Umicore - High Performance in the Virtual Space

Umicore is a global materials technology group offering materials and solutions that are at the cutting edge of new technological developments essential to everyday life.

In 2010, one senior International team approached Black Gazelle with the aim of improving the effectiveness of their virtual team meetings. While the team concerned were somewhat unhappy with their current meetings, they were not convinced that training in working virtually was a good use of their valuable time. The senior level of the sponsorship and the very time efficient offering from Black Gazelle, convinced the client that it made sense to go ahead.

The design was very simple. Black Gazelle carried out one-to-one interviews with each team member. Following this, the themes were fed back, and at the same time some very careful contracting was carried out to ensure that there was a shared understanding about what was needed, and what would be included in the half day training workshop. The workshop was followed by a single team coaching session, lasting three hours and including observation of the team meeting virtually.

Twelve months on from the training, the client said “The virtual training was beneficial – surprisingly so! The team has been surprised by how effective virtual work can be. They are ‘old school people’, and didn’t see it as a good use of their time, initially”. It is a fast paced organisation, which made acceptance of the training more difficult. The hardest part initially was the guidance that if one person was absent (ie needed to join virtually), then all worked virtually, even though they were in the same building. That just didn’t make sense to them initially.”

The client went on to say: “In my opinion virtual meetings are more productive. In face-to-face meetings there are a lot more extra comments, whispering etc, not focused on the main topics. Others also feel that virtual meetings are more productive. They are faster, with more topics covered. Face-to-face are at least 30 minutes longer. We originally planned for 3 hour virtual meetings; now they last 1½ to 2 hours. Interruptions are now much less of a problem.”

Finally the client commented “The training was well worth it. I’ll use it for the rest of my career. I was sceptical; especially about ‘everyone out of the room if one out’. The benefits of training are more subtle. There are a lot of little things that can destroy a meeting!”


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