Million Dollar Smartphone
How is a phone worth a million dollars?
The answer is captured in one word:
Got your attention?
Good, you are present.
.I’ve been working with a large manufacturing company recently, helping the senior management teams improve their performance by exploring better ways of working together.
During these sessions an interesting phenomenon emerged. Some of the top management in the business have become heavy users of smartphones to the extent that they bring them in to meetings. Not a problem you may think. Not unusual too.
In one particular meeting the lead executive was attending a briefing about managing the product portfolio. A decision had been made to manage out one of the question mark products (see earlier post ) The lead exec spent the meeting tapping away on his smartphone during the briefing. A dispiriting experience for the team presenting.
- Later this same executive led the negotiations to sell the technology to another company.
- He thought the negotiation had gone rather well
- It had.
- It had gone well for the buyer rather than the seller.
The product had been sold for less than its true value and the lead executive’s company had retained the liabilities for product failure after it had been sold.
The cost of this mistake? you guessed it….. about a million dollars.
Attending meetings is not just about being there. It is about being Present.
Valuable work gets done in the breaks when running workshops
I’ve been running a large event kicking off the collective working capability for several parts of a multinational company.
There were people representing 4 organisations each of which had annual turnovers of several hundred million pounds.
I thought I’d share what happened. We had to think on our feet a lot….
- Developed the workshop bringing 20 or so people together to develop collective working capability over two days.
- Spent weeks planning the event
- Planned down to the minute (we had expected highly structured, task oriented types present)
- On the day the plan got busted within the first 5 mins when the client asked for something different than I’d been told – ok we fitted that in.
- Then these tasky, structured types started to get more creative and overran our timings, so we ran with the energy in the room and made space for this.
- Did more prep in the break re-planning on the fly (this was possible because we’d put all that work in beforehand)
- The end of the event we got real success achieved everything we set out to.
So why am I telling you all this?
In the feedback session we asked what had gone really well about the event, where the real value was
The answer – It was the tea breaks where we got the most value
My inner reaction for a microsecond – OH NO!
[for those of you that facilitate you'll know the mind works in the fast lane where you are stood up there]
Then it suddenly occurred:
- Yes they were right, the real value was in the unstructured dialogue when people were relaxed
- But if I’d just brought them together for a tea break :
- They wouldn’t have come
- Nothing would have happened
- So the structure is needed to get things started
- Then allow space for people to start to feel safe
- Then allow time for all that relationship building stuff to kick in
- Stand back and try not to interfere.
Learning for me..
- Build in longer breaks, let people talk
- Allow space when people in the room get energised
- Your plans can change
- It’s the result for the people in the room that matters
The event was such a success we’ve been commissioned to take it to other parts of the organisation.
I’m now busy planning more overseas trips
Funny old world isn’t it.
Join Me Logo
Tim recommended we take a look at Join.me as a facilitation tool. So we did.
Having played with the free version for a while we have come to the conclusion it is pretty good for getting your message out there.
However, for the sort of physical / virtual meetings we have been playing with, we find it falls short.
What Join.me is good at:
- Share your desktop with selected others giving each person a unique code.
- a large number of others can view your desktop (100+)
- Open a voice over IP channel with those sharing the view of your screen
- Instant messaging facility for text chat.
- The capability to transfer the broadcast to others
What Join.me would be ideal for:
- Broadcasting your thoughts to an attentive community.
- Delivering a training session
- Communicating a presentation or webinar
When we’ve tested Join.me in a group we have found its design tends to suppress two-way dialogue as whoever controls the visuals tends to dominate the group.
Therefore we would see Join.me as a useful tool for giving information rather than promoting true exchange of information between peers. It is a broadcast tool rather than a dialogue tool. Provided you understand this, it will work very well for you.
We are getting the hang of facilitating mixed virtual and physical groups.
We are innovating with small but significant incremental improvements.
Tick Box - created by Rawich
This group has people who attend physically, we also have people attending from all over the UK and also from Continental Europe.
Readers of this blog will know that we have tried video conferencing, and played with telepresence with mixed success.
We have come to the conclusion that the off the shelf technology (Skype) is not quite up to the task at the moment.
We still want to involve people and give them a meaningful two way communication between those present in the room
What worked this time
- We abandoned video conferencing and pre-prepared virtual attendees so they knew it would be voice only
- We used two facilitators:
- one to manage the room(F1)
- a second person managed the virtual attendees (F2)
- We used the Skype instant messaging facility for virtual members to communicate with their facilitator (F2) in the room
- At appropriate times F2 helped draw attention to comments made by the virtual attendees, then we turned up the sound on the laptop and let them speak for themselves to the room.
The benefits of this approach:
- This made the people attending vitually feel included
- The main facilitator (F1) could manage the flow of content in the room
- The backup facilitator (F2) was the virtuals’ champion in the room and as respected by everyone.
We’ll continue making improvements and will tell you how it goes..
Interesting comment, it was made by the members of one of the Chief Executive Groups I run.
Empty Meeting Room
Sometimes letting things happen can be quite revealing.
This answers one of the questions posed earlier in this blog (Why do we need facilitation anyway?)
You’ll need some background:
- I have been facilitating this particular group for about 4 years.
- We meet once every 2 months or so.
- We started it because being a CEO is a particularly lonely position.
- Talking to peers in a confidential environment is really valuable.
- CEOs need others to bounce ideas around
- We have unlocked so many seemingly intractable situations.
- Problem solving at this level needs absolute confidentiality.
- This builds a lot of commitment between the members of the group.
Why change anything?
I’m constantly aware of being complacent, and try not to take situations for granted.
They had all known one another for 4 years. A lot of trust builds up in that time. I got to wondering whether I was actually adding any value.
So I started to let go of this group.
So what happened?
- Interestingly, nothing happened.
- The group stopped meeting.
- Gradually they began to ask me when the next meeting was to be.
- We held a series of reality check conversations to find out whether what we were doing was still worthwhile or just habit.
- These conversations need to be 1:1
- They all needed the group to continue.
- “It just doesn’t happen with you” they told me when we got together again.
Facilitation does make a difference. Really valuable group working doesn’t just happen.
I’ll still not be complacent though…
I have been facilitating many meetings using Skype and have some observations to share:
Our experience so far is that Skype’s voice conferencing is more stable than video conferencing.
This is based on facilitating many conference calls between 5 – 15 people at any one time.
There are things you can do to make a Skype conference successful.
I thought it would be useful to condense some of our learning for you, so here goes..
Facilitation Tips for a Successful Skype Conference
- Make sure you have everyone’s Skype ID – set up a group list in Skype beforehand then you just need to make one call
- Let everyone know you will call them – If they call you – and you answer, you put the main group on hold and this can be frustrating from their point of view.
- Circulate a clear agenda beforehand.
- Set a clear start time – and don’t forget to include local times for people in other time zones
- If people arrive late, get them to text you rather than Skype you to let you know they are waiting to join – then you can add them to your conference call.
- Leaving a virtual meeting is easier than leaving a real one, so….
- Set a clear end time – If you don’t do this I’ve found that people make their own assumptions about when the meeting will end and you run the danger of people giving their apologies before the end of the meeting then you can lose control and it ends when you run out of a critical mass of people to contribute.
Tight or loose control – it’s your choice:
- If you want to control the meeting tightly then add more agenda points.
- If you want the meeting to flow more freely then just have 2 or 3 points at most
- Microphones are sensitive things, we have had all of these and more in our meetings:
- Dogs barking
- Mobiles ringing
- Doors slamming
- Landline telephones ringing, then voicemail kicking in
- Birdsong (I can live with this one)
- Postmen, delivery people arriving
- Make sure people know how to mute their microphone (and recognise when it is muted)
- You get a visual cue for who is talking, their icon on-screen has a blue halo.
- Keep a mental (or written) note of who is contributing and encourage the quiet ones to have their say
- Dont be afraid of silence, give people space to talk
- A good tip to involve the quiet ones:
- Give them warning that you will invite them to have a say after the next person.
- Some people need that time to think.
- You can get really valuable contributions this way.
- Nearly every time I have run a Skype conference someone has had trouble with their microphone
- Encourage people to use the Instant Messaging feature
- This can seem like you are running two simultaneous meetings – it gets easier to do with practise
Should you put in a comfort break?
- If shorter than one hour, no
- If longer than an hour, schedule in a break halfway through and make this clear at the start.
- Tell everyone not to close Skype, keep it open while they take a break 5 -10 mins max
Tips for helping the meeting write-up afterwards:
Creating a Skype transcript is easier than you might think.
Skype has an instant messaging (IM) function built-in, encourage people to use it during the meeting and the notes write themselves.
- We find it is very helpful when people have problems with the technology.
- In one case two people could hear us but not speak
- So I encouraged them to type comments in and we had a parallel track of conversations
- This makes for a juggling act as a facilitator keeping track of the voice traffic and message traffic but you get used to it pretty quickly
- At the end of the session before I closed the Skype window I did 2 things
- Took a screen capture to get everyone’s pictures (using the print screen key – then paste the image into the meeting notes document)
- Clicked and dragged over the message traffic text in the IM window, copied and pasted it into the meeting notes.
Ending the meeting:
- Try to keep to the end time, having a clear ending is satisfying for everyone involved and shows you respect the value of their time and, by implication, yours.
- If you are not good at monitoring the time..
- Tell the people in the conference call at the start.
- Encourage people in the conference to alert you when the meeting is close to the end.
- If you are going to overrun call a quick halt agree a new end time and stick to it.
This all works, it is based on actual experience.
I’m a fan of learning by doing so give it a go and tell me what works for you.
As the meeting ended I asked the 15 or so consultants in the room ” A good use of time…?”
Waiting for Skype to work at the start of the meeting
Nods and grins, “Yes thank you”…….. “well, er…. No!…. it was awful at the start! …
“We were supposed to start at 9:30 but didn’t get going until 10:10 – 40 mins of precious time together wasted”
That got my attention.
Well, if you ask for feedback you have to be prepared to receive it.
So what happened?….
We were being innovative with our meetings – Using Skype for telepresence, bring ing in people from Germany, Scotland and the South of England to join a room full of people.
What went well
- The microphone and speakers are a definite improvement (see Pyramids and Starfish)
- We did get 3 people joining us remotely well,… for a while anyway
What did not go well
- Skype fell over again. Despite the fact that I had signed up for the premium version of Skype
- We switched laptops,… it worked for a while then fell over again
- I had to stop trying to fix it as I was interrupting the flow of the meeting.
- This is not low bandwidth, we had a 10 Mb line
- I’m coming to the conclusion that there is something inherently unstable about Skype for video conferencing
Continuous improvement for future meetings:
- Skype works well when we are all on Skype in a voice conference
- Mixed virtual/ physical meetings just don’t work with this technology.. so I’ll give up on that, for now.
I’ll be cancelling the subscription for Skype premium
One of the things about being innovative and pushing the technology is that things don’t always work!
Thankfully we have a group of people who are highly tolerant, so we must be doing something right.
It won’t stop me trying more new things, Life is far more fun when you introduce a bit of innovation.