As a Brit based in Australia, and someone who has lived and worked in the US, Europe, the Middle East and now Asia Pacific, I try to bring a balanced and global perspective to how we work with our clients. As Managing Principal for Inflexion Group in Asia Pacific, I wanted to share my reflections on how we find the optimum balance between in-person and tech enabled business discussions — particularly when participants are working in multiple different countries and time zones.
It’s a rich subject matter, so I’ve decided to go all spaghetti western and split my thoughts into the good, the bad and the ugly! Let’s start with the positives. As always, we’ll try to keep our input practical and pragmatic.
At the heart, it’s a matter of respect… respect for all the participants’ and their time. So here are my top tips for considerate and effective international online meetings:
Establish a clear purpose
Make sure that the objective for any session is clearly stated and is in the context of something of strategic importance to everyone on the call.
Identify the leader
The call will be more effective if it is led with one person responsible for achieving the outcome in the agreed time. If this same person is doing most of the talking, there’s a fair chance that the call will not be as effective as it could be. The old adage about people having 2 ears, 2 eyes and one mouth and encouraging them to be used in this proportion is a clear statement on why listening and watching are so important to full understanding!
Be considerate of everyone’s environment
Think about the environment of the person who is at the greatest disadvantage for that call. Perhaps they are in the most distant time-zone, or on audio only, or new to the subject matter. If the person running the call can find a way of warmly embracing the most disadvantaged, then everyone else will feel connected too.
Honest opinions always come out eventually so try to create an atmosphere where people feel safe to give their opinion. And you really want to be getting these thoughts into the discussion during the formative stage of any work — it can be really destructive if they come out after the event!
Probe for questions
If questions aren’t forthcoming, then push harder, but in a warm and playful way! Often it just takes one question to open up a rich new line of discussion and learning.
Get everyone involved
Ensure there is a balanced engagement across all participants and that one or two people aren’t hogging the discussion. Diversity of thought and input always improve the quality of the output.
Give people permission to be distracted or to step away if they need to. They’ve given you the gift of their time, perhaps they’re also giving that gift to someone else. Let them decide what is best use of their time. I find popping a short line on the chat channel near the start of the call is a great way to make this happen.
As for the bad and the ugly…
Well, we’ve all been part of calls dominated by one or two speakers, calls that circle endlessly without reaching a conclusion, or calls where people give the key speaker “a good listening to” for 29 minutes to then be offered the chance “to input their own perspective” in the final 60 seconds!
But the worst I’ve ever heard of was the US software company who asked members of their leadership team to join a four-hour call that started at 2am in Asia Pacific. The purpose of the call… to get 360 degree input on the performance of individual members of the full global team! The outcome… 90% of the time spent talking about US based employees and when it was time to provide input on those Asia Pacific based professionals, the global leaders comment was… “it’s hard to for me to add much to that given how little I see of them, so I trust your opinion!” REALLY!!! A lost night’s sleep, wasted time, no value add and the best you can come up with is a patronising attempt at “showing trust.” Oh my!!!
As I said at the start… it’s all about respect. Think about your audience before you start and prepare accordingly. It shows when you have, and it always shows when you haven’t!