Meetings Will Make You — or Break You

Most of us work in virtual meetings often, some of us almost exclusively.  People call in using Google Hangouts, Skype, GoToMeeting, WebEx, JoinMe, Free Conference, and so on.  (I’m speaking here of “virtual meetings for the rest of us,” not the high-end meeting rooms costing hundreds of thousands.)

The hybrid meeting

I’ve been part of and/or hosted lots of physical meetings, and lots of online meetings.  In a meeting I hosted the other day, I encountered a variation — the digital-analog hybrid, where some of the people are remote and some are in the room.  (I’m in New York City, where everybody passes through at one time or another.)

It’s amazing what happens around the table that people on the phone do not have access to.  Off-mic side comments, glances, smiles, tones of voice — a panoply of meta-meaning that provides richness and context, and that only those physically in the room benefit from.

This led to a misunderstanding with one of my three co-presenting colleagues who was not present in the room.  I should mention that presence or absence had nothing to do with how important each person was to the meeting, nor how important the meeting was to each of them.  It was based simply on their availability to come to NYC at that time.  (Some were connected from as far away as Europe.)

The problem

For my purpose here, it’s not so important what exactly transpired.  Let’s just say it was a miscue deriving from an agenda item that was modified at show-time by consensus of those physically around the table — but not made clear — and here’s where as meeting leader I fell short — to those calling in. In other words, it was a problem enabled by the hybrid nature of the meeting.

What I’d like to share with you — because many of you may experience this too, with regard to meetings, or other conflicts with peers — is how we resolved it.

The fix

My colleague brought my mistake to my attention — unfortunately, though, this was in a text she sent after the meeting had ended, not during the meeting in time to fix it in real-time (which is usually best.)

Here are the steps I used to resolve it:Fix

1. ACKNOWLEDGE.  I agreed to the facts of what happened, and took ownership of my mistake.  (I learned this “facts first” approach from reading the work of the Harvard Negotiation Project.)

2. APOLOGIZE. This heart-to-heart exchange, too often overlooked, clears the air and sets a positive tone going forward.

3. EXPLAIN.  After a day or two,my colleague and I had a phone conversation in which I explained the context that I feel played as much of a role as did my own behavior (as described in the opening paragraphs here.)

4. REVISE. Mistakes if and when corrected can be springboards to improvement.  Mistakes left uncorrected are doomed to be repeated, and can even metastasize into deeper conflicts.  My team is drafting some “rules of engagement” we’ll adopt to reduce the likelihood of this happening in the future.  We’re in the process of discussing these options as I write.

Note that this was a case where, when pointed out to me that I had erred, I essentially agreed.  These steps might not work as well where the culpability clearly falls elsewhere.

Rebooting teamwork

Most of us work in teams, and many of these teams are self-governing peer-to-peer teams, and many of these teams are run by hybrid meetings like I’ve described.

Many of the “best practices” that formerly optimized meetings no longer work in the digital age. See Charles Duhigg’s fascinating discussion of what Google is doing to understand and improve this situation.

Experts agree that building and running effective teams is among the most important “success factors” in modern enterprise — and the single factor that, if not managed well, can cause the greatest loss of opportunity, and even damage, to enterprise effectiveness.

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    COMPETING IN THE KNOWLEDGE ECONOMY is written by Timothy Powell, an independent researcher and consultant in knowledge strategy. Tim is president of The Knowledge Agency® (TKA) and serves on the faculty of Columbia University's Information and Knowledge Strategy (IKNS) graduate program.

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