One day last week, among all the offers to buy Viagra and Cialis in my E-mail inbox was an announcement of a seminar called the “Eleven Habits of a Highly Effective Meeting.” I know something about this topic so I clicked and found a description that said I would learn things such as how to decide the real reason for a meeting, how to stay on track, and how to reduce the stress of meeting. While this all sounds like good stuff, it does not address the really tough issues of teams and team meetings in today’s complex business world.
In the last 10 years or so, the world in which teams and team players were asked to perform was changing in rather dramatic fashion. And these changes were not making life any easier for teams and for leaders required to facilitate effective team meetings; rather it was becoming significantly more difficult to develop and sustain an effective team over time. It is important to understand these changes in order to update and adapt the characteristics of an effective team, effective team players and, yes, to create some new “habits of an effective meeting.”
Team members are located in multiple locations. In the era of global organizations it is not unusual for a team to be composed of people from company sites in Asia, Europe, and the Americas. For example, I recently facilitated a team building meeting for a team that included members from Brazil, Italy, France, Switzerland, England, Germany, Japan, and the United States. There are a number of consequences of this factor:
Communication is more difficult because of language differences.
Communication is more difficult because of cultural differences.
Communication is more difficult because of the inherent limitations of electronic communications technology.
Informal interactions among teammates that quite naturally occur in the hallway, cafeteria, and offices on a co-located team just do not take place.
Team players have to be more assertive in developing effective relationships with their teammates who are located in other sites.
With teams composed of members from different countries, members bring to the experience a wide variety of communication styles, approaches to decision-making, and attitudes toward leadership.
While cultural generalizations are tricky, people from some Asian cultures are reluctant to publicly disagree with teammates, while people from some central European countries are often very direct in their comments about the work of teammates. The consequences of this factor are:
There are misunderstandings that sometimes lead to conflict and negative feelings.
Being a team player now includes understanding and working with people who are culturally different.
Deadlines may be missed and, as a result, progress toward team goals does not meet senior management’s expectations.
It is now incumbent upon the team leader to ensure that the channels of communication are appropriate for people with different communication styles.
The bar has been raised for team success. Since teams have become an established part of organization strategy, it is expected that all teams will function at a high level. This is especially true in organizations where there has been a heavy investment in team development services such as training and consulting. The consequences are:
There is a greater impatience among senior management when they see lack of team progress, especially time wasted in endless team meetings. There is added pressure on team leaders to demonstrate progress that can result in lowering the bar on quality, forgoing good team practices, and added stress for team members.
Being a successful team leader now requires regular and effective communication with senior management to manage the expectations of the team.
Being an effective team player increases the importance of challenging conventional thinking to ensure the best possible team outcome.
There is a recognition that team success requires a support system. Progressive organizations have come to realize that simply creating teams is not enough to ensure success. It is clear now that there is a need for a total system that includes a supportive management style, performance management process, reward systems, and a team-based culture. The consequences of this factor are:
There is a search for new and creative ways of looking at how leaders are selected, members are appraised and teams are rewarded.
The organization must go to a more fluid structure that facilitates cross-functional collaboration.
Senior management must adopt a style that is supportive of team players.
A conscious effort must be implemented to alter the culture to one that values team players, encourages collaboration across functions, and rewards teamwork.
The organization must adopt new methods for rewarding successful teams, recognizing outstanding team players, and incorporating performance on a team into the overall employee appraisal process.
There is more cross-functional teaming. The new world of business demands that an increasing number of teams be composed of people from many different functional organizations. It is no longer possible, for example, to develop complex new products, provide quality customer service, and close major sales with large clients without a coordinated approach among people from a variety of disciplines. Implications of this factor are:
The job of team leader becomes more difficult because of the need to coordinate the work of people who may have different goals, work styles, and commitment to the team with little or no authority to influence or control their actions.
There is a greater need for adaptive team players who are able to quickly develop trust, communicate with people who are different and subordinate their functional goals to the goals of the team.
There is an increased need for team training in such areas as meeting facilitation, conflict resolution, and communications skills in order to help teams take advantage of all the resources on the team.
Building trust quickly is now even more essential to effective teamwork. Since diversity — functional, cultural, and geographical — is now the norm on so many teams, the potential for communications breakdowns based on lack of trust is great. With limited opportunity to overcome barriers and build trust through regular face-to-face meetings and informal contacts such as hallway conversations, lunch, and coffee breaks, trust building has become a major challenge.
Teams may have to adopt the norm of “swift trust” where members assume their teammates are trustworthy from the outset of their relationship.
Trust building exercises will need to be an integral part of a project kick off meeting.
In the new world of cross-functional teaming, it is not unusual for subject matter experts to be a member of three or four teams — I have known at least one person who was on six teams! Some of these people can spend a good part of a work day simply going from meeting to meeting resulting in an oft-heard complaint: “I can’t get any work done because I’m in meetings all day.”
It is more difficult to develop a positive team spirit because many members have divided loyalties.
It is more difficult to get team tasks completed because many members have conflicting work priorities. It more difficult to schedule a team meeting and to get people to attend meetings because meeting times often conflict with each other.
The role of the team leader is both more important and more difficult. With many more teams being cross-functional, cross-cultural and virtual, the demands on the leader have increased exponentially. It is simply more challenging to provide leadership when the members of the team report to a functional manager, are culturally different, and work in distant company location. The implications of this factor are:
It is critical that the leader have the requisite interpersonal skills to facilitate meetings with a diverse team membership.
It is essential that the leader have high level influence skills to offset the lack of direct management authority over the membership of the team.
It is very important that senior management have a rational process in place for the selection of team leaders.
The leader must have excellent “diplomacy” skills in order to develop and maintain effective relationships with a variety of stakeholders, including corporate leadership, department heads, support groups, external regulatory bodies, as well as suppliers and other vendors.
Successful team meeting management is now even more critical. Meetings are still the most visible team activity. And, given the new reality of teams that are virtual, cross-cultural, and cross-functional, the degree of difficulty for achieving a successful meeting has significantly increased. The challenge for team leaders and, yes, team members as well, is to ensure that the increasing amounts of time (and the corresponding costs) spent in meetings produces something of value.
Team leaders need high level meeting facilitation skills and/or access to training that provides these skills.
Team members and leaders need easy access to a kit of tools, templates, and checklists for planning and managing a successful meeting.
Senior management needs to set the standard for effective meeting management by using all the right tools and demonstrating high level meeting facilitation skills.
Many meetings use teleconferencing, video conferencing, or web conferencing technology. Since most teams require weekly or monthly meetings and since members are not co-located, meetings must, of necessity, use teleconferencing technology, video conferencing if it is available, or a web-based tool, if one can be found that meets the needs of the team.
I facilitated a teleconference a few weeks ago where all five people on the line were calling from a different location around the world. In addition, while the meeting was conducted in English, I was the only person whose primary language was English. I am a good facilitator, and I found it difficult. Being an effective team leader now requires a capability to make effective use of the new technology.
The new reality of global organizations demands that we alter many of our established meeting “habits” to make effective use of all team resources.
Glenn Parker is a Skillman-based consultant and author of 16 team management books. His latest is Meeting Excellence: 33 Tools to Lead Meetings That Get Results (Wiley). He is speaking at a meeting of the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, July 18, at 7:30 a.m. at the Nassau Club. Call 609-924-1776 to register. For more information on Parker and his company visit www.glennparker.com.
Princeton psychotherapist Teena Cahill has just published “The Cahill Factor: Turning Adversity into Advantage.” She is the featured speaker at the inaugural event for the United Way’s New Jersey Women’s Leadership Council. “Women Taking the Lead” takes place on Wednesday, July 18, at 6 p.m. at the Nassau Club. Cost: $50. Call 609-637-4900 to register.
Cahill’s book mixes biography with advice as she tells the story of how she re-invented her life and her career after her husband suffered a serious stroke. In a section that provides a look at Cahill’s attitude and style, and at the same time gives some tips to anyone who plans to travel in a wheelchair this summer, or to accompany someone in a wheelchair, she has the following suggestions, excerpted from her book:
When others are simply strolling, you are getting a great workout by pushing a 220-pound man in a wheelchair.
Join your husband in learning to love the smell of jet fuel in the morning. Early flights usually leave on time and have fewer passengers.
Do not wear a funky fake fur coat in the rain in New York City while you are trying to get a cab. If your husband is in a wheelchair, no one will stop.
It does not matter what you wear in the rain in Paris while trying to hail a cab. If your husband is in a wheelchair, no one will stop.
If your husband is in a wheelchair and you are visiting your kids in the center of Vienna, strap him down. Many streets are cobblestone, and it will take him days to stop vibrating.
Go to bed early if you stay in a convent. They ring bells at 5 a.m.
Avoid Frankfurt airport altogether.
The Americans with Disabilities Act makes it much easier to travel in this country. For the disabled and their caregivers, getting around in other countries is much more challenging.
When a foreign hospital advertises they are “English-speaking,” they are referring primarily to the doctors. If your husband has an emergency in the middle of the night and your knowledge of the native language is limited to the word “eggplant,” look for a nurse from the Philippines. These hard-working women are all over the world, and most of them speak English.
When at a big city medical center waiting for your husband to have dozens of medical tests, there is almost always some inexpensive place to get your nails done.
People are nice in every country, and as human beings, we are more alike than we are different. If you look for these similarities, you will make friends wherever you go.
Realize that, regardless of the political ideology of the country, all people want an opportunity to build a better life for themselves and their kids. So when you meet a person who used to be a high-level government official in the former Soviet Union, do not be shocked when she asks how to get her daughter into an American Ivy League university.
Understand that the world gets smaller daily. Do not be surprised when you walk into the apartment of a very nice woman who once worked for the East German government and you find Ikea furniture just like yours.
Military cemeteries around the world are filled with brave men and women who fought so we could lead such privileged lives. Thank them, and thank their families.
When possible, regardless of where you are, take the train with the glass dome.
Never drive a car in Boston.
Learn to say “thank you,” “please,” and “excuse me” in every language. This will carry you far.
Get to know the housekeeping staff at every hotel, be very nice to them, and give them lots of money. When your husband falls, they will try to help you. And their lives may be far more difficult than yours.
Do not allow your disabled husband, regardless of what he and his buddy believe, go canoeing down an alligator infested river. At some point he will be expected to walk and carry the canoe.
If you and your husband are on the carousel at Disney World and you see someone stealing his wheelchair, think twice before you jump off and run after the thief. You could injure your ankle, and then no one in the family will be able to walk.