Larger meetings can often leave you needing a quiet corner to huddle and have an open conversation. Equally, when running workshops, you want to encourage discussion and sharing of ideas, and this can be easier in smaller groups. When you are running your collaboration in Teams, this is where new feature Breakout Rooms come in – to create small intimate spaces to share ideas, make connections and get creative. 

Launched in November 2020, this new feature for Teams provides virtual Rooms within the classic meeting set up. Set up by the meeting organiser – either before or during any Teams meeting (up to 300 participants) – Rooms can be given individual names, and members can be assigned randomly or specifically added to any Breakout. 

There are so many ways that breakout rooms can be useful – particularly in enhancing the hybrid working experience and bringing teams closer together. Here are just five ways that you can use Breakout Rooms to help productivity, collaboration, and team building.

ONE: Delivering training that sticks

Many organisations will run their own training and development courses and Teams with Breakout Rooms is the perfect way to create a collaborative space in which all individuals can learn. You can run your training piece within Teams and then assign students to Breakout Rooms to carry out exercises in smaller groups. The facilitator of the course can ‘drop in’ to each room with announcements, for example, letting them know that they have 5 minutes left on the exercise, and can then close the rooms to bring all the attendees back to the main meeting. 

This gives employees the opportunity to work in small groups to ask questions of each other, learning through collaboration and peer-to-peer experience sharing. This method can be far more successful than simply listening to instruction as it revises concepts and puts them into practice, making them more likely to stick in students’ minds. 

TWO: Hosting conferences with impact

With Teams meetings able to manage meetings of up to 1,000 – and up to 10,000 joining as view-only – it’s easy to see how you can run virtual conferences for, say, your entire business, or a single division, regardless of employee location. What is harder in a virtual meeting with such a large number of attendees is encouraging conversation and ideas sharing. Although you can run chat threads alongside your conference for up to 1,000, chat may not be easy to follow and conversation will be less likely to engage everyone. 

With smaller conferences or subsets of a larger conference, of up to 300, you can have your speaker presenting in the main meeting room and then open Breakout Rooms for people to discuss the topics raised or ask questions of the presenters. To help the conversation you can assign facilitators to each Breakout Room to manage questions or keep an eye on the time. Attendees can move between Breakout Rooms to ask questions of different speakers on, say, a panel or across a day of presentations. 

THREE: Team building to make connections

It doesn’t have to all be formal and structured. Teams is equally good as a platform for virtual team building events, to build relationships between employees, strengthen bonds and boost engagement. Team building organisers can shuffle participants automatically and add them to rooms, creating cross discipline groups that may not have the chance to work with each other normally. Give each Breakout Room the ability to select their Room name before setting them a challenge or set of activities. In their Breakout Room they can use whiteboard and shared files (as in any Teams meeting) and can then bring the output back into the main meeting to share with the wider group. 

You may even choose to run these events on a regular basis holding, for example, a weekly Friday Lunchtime challenge. You could set a challenge in the main meeting then automatically assign employees to randomly selected groups. Let’s say that in their groups they have half an hour to write and perform a poem or song about the company’s best achievement for the week. They could use white boards to write the lyrics together, and use chat and audio to plan how they’re going to perform their piece. Then they can return to the main meeting to perform and maybe even win a prize. This type of quick challenge can spark new connections that can be picked up elsewhere and can make remote colleagues feel connected through a shared goal, and a fun activity.

FOUR: Building a network

Networking is not just for salespeople. Building a personal network both in and outside the organisation is vital for all employees who want to succeed in their roles and move their careers forward. Use Teams to organise virtual networking events that bring together people from the sector your business operates in – industry figures or thought leaders from whom the attendees can learn and grow. Use Breakout Rooms to run live chats with key people and allow attendees to interact with them and each other. Organisers can set up the Rooms with groups of attendees and then switch them into a new room with a different key person. Rather than a single meeting for all, Breakout Rooms allow individuals to make connections and start conversations that they are far more likely to continue long after the event has closed. 

FIVE: Becoming conscious about inclusivity 

Just one topic for a business-wide event could be Diversity and Inclusion, an important value-based topic that all businesses need to be aware of, and build into their cultural strategy. It is hard to discuss potentially sensitive topics like diversity in large groups. Attitudes and experience can vary wildly across your business, and it can be challenging to hear all the voices, or field all the questions. Using Breakout Rooms in a virtual Teams meeting can give you the opportunity to create small, diverse groups to examine topics in greater depth and carry out exercises that can build better understanding of diversity and inclusion. The organiser can share the instructions for any exercises to all rooms simultaneously through the chat boxes, and groups can then use whiteboards, or source imagery and files, to carry out the exercise and bring the output back to the main meeting for sharing. 

Because each Breakout Room acts as a smaller Teams meeting you still get all the benefit of recording and all files are shared from the Room, capturing all the rich output from the group conversations, and allowing you to look back and learn from all the ideas that arose from the event. 

Relatively new but already popular, Breakout Rooms add a new dimension to Teams that enables better connections, more personal collaboration opportunities, and a route to greater depth of understanding of your organisation.

If you want to learn more about how Teams and Breakout Rooms could work for your business, get in touch.

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