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10 Strategies for Effective, Efficient, and Enjoyable Conference Calls

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10 Strategies for Effective, Efficient, and Enjoyable Conference Calls

I know - "Enjoyable Conference calls" sounds like an oxymoron.  

That's going to change.  

From my own experience and having seen the same patterns repeat when working with international teams, below are quick-fire strategies that when implemented will improve EVERYBODY's opinion about conference calls, as well as increase their effectiveness. 

10 Guidelines for Effective, Efficient, and Enjoyable Conference Calls

1. Only invite people who really need to be there.  

If you need to keep others in the loop for their information, that's what email is for. You can help your manager stop micro-managing and free up his / her agenda by sending him / her the notes. He / she will thank you for it. 

2. Figure out an agenda and stick to it.

If that means the call only has to be 15 minutes - great! Stay on topic, and cut people off when their time is up. Yes, this will take some getting used to, but everybody will get to practice their prioritization skills.

Consider adding "sticking to allotted times" as a performance review goal for those who need extra encouragement. 

3a. Share the agenda at least 24 hours in advance.  

People are different - some like to improvise, some like to avoid uncertainty and plan ahead. Some like to think out loud, some like to read up or reflect prior. Respect people's cultural and personality type differences and create an environment where everyone can shine and play to their strengths - that included knowing and sharing an agenda in advance.  

Yes, this may be in conflict with #2, because communication styles are not always direct and to the point, but you can circumvent that by making yourself available for people to contact you with their comments when they're ready to do so.  

3b. If necessary, separate "information gathering", "processing", and "decision-making" calls with sufficient lead / think times in between.

Since you're now sticking to agenda points, the whole conference call time will probably be the same as if trying to fit it all into one hour anyway - with better results, because everyone had time to reflect and review. 

4. Convene and cancel conference calls with at least 3 hours notice. 

This will probably make you chuckle, and I know it's not always doable, but trust me - not respecting your team members' time is a sure-fire way to get on their naughty list. Don't schedule or cancel calls willy-nilly, it's disrespectful. They prepared for that call, they maybe got up early or stayed late for that call, so not showing up or five-minute-warning oopsies should NOT be an option. 

Perhaps institute a "cancel jar" - everyone who cancels meetings fewer than x hours in advance has to get healthy snacks for local team members or buy the first round at Karaoke or something. Have some fun with that.  

5. Consider having video conferences instead. 

Especially when working with remote or international teams, seeing everybody's faces helps  

a) increase a sense of connection, and  

b) commitment to individuals' action items.  

You need to see that who you're dealing with is a person. Remember my post on in-groups and how dopamine and oxytocin make you more likely to collaborate with strangers? If you don't know your colleagues offshore, it's easy to think of them as robot-chickens. They're people, too. With families. And dinner dates. 

6. Rotate inconvenient times.

The world is a large place and time zones suck - it's always early morning or middle of the night time for one of you. Show some respect and appreciation and check timeanddate.com before you keep putting others out. Share the burden. And while we're at it:

7. Check with your internal calendars whether people are available in the first place. 

Give your team mates access to see what you've got going on - you don't want them to have to choose between three dates during the same 30 minutes, because we all know MULTITASKING DOESN'T WORK.  

Can't find a time slot that fits for everyone? CALL THEM and ask if they can switch something around.  

8. Do everyone a favor and be in a quiet environment. 

Don't commute and call. (Tweet this.)

People abroad will have a hard time hearing you over the background noise. If you're conference calling with people whose first language isn't English, they'll have a hard enough time as it is trying to follow everything you're saying.  

9. Speak slowly and enunciate.  

Agree on the language the call should be held in, and if it's English, which is likely, see 8. Be nice. Remember to ask open-ended questions to get everybody's feedback. "Does that make sense?" and "Everyone agreed?" will only ever get you a "Yes, of course." And then you're surprised if stuff doesn't get done. 

How about trying to lay out the goal, agree on the goal, and let people tell you how they can get there? Take a coaching approach and ask how you can support them and when they'd like you to check in for progress reports. They'll feel more in charge and autonomous in the process.  

10. Alert individuals when they're about to be on.  

In the real world, even though multi-tasking is a myth, people are busy and they will likely check email or fiddle with spread sheets or power-points while listening in. When you're about to call on them, say their name and alert them to the fact that they are about to be asked for input.  

I know, this will also get some getting used to, but our brains need a little heads-up to bring our focus back to the task at hand. Start doing that for one another, and your team will work more smoothly.  

 

Now all YOU have to do is decide which of these strategies to implement when, and whether you're going to stick to them!  Share in the comments, and add any points that have worked for you. 

Thanks to Per-Olof Forsberg for the creative commons flickr pic.

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Alternatives to using Expatriates

expat alternatives_moneyIn order to remain globally competitive, companies have to look at cost. Sending a mid-level executive expatriate may come with a price tag of $1,000,000 and more, so this decision usually isn't taken lightly. Before going into the costly and difficult process of selecting the right employee to be sent abroad, your company might want to consider using alternatives.

Solomon identified the following alternatives in 1998:

Short-term assignments / extended business travel arrangements

Instead of offering the usual three to five-year assignment stints abroad, companies could look at reducing the time to six months or a year, if the project allows. This practice usually goes hand-in-hand with single-status relocation, which means the expatriate will travel alone while the family stays behind. It will incur higher travel costs as the expat flies back to visit family more often, but relocation costs would be limited to one person and therefore significantly lower, as for example smaller accommodation is needed and no education expenses for relocating children have to be taken care of.

The advantages of introducing short-term assignments include a wider pool of candidates and the possible emergence of a global team network, where international companies can send employees around the globe within their different subsidiaries and departments more readily. Drawing on the international labor market and offering more employee a career opportunity by training them accordingly is another important aspect of any international HR strategy.

IT

Solomon also mentions using communication technology to its fullest by holding teleconferences and using the Internet to cut down on long-distance business trips. With services like instant messaging, Skype and other voice or video conferencing software as the norm nowadays, this practice can be more or less effective depending on the country and the project you are working on. Personal contact and visits are indispensable when doing business in relationship-oriented cultures, and saving time by using technology to communicate and establish relationships may cost you more in the long run.

Another alternative, as I've mentioned before, would be:

One-Way expatriation / Localization

New assignees go abroad with the understanding that they are not under expatriate status, i.e. not expected to come back to the home country. Existing expatriates are taken off the home-country payroll and given local contracts. For many families this is a great solution, especially when they have been abroad for a while and developed strong ties to the host country.

According to Solomon, companies back in 1998 began to recognize that "the shift toward flexible assignment structures is clearly more cost-effective." For HR specialists today, this means more administrative effort, as every case is treated on its individual and specific merits. Finding middle ground by using general expatriation guidelines that apply to everyone and supplementing them with personalized support as needed is an ongoing challenge.

What are your experiences with expat alternatives? Have you been working on or receiving any one of the ones mentioned in this article? If you or your company know of other strategies used, please let us know by leaving a comment below.

Resource:

Solomon, Charlene Marmer (1998) Today’s global mobility: short-term assignments and other solutions, Workforce, p12

Til next week, have a good one! Thanks to Shaik for the free pic.

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