This meeting productivity technique has been worth its weight in gold to me. It has worked every time I have used it. It initially helped me improve the quality of an international (non-domestic) business resilience program. I later applied the same technique to domestic programs in numerous companies I have advised and it worked every time!
So, what was the problem?
Through the years, I have built International Business Resilience Programs from the ground up. This has included many countries in Asia Pacific (APAC), Latin America (LATAM) and Europe (EU). I think Antarctica is the only continent I have not touched – so that is on my bucket-list (if you know of a company doing business in Antarctica that needs guidance please let me know).
To manage one International program early in my career I would hold monthly touch point meetings with each region. All the countries within a region had to be represented on the group call. The regional liaisons partnered with me in hosting the meetings. BC coordinators from each country in the regions attended the meetings. The meetings were conference calls that would have attendees from 8-12 countries. Representatives from each country reported on progress, challenges, issues and concerns they or their employees had in building their portion of the overall enterprise business continuity program.
In order to cover all the countries and to hopefully learn from each other we allotted 10-15 minutes for each country in the region to report. Frustratingly, the great majority of the responses from each country were short or non-existent I knew they were working hard and took business continuity very seriously but often they provided one word answers, even to open ended questions!
Something was wrong. I knew people had questions and concerns. Often, they were communicated offline. But during the large regional conference calls these issues were never communicated. Our global program was falling behind. It was getting sad and soon management would become irate.
The simple solution – that would never have occurred to me without a co-workers advice…
One of my colleagues was an international auditor and she would attend these calls as a business continuity partner. She had a great deal of international experience, far more than I had at the time. One day she pulled me aside and explained that she had encountered similar issues years before and one small change to her meeting process made all the difference in improving her program by leaps-and-bounds. She suggested I schedule shorter calls with each country individually for 10 minutes instead of holding the large regional 90-minute call.
Even though it was more of a hassle to schedule 30+ individual calls each month, I took her advice. Well, immediately information, issues and questions started flowing from each country during these more private calls. It turns out, even though I positioned the regional calls as learning experiences, etc., people were not comfortable asking questions in front of their peers from the other countries. Sure, I had made them comfortable and told them no one has all the answers… but they just did not want to look like they did not know as much as the leaders in other countries. In hindsight, I saw the error of my ways. Their reluctance to share was totally understandable. Lesson learned.
Separating the calls into mini meetings made it more personal and much less stressful. We accomplished so much from that point on and it made all the difference to successfully building out all the regional and country programs. Together we faced many disruptive events over the years from tsunamis to earthquakes to civil unrest and so many others and to each one we prevailed. We may have bent a bit but we never broke and we came back stronger every time.
Going forward I continued having the regional touch points with multiple countries attending on a less frequent quarterly basis. I still believe the larger group dynamic has many benefits in sharing information. In those meetings, it was more of voluntarily tips, successes, ideas and having fun – sometimes at my expense – but I loved it. Over time those meetings worked well. Many of us met in person, became close friends and remain friends to this day.