Case study: Feedback
(see p. 42)
The following comments are provided as food for thought. Different interpretations are, of course, possible.
What are the main problems that Jean-pierre has identified with the conference calls?
The main problems that Jean-pierre sees with his team’s meetings are ones that are commonly reported: poor audio quality from those using mobile phones, a lack of support for other people’s roles, poor preparation and participation, and people leaving early because of their family commitments.
What other factors could be causing the problems? It is possible that other factors are either generating the problems that Jean-pierre observes or that other more fundamental problems are in play. First, the unevenness of preparation and presentations during the meetings may be the result of a lack of a standard template and format. It seems that team members are free to prepare their own presentations to different levels of detail. Jean-pierre needs to define a clear template and model for what has to be reported. Also, sending the presentations in advance would mean the calls could focus more on questions rather than being a platform for presentations.
The failure of people to collaborate in the calls may be because of the ways in which their roles are structured. Although Jean-pierre wants people to support each other with ideas, this may not be in people’s job descriptions. The country heads therefore may not see it as their responsibility to generate ideas for others — they are all busy enough with their own roles. Also, a lack of knowledge about each other’s markets might be making people reluctant to speak up out of fear that they might say the wrong thing.
Jean-pierre is also inviting a lot of people to the meeting, which makes it more challenging to conduct an interactive, creative session. Large numbers are more suitable for briefings. If Jean-pierre wants creativity, he should perhaps have more regular, smaller and shorter calls.
Another factor is that the timing of the call reflects a common Paris practice of having longer meetings on Friday afternoon to wrap up the week or month. This is not standard in other European countries, where Friday afternoon may sooner be seen as the start of the weekend and family time. Jean-pierre may need to consider having the call at a different time.
Audio quality can indeed be a problem when people connect to conference calls via mobiles. But it is fair for Jean-pierre to expect joiners to use a stable connection. This simply requires some planning by the participants.
To what extent do you think Jean-pierre’s email will solve these problems? What could he do better? There is a serious danger that the very direct and accusatory tone of Jean-pierre’s email — including his use of capital letters — will inflame emotions among the country heads. This could make it more difficult to find solutions and to encourage collaboration and support. It would be more helpful if Jean-pierre were to ask for feedback from the others on the conference calls and ask for their suggestions for improvements. Using one of the calls to discuss communication issues — including the number of participants, the style and length of presentations, and the timing and length of the calls — would be a good first step towards creating a communication culture that everyone can buy into.