Conference Call or Meeting? by @MeetingBoy

While I complain a lot about meetings and conference calls, there is no escaping them. They are the death and taxes of corporate life. Sometimes people need to get together to decide or discuss things, and so in the interest of being constructive, I’ve made a list of when to call a meeting versus a conference call, because sometimes the wrong venue is the problem, not the agenda.

So if you’re someone who needs to get his team together, how do you decide whether to have your employees sleep at the conference table or their desks?

Rule #1: A pointless meeting handled via conference call is still a waste of time. It’s just a waste of less time. During the corporate vs. independent debates, consultants said they hated going in for pointless meetings because they didn’t like unbillable travel time. A meeting people have to go to that wastes their time will waste less time on a call, but let’s just stop wasting each other’s time.

In fact, maybe this should be the new Golden Rule of Office Life: Respect others’ time as you would have them respect yours, regardless of their rank in the organization.

So the following shouldn’t happen whether in person or on the phone:

  • Status meeting or any other meeting where people only care when they are the one talking. A status meeting is really a series of two-person meetings where one person reports their item to the manager. No one listens to another person’s status. No one cares. So in a 12-person department meeting, 10 people are having their time wasted at all times! That’s 84%.

Can we stop doing status meetings and just start doing these via email. Or text. Or never. Yes, let’s try never.

  • A meeting without an agenda. If the meeting has no purpose, nothing will be accomplished. Fact.
  • A meeting where all you’re doing is reading something word-for-word.

Read my lips: I C-A-N R-E-A-D. So tell me something not already in this slide or shut up.

Rule #2: Never use the phone for a group discussion when everyone can meet in person in less than 5 minutes. The whole point of working in an office is proximity, so take advantage of it. Once you go to the phone, people feel less self-conscious about checking Twitter or playing Angry Birds, just as they do when the lights go down in a meeting.

Rule #3: Any time more than two people will do most of the talking, you need to meet in person. Because once a lot of people need to talk, the phone becomes very confusing as to who is talking and who’s turn it is. I covered this point in a previous post.

An exception when the phone would work is when multiple people in one room need to ask one remote person questions, because then the local people can keep from cutting each other off. This comes up plenty when a key decision maker is traveling and the show must go on.

Rule #4: Any time you are disseminating information to a dispersed group, use the phone. Earnings, briefings, instructions, overviews, kickoffs– these things are all perfect for conference calls because one person will do all the talking.

Never make me travel to a lecture. I can ignore you fine from over here.

Rule #5: Any uncomfortable conversation, brainstorm, or debate needs to happen in person. If you’re pulling the team together to figure out what went wrong, you’re going to need people to look each other in the eye and take responsibility. On the phone, people feel no compunction about blaming others and dodging their own share of the disaster, but that’s harder to do in person. Of course that’s not to say that there aren’t some sociopaths in the workplace who can look you in the eye and lie about anything; it’s just that there is no solution for sociopaths.

Of course my boss doesn’t consider himself a liar. When he looks you in the eye and tells you something that’s not true, he’s being honest about believing that rules don’t apply to him and that he’s better than you.

When you’re trying to incubate an idea or build a consensus, people are going to all chime in, and only in person can this work because on the phone they will all talk over each other, and no one knows what’s going on. In the end they will agree to anything because they will be frustrated at not being heard and just want to move on.

Why does the project suck, boss? Well, it was confusing when everyone kept interrupting each other, so I caught up on Words With Friends and then just agreed to everything.

Rule #6: If there’s a language barrier, it will be worse on the phone. So meet in person. If you struggle to make yourself understood over the phone, the person on the other end is also frustrated. If this happens in person, people are often more sympathetic and more patient. Also there will be non-verbal or even written things that can be done to make it go better.

And if you can’t meet in person, then get someone who can talk for you to join you on the phone so they can help.

We struggled for a half hour on that call because of a language barrier, but we met in person and got it solved. But there’s no solution for a stupidity barrier.

So there you go. Six rules and one golden rule. As soon as someone chisels these onto stone tablets for me, maybe we can change the office world for the better.
Any to add? Let me know in the comments.

Written by

Maggie Hibma is a member of the product team.

2 thoughts on “Conference Call or Meeting? by @MeetingBoy

  1. I would also suggest sending out a minutes report or agenda list before a call. It helps set the expectations and sometimes cuts time down since the customer already has the status of open items. Pretty much agree with everything here!

  2. If you have a presentation that is over 4 slides long. It is too long and complex of a subject to be talking about on the phone.

Comments are closed.