Kate Beecroft
Greater Than
Strategies to guide virtual community conversations - Greater Than
Global (concentration in EU and NZ)
Future of work, participatory governance and self-organizing or self-management, collaborative budgeting
200 K, Stewardship-Owned Business

Kate Beecroft learned to facilitate by pairing with experienced facilitators in the Enspiral network and thus believes in learning by doing. Through her work with Greaterthan, she and her team train, support and advise people, teams and organizations at the forefront of decentralized, self-managed and participatory work. Their mission is to make organizations that provide people with agency, personal growth and meaning the new normal by spreading this knowledge, practices and tools. In the case, Kate is sharing many tips for good virtual facilitation practices and goes deep into concrete strategies she applies regularly when facilitating online discussions. She also touches on the question of technology and advocates for zoom.

Where should I begin when preparing a virtual meeting?

Begin by being aware of your own voice and the voices of those around you. Use tools and technology that create a clear process and space for conversation, discussion, decisions, and debate.

Facilitation is a fundamental part of ‘community self- management’ and helping the group utilise its collective intelligence. Removing old structures of management and moving into new ways of organising does not mean removing all frameworks. Clear processes and boundaries will help people feel organised and safe.

Tips for virtual facilitation

Always have an objective for each meeting or intervention, even if that objective is to let the group explore. A guiding objective gives the group a place to if things go off course.

Be prepared by creating have an agenda but don’t necessarily stick to it. Have a loose plan, even if the discussion needs to go somewhere else. As you gain experience you’ll be able to judge when staying on a certain topic is a better use of time than following the agenda. 

Get consent to facilitate. Attempting to facilitate otherwise can be at worst coercive (unfair to the group) and dangerous (unfair to the facilitator). Without consent, the facilitator might face resistance and the group (and discussion) will be confused.

After receiving the mandate, the facilitator has a responsibility to the group. Facilitators will spend more time talking than others and must direct the group’s attention however, this must be done in service to the group.

What is the best technology for virtual meetings?

Use Zoom. After trying many types of online call and video conferencing technology, Zoom is the most usable because it:

  • Is easy to use 
  • Has amazing video quality 
  • Has great facilitation functionality (break out rooms, mute, recording, chat) 
  • Can record meetings and load them to your cloud account for easy playback

Additional technology tips

  • Ask participants to ensure they have a good connection and use appropriate microphones or headsets
  • Ask the group’s permission before recording
  • Ask participants to mute their microphones when they are not speaking and to indicate that video is on
  • Use Zoom’s breakout rooms
What strategies do you use to guide the conversation?
Strategy Description
What I’m Hearing Summarise the thoughts of someone who has spoken to ensure they were heard and understood by the group.
Invitation Invite people to speak or share rather than telling them to.
Stating the Objective or Outcome of the meeting  Provide clarity on the purpose of the meeting. Keep this purpose top of mind and bring the group back to it if the meeting goes off track.
Steering the Objective/Outcome  If people are getting off track, engaging in arguments,or shouting, use your role as facilitator to steer them back on track i.e. ‘A reminder that we’re here to do X, Y Z. I’m going to end this discussion here so we can focus on our goal.’
Bring in Quiet Voices If someone has not said anything during the meeting, gently ask them by name if they want to contribute. If you know them well, try to bring them in on a point you think they may have an opinion on. Don’t push. Sometimes people are not comfortable contributing and that’s ok. 
Go further into a point if it is helping you achieve the Objective or Outcome  As a facilitator, you can use your instincts and judgement to decide if a point or topic is helping the group reach their objective or outcome. Don’t be afraid to explore and idea by saying things like ‘This feels important. Let’s keep talking about this.’
Signposts Signposts are verbal cues about where you’re directing the conversation. For example, if you sense that the group is benefitting from going further into a topica, verbally signpost that topic by saying,“Jane and the people that spoke before her are getting into something that is clearly valuable. Can we stay on this point for a while, please?” If someone introduces a new point it’s ok to intervene and suggest it goes into a time box that for later in the meeting.
Listening loops If you sense a conflict or unproductive disagreement between two people, ask one to express their point. Then, ask the second person to synthesise and repeat back what they heard; then reverse the roles. Feeling heard and understood can often be the first step in resolving issues.
Sense the mood Using your instincts is an important part of facilitation. Tune into and observe others’ non-verbal cues. Listen to what they’re not saying, and listen to their tone of voice. Pay attention to what is going on for those who are not speaking. Use the consent you have garnered as facilitator to adjust the direction of the group as you see fit. Remember, inclusion and safety are key. 
Time Boxing The facilitator must give clear information about available time and time limits. Be clear on how much time the group has to meet or to discuss specific topics. Give the group time notifications at specific intervals for example, “We have five minutes left to discuss this, then we must move on.”
Loomio Use Loomio to let people in the meeting vote or show their feelings using what is known as a temperature check. Thumbs up means ‘Agree’, Thumb Across means ‘Abstain’, Thumbs Down means ‘Disagree’, Whole Hand Raised means ‘Block’. More details on Loomio hand signals here.