It’s amazing how fast a tight, all-hands meeting can clear the air

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By Leo Valiquettemeetings

I don’t have an MBA and I haven’t partaken of any executive leadership programs. Whatever insights I offer on this blog about group dynamics and management arise from what you might call qualitative participant observation.

In other words, I take note of what helps, and what hinders, when it comes to getting __________ done by a given deadline, to whatever standard or benchmarks meet with the general approval of the stakeholders involved.

What do I consider to be one of the most important tools for getting _________ done?

The all-hands meeting.

Yes, I can hear the groans out there. There is no shortage of literature that talks about how meetings kill productivity, in hand with ample advice on how to make meetings more organized and productive.

What I want to focus on here is the value of having a meeting in the first place.

Crossing the comms gap

It’s long been the norm with this agency to work with clients located many time zones away. Phone and email are the principal forms of communication. Face-to-face meetings are rare.

This presents a number of challenges. As with any new vendor-client relationship, there is always that delicate honeymoon period, in which we as the vendor are on the hotseat to justify our existence, deliver on the commitments we made to win the client’s business in the first place, and manage their expectations in a frank and transparent manner.

Regular communication is critical. Most often, this communication is in the form of conference calls that can easily involve a half-dozen individuals. The downside is that a phone call deprives each participant of the non-verbal cues that facilitate face-to-face relationship building. The ability to build rapport is further hindered by the sheer number of people on the call and the quality issues that inevitably arise with the telecom tech.

But that conference call is still the single most effective way for us to keep the ongoing relationship as kink-free as possible. It’s to be expected that anyone with a stake will participate in such calls, to ensure everyone is up to speed and on the same page, and to identify areas of concern that need to be worked out. And wherever possible, we of course opt for a face-to-face meeting.

Clearing the air of comms debris

When a client organization’s overall marketing/communications effort is being defined and executed on both strategic and tactical level, there is information flying in all directions.

I call this communications debris – that flurry of emails and voice messages that define the typical harried workday. It’s quite easy for the left hand to lose track of what the right hand is doing: a few people move off on a tangent unknown to the rest of the group; senior people make decisions that derail their team’s efforts and don’t communicate them effectively; individual team members run into issues they should, but don’t, address with their managers.

It doesn’t take long for confusion and delay to set in, budgets to inflate and deadlines to make that whooshing sound as they fly by, to quote Douglas Adams.

The only effective solution is the all-hands meeting or call. But it must have a clear and specific focus, all the stakeholders must be obligated to attend, and the floor must be open to all pertinent information, concerns and issues without fear of recrimination. This is a practical and tactical opportunity to make an effective course correction.

It also requires leadership. Somebody must assume a position of authority. Yes, there must be a sincere effort to reach consensus, but someone must still make final decisions. The meeting can’t end without them.

Resolution is crucial

This is where too many meetings run into trouble and become that drain on productivity – lack of resolution. The meeting must end with a clear, and short, list of action items that will result in that course correction. Someone must take ownership of each item.

And, perhaps most importantly, whoever is in the leadership role must lead by example, and take ownership too of one or more action items. You can’t lead effectively if you’re standing back in the command tent – you need to be out in front of the troops.

These are the considerations that I have found to be critical in various client engagements, regardless of whether that meeting is in person (ideal), or via a conference call (if circumstances dictate).

Case in point – last week I had a meeting with stakeholders from two completely different organizations that are partnering on a single initiative. There are more than dozen people involved, each with a different role to play.

The comms debris was flying fast and fierce and email just wasn’t cutting it. Nobody seemed to have a firm handle on what was being done, what had to be done, or how what remained to be done would be by our immovable deadline.

So I sent an email.

It was clear and direct: meeting, day after tomorrow, in person. If you don’t make it, tough noogies. (OK, I didn’t actually use those words, but you get the idea.)

Considering the sheer volume of issues we had to address, someone thought it prudent to schedule the meeting for 90 minutes.

With everyone gathered around the table, we were able to square everything away and get back on track in 30.

Enough said.

Image: HongKiat.com

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