Highly Functional Virtual Teams

One of the “happy accidents” I discovered while coaching virtual instructors is that they told me the techniques were really useful in engaging a virtual staff during meetings. I’ve also found them helpful as a cross-site or cross-geo team lead. (I’ve led several virtual project-close celebrations using shipped party favors, video conference rooms, and annotation tools.) I wanted to share the info on this free learning session. I’ve studied under Jennifer Hofmann for a while and she is always enlightening. She’s been managing virtual teams for many years.

May 27, 2015, 1-2 PM US Eastern Time:  Jennifer Hofmann, President of InSync Training, presents Creating Highly Functional Virtual Teams.

Can a virtual team be as effective as a co-located team? This is a question that organizations are debating, and the arguments on both sides are very compelling. Factors like work-life balance and organizational savings need to be balanced with the value of face-to-face collaboration and managerial oversight.

Whether you personally embrace the concept or not, chances are you will participate as a virtual team member during your career.

The reality is, a virtual team can be very effective if the correct conditions are met and maintained. It’s about putting together the right personalities, ensuring they have the right tools, and leading the team successfully. After discussing the arguments for and against establishing a virtual team, this workshop will use real life examples to address six key enablers for success.


  1. How to form the virtual team: Identifying the profile of an effective virtual team and its players, and how to engage existing team members in selecting new team members.
  2. How to enable the virtual team: Ensuring the right technologies and processes are in place to ensure success.
  3. How to maintain the virtual team: Creating inter-reliability, trust, and teamwork.
  4. How to protect the virtual team: Identifying and managing issues before they become destructive.
  5. How to lead the virtual team: Establishing credibility while maintaining the right balance of oversight and empowerment.
  6. How to reward the virtual team: Creating team building opportunities across the distance.

Webinar Report-Out: Making Virtual and Blended Learning Work for Adult Learners

I attended Jennifer Hoffmann’s Making Virtual and Blended Learning Work for Adult Learners. She modeled the session after Malcolm Knowles’ six principles of adult learning, which promotes collaborative learning over lecture:

  1. Adults are internally motivated and self-directed
  2. Adults bring life experiences and knowledge to learning experiences
  3. Adults are goal oriented
  4. Adults are relevancy oriented
  5. Adults are practical
  6. Adult learners like to be respected

I agree with all of these principles. As we design for and facilitate sessions in the live virtual classroom, they should guide our treatment of adult learners. They don’t want to be treated like novices or children.

Additionally, I always use Wlodkowski and Ginsberg’s Motivational Framework for Culturally Responsive Teaching as a rubric to make sure I have built in activities that address learner needs to increase the likelihood that they will apply the learning. The framework suggests fulfilling these four criteria:

  1. Establish Inclusion– Create an environment of mutual respect and connection. This can be done by posting participant and instructor bios, allowing participants to choose their own work groups, and creating a quick orientation to help students learn how to learn in the VC. An excellent example of an orientation by Insync TrainingLearn How to Learn Online
  2. Develop a Learning Attitude– Set ground rules and mutual expectations as a class. Facilitators can gauge the needs of the participants using annotation tools to involve everyone.
  3. Enhance Meaning– Meet learner needs by making the content relevant and personally meaningful. Use polling and annotation tools to help participants provide feedback. Find out why they chose this class. Are they trying to solve a problem? How do they plan to use what they learn?
  4. Engender Competence– Create experiences where participants can perform–>receive feedback–>make adjustments–>perform. Provide simulations and simple performance assessments via the VC, web-based resources. If it is impractical to perform in the virtual classroom then give an assignment to perform back on the job with criteria that a  peer or manager can use to give feedback.

Virtual Producer, Part 1 – Preparing your SME or Presenter

This is part one of a three-part series on the Virtual Learning Event Producer. The distinction between the facilitator and producer (though one person might cover both roles) is that the producer is mainly behind-the-scenes running the technical side of the learning event. The producer may be responsible for the following:

  • Planning the event with the facilitator/subject matter expert (SME)
  • Performing a “makeover” on the materials to make them more appropriate for a virtual adult learning environment
  • Preforming a similar role to a radio producer on a live talk program

This first post will focus on planning the event.

I produce a monthly learning session for R&D managers at McAfee. We usually have facilitators scheduled out a year in advance, so my first step is to check in with them one month before the event. This quick check in reminds them of their commitment. It’s also a good time to make sure it’s still on their radar—and their calendar—before things get too booked up. If the facilitator is a senior manager with a busy calendar, I may even check in two months before (and make sure their admin knows about it). I let them know to expect to spend one to two hours with me over 2-3 sessions that month to prepare. The timing all depends on how much work we have to do to focus the content. Most people try to squeeze too much material into a one-hour slot.



This is my first official meeting with the facilitator and usually happens 3-4 weeks before the learning event. It lasts about an hour if materials are ready and we can do the content review in this first session. It might be split into two 30-minute sessions to review the content later. The purpose of this session is to discuss the needs of the target audience, review the facilitator’s goals, and identify opportunities for participant engagement. I use the following sets of questions to accomplish this:

Identify the Needs of the Target Audience

  • Who is the target audience?
  • What will they do with the information?
  • What do participants already know about your topic? Are they novices? Experienced? Expert? A range?

I use the answers to focus the learning goals in the next step.


Review Facilitator Goals and Set the Learning Goals/Objectives

  • Why do we need this session? Are we taking advantage of an opportunity? Avoiding a painful consequence? Something else?
  • What behavior change are we looking for?
  • What do you want participants to be able to do after the session? (Not just know, but be able to do and how?)
  • How will we know if we were successful?

I use the answers to focus the content.


Review the Content and Identify Opportunities for Engagement

  • Compare current content to the learning goals. Is there content to support each one? Are we missing content? Is there extraneous content we can move to backup or distribute in as supporting documentation?
  • Identify opportunities for interaction using a variety of tools such as polls, white boards, annotation tools, chat, and status icons. Is there an appropriate time to:
    • Dispel a misconception?
    • Gauge audience attitudes?
    • Allow participants to make predictions?
    • Apply learning by analyzing a case study and responding?
    • Ask participants to share one thing that they will apply right away?


NEXT STEPS: If content needs to be added or changed schedule a Final Content Review Meeting (30 min to 1 hr) before the content makeover. Repeat the steps above.


My next post will focus on the content makeover (aka the PowerPoint Makeover).

Understand the Participant Experience

This just happened in a virtual class I attended, produced by a highly respected university on the West Coast that will remain unnamed.

cant hear Where do I even begin? I’ve written before about the importance of having a qualified producer to support the facilitator in virtual learning sessions. The producer handles technical issues for the facilitator and participants, helps launch polls and other media, fields questions,and frees up the facilitator to focus on running the session.

It’s more than just technical support. The producer needs to understand the participant experience. What does the viewing screen look like for the participant? Is it the same for Mac and PC users? Jennifer Hofmann of Insync Training describes the producer in this way:

From class set up, to technical support, to instructional support – and even participant advocate, the producer is a role present in more and more virtual classrooms. Combining the roles of Teaching Assistant and Help Desk, the Producer can be difference between an exceptional training session, and an ineffective webinar.

At a bare minimum, the producer should understand that a participant who cannot hear the facilitator also cannot hear the verbal answer to the question he is asking!

My current job experience has put me in the role of the producer far more often than facilitator lately. I’ve been honing my skills as a producer and will soon share a series on best practices for virtual event producers.

My New (Space) Learning Hero

When I was ten, I desperately wanted to be the first female astronaut. I had it all carefully planned out: a degree in astrophysics, train to be an Air Force Pilot, then BAM! I’d be on the Space Shuttle.

Sally Ride destroyed that dream when I was 11. I simultaneously worshiped her and despised her.

Christa McAuliffe showed us that teachers could contribute to the space program. I was 13 years old on the day of the Challenger Launch. Completely devastated by the loss of the crew, I think that was the day my space dream truly died.

Now I have a new space hero: Col. Chris Hatfield of the International Space Station. He has masterfully used video and social media to invite us into his world on the ISS and teach us about zero gravity. He tweets with William Shatner and answers school children’s questions about life on the ISS. Most importantly, he connects with us virtually in a way that makes us feel like we know him. It’s the same way we feel like we know Jay Leno or David Letterman. Hatfield talks to us like we are friends.

Of course this is only possible because of current technology, but also because of his willingness to learn these new tricks. He’s no Millennial, but he sure communicates like one.

I’ve written before about harnessing the power of the virtual classroom to bring experts to the masses. It’s not just about using the tools, but knowing how to connect with the audience. It’s not about presenting. It’s about conversing. When you bring the audience into the conversation (either directly or by allowing them to submit questions) it becomes a richer and more meaningful dialogue.

Accessible Experts = Learning Heroes.

Live Virtual Experiences *Can* Be Intimate

If I told you that a live virtual experience could actually be intimate would you believe me? What if I showed you? Imagine you were preparing to play an instrument and record a song with someone in your studio. Now imagine that “someone” is orbiting the Earth in the International Space Station. Have a look for yourself.


On 7 Feb 2013 Canadian Chris Hatfield recorded a song with the Bare Naked Ladies. From Space. From. Freaking. Space.

I find this to be a beautiful example of how we can use technology to virtually bring special guests to a physical classroom. In Spring 2011 I attended a Video for Learning Lab at the Masie Center and experienced this technique. We met with virtual visitors from the CIA and CNN via Skype. Our facilitator asked them to speak for a few minutes about how they used video for learning, then we opened the floor for questions from the students. One of the visitors even asked to be “left on” so he could attend the next exercise we were going to do.

I was still at Intel at the time and working on the New Employee Orientation (NEO). One of the chief complaints from new employees was that we did not have a section on benefits during the first day orientation class. The benefits class is a virtual class offered once a month because the benefits team didn’t have the bandwidth to have someone teach the full session every other week when NEO was run. If you know anything about new employees or remember what it’s like to be a new employee, then you know that one of the biggest thing on their minds is benefits. I tried to convince our organization that we should partner with the benefits team to have someone virtually visit the class via video for 15-20 minutes to answer some of the students’ burning questions. It wouldn’t be as robust as the class, but at least we could calm some fears and show we care with a real human touch.

It didn’t end up happening at Intel but I keep this idea in my back pocket, waiting for the right opportunity. I’ll let you know how it goes.

10 Tools: Pinterest Review

I’ve been using Pinterest for a few things over the course of the month. I was eager to see how I might use it to organize a project or utilize it for a learning activity.

Pinterest Basics:

  1. Pinterest is a way to organize photos, images, and videos. They are called pins and you share them by pinning them to a board.
  2. You create boards to act as a album for a group of related pins.
  3. You can create secret boards that don’t show up for others in searches.
  4. You can invite others to pin to your boards by entering their email addresses.
  5. You can follow other Pinterest users. They can follow you.
  6. If you log in via facebook it will post on your behalf unless you tell it not to.

I created three boards to play around with in Pinterest. One collected ideas for a kindergarten Valentine’s party. The next is an on-going collection of ideas for an end-of-year gift for my child’s teacher. The last was an unsuccessful attempt to gather ideas for a welcome/info book for my beach house.

What I learned

  • Pinterest is spectacular at providing inspiration. Keyword searches connect you to incredible creativity and delightful results. I’m beginning to suspect that Martha Stewart is no longer needed. Popular pins include DIY, home decor, crafts, wedding planning, travel, cars, and art. 
  • It really is photo-based. The website you link to has to have a photo or it won’t pin. I ran into this issue when I found some great templates I wanted to pin for my welcome/info book, but I couldn’t pin them. It doesn’t work well for project planning for this reason.
  • I don’t really enjoy following others in Pinterest. I use it more to farm for ideas via searches.
  • If you do the “shelf elf” at Christmas time Pinterest is the place for you.

Application to Virtual Learning

I could see utilizing Pinterest in a couple of ways for virtual learning. If there isn’t a mechanism in your platform for creating student profiles or sharing headshots you might give the following instructions:

You’ve been invited to post on the XYZ Course Pinterest board.

  • Please pin a headshot on the board.
  • Tell us in the “Describe your pin…” section why you are taking the course and how you hope to use your learning after the course.
  • Look at pins from other students. Comment on at least three of them.

It could also be a way to gather ideas for a class project to apply the learning or a way to demonstrate how they applied the learning back on the job after the class.

How would you use Pinterest for a learning event?

Next Tool: Flipboard