Change Management: Death by Conference Call

Wednesday, February 1st, 2012

Change Management: Death by Conference Call

Last weekend, I called into a planning meeting of a non-profit where I volunteer. Although I appreciated being invited to this important meeting, I was dreading spending 3 1/2 hours on the phone. If my experience was a guide, this was going to be long and boring. I expected to drift in and out of attentiveness. I even placed a stack of “to do” items on my desk and had Angry Birds at the ready just in case. . .

It didn’t start well. The meeting started late, so the handful of us who had called in sat in limbo waiting for people to arrive. Then there were the obligatory technical glitches with the conference line – an echo when someone spoke, someone couldn’t hear, we couldn’t hear them, etc. – and partially overhearing informal chatter as people settled in. I felt like Woody Allen in Stardust Memories. He sits alone on an old and dirty passenger train.  He glances across the tracks and sees another train where an elegant party is taking place. Fun people having fun.  I wanted to be there.

But, then the meeting changed — just like that. Suddenly I was on the cool train. The chairperson went over the agenda. It looked good  and it seemed like it was going to cover the issues that were essential for us to address. A board member posed a set of questions that grabbed me. These were important and, for my money, the right questions to be asking. I wanted to be talking about these things. We were told that we would be spending a good part of the meeting addressing those questions in smaller work groups. I was engaged. I even volunteered to take on some extra tasks. It was a great meeting.

I was amazed at how quickly my inertia turned into excitement. There was nothing fancy about the technology. No video hook-up. We easily could have used a traditional old-school conference call line and it would have worked just as well. We didn’t need glitz, we needed conversation. And I think there were only three slides for the entire meeting: the agenda, and the lists of questions. So simple.

I think three things made this a productive meeting:

  1. The topic was critically important. And everyone in the meeting knew that before they entered the meeting.
  2. We were expected to contribute to help create solutions.
  3. And the format allowed us to talk. We were in small groups with clear tasks.

Since I expect that you probably have been the prisoner of mind-numbing conference calls, perhaps you might consider using this approach. And if I am ever in one of your meetings, I hope you do take these ideas to heart. I’ll try to return the favor.



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