GB triathlete, talks about what happened to her after running out of fuel and feeling burnt out. She discusses how we often ignore the symptoms and signs for too long and why resting and refuelling is as important as what we're doing in the first place. If you’re feeling burnt out, tune in to this episode to find out how you can plug the holes in your energy bucket!

Episode 63 – How to Survive Even When Times are Tough with Dr Caroline Walker

This episode is part of the COVID-19 Supporting Doctors series, and joining us again is Dr Caroline Walker. She's here to discuss why rest is crucial, especially for people in high-stress jobs. Caroline also shares key strategies that can keep us going through the crisis. The previous year has been tough, so don’t miss this episode to start 2021 better prepared.

Episode 62 – Self-Coaching for Success with Dr Karen Castille, OBE

Dr Karen Castille joins me in this episode to discuss her book on self-coaching. She shares powerful questions to ask yourself which will jumpstart your self-coaching journey. She also talks about the importance of developing this vital skill and crafting powerful life questions. Before we close the show, Karen gives her top tips for self-coaching. Don’t miss this episode if you want to learn how you can find clarity and achieve success through self-coaching!

Episode 61 – The Self Help Book Group on Happiness with Dr Nik Kendrew

In this episode, You Are Not A Frog regular Dr Nik Kendrew joins me to discuss the concept of happiness. We tackle the everlasting question of ‘What is happiness’? We also talk about perfectionism and fear and how these can hinder us from doing the things we want to do. At the end of the show, Nik and I give our top tips to being happier. If you want to know more about living a happy life, then this episode is for you.

Episode 60 – Creating a Workplace that Works with Dr Sonali Kinra

Dr Sonali Kinra joins us to discuss why people leave their jobs and how to prevent it. We talk about the importance of workplace culture and its role in creating an environment that makes people want to stay. We also discuss why you need to seek opportunities that broaden and develop your career. Don’t miss this episode if you want to find out how to keep yourself in a job you love.

Episode 59 – A Social Dilemma? With Dr James Thambyrajah

In this episode, Dr James Thambyrajah joins us to talk about social media’s subtle yet profound effect on our daily lives. We discuss the perils of being unaware of how our online decisions are influenced. James also shares his insights on how we can improve how we stay informed and inform others. Tune in to this episode if you want to learn more about how to go beyond your digital echo chamber.

Episode 55 – The One About Alcohol

Dr Giles P Croft is back to chat with Rachel about his experiences following a revolutionary read he was recommended. You might remember Giles from episode 46, where he talked about how as humans, we naturally default to happiness.

Episode 52 – A year of the frog

The week’s episode is a special one as the Frog celebrates a year of podcasting! It’s been quite a year - including charting in Apple’s Top 100 Business Podcasts in the UK!

Episode 50 – Freeing yourself from the money trap

Joining Rachel in this week’s episode is Dr Tommy Perkins, as well as being a GP Partner, and father, Tommy is one half of Medics Money. Medics Money is an organisation specifically aimed at helping doctors make better decisions with their finances. It’s run by Tommy and Dr Ed Cantelo who is not only a doctor but a qualified accountant.

Episode 49 – The Self Help Book Group No 2 with Nik Kendrew

This week Rachel is joined by You Are Not A Frog regular, Nik Kendrew. Last time Nik joined us, we discussed a book that has helped him in his professional life as a GP, trainer and partner as well as his personal life. Nik’s back this week to talk about another brilliant book and to share what insights and learnings he’s gained from it.

Episode 47 – How to Have a Courageous Conversation

Rachel talks with Beccie D'Cunha about the conversations that we avoid and the conversations we really need to have with our colleagues, teams and managers. They can be described as difficult conversations, but we can redefine them as courageous conversations - because ultimately it takes courage for both parties to listen and be heard.

Episode 46 – Default to happy

Rachel talks with Dr Giles P Croft about his take on how to beat stress and burnout. Giles  is a psychology graduate and former NHS surgeon who stepped aside from clinical practice for a decade to explore a number of career paths, including health informatics, cycling journalism, public speaking and high street retail with his wife.

Episode 45 – Rest. The final frontier

Rachel is joined by Sheela Hobden, Professional Certified Coach, wellbeing expert and fellow Shapes Toolkit facilitator. We talk about why rest isn’t just important for wellbeing, but important for productivity and creativity too. 

Episode 40 – Leading with tough love with Gary Hughes

In this episode, Rachel is joined by Gary Hughes, author of the book Leadership in Practice, blogger, educator and facilitator who is a Practice Manager by day. We chat about how leadership in the COVID-19 crisis has had to adapt, and the different roles that a leader has had to take.

Episode 37 – How to manage conflict during COVID with Jane Gunn

Rachel is thrilled to welcome back Jane Gunn – lawyer, mediator and expert in conflict resolution who has been known as the Corporate Peacemaker. This episode is for you if the thought of addressing a difficult issue with one of your colleagues send you running for the hills…

Episode 20 – A creative solution to stress with Ruth Cocksedge

In this episode, Rachel is joined by Ruth Cocksedge a Practitioner Psychologist who started her career as a mental health nurse. She practices in Cambridge and has a particular interest in EMDR for PTSD and creative writing as a way to improve mental health and wellbeing.

Episode 11 – The magical art of reading sweary books

In this episode, Rachel is joined once again by Dr Liz O’Riordan, the ‘Breast Surgeon with Breast Cancer’, TEDx speaker, author, blogger, triathlete and all round superstar who has been nominated for ‘Woman of the Year’.

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