The Importance of Face-to-Face Meetings – At Particular Times, and At Regular Times

Stephen shares an experience at a firm he founded regarding the importance of face-to-face meetings:

At Hartwell Pacific, the global metal recycling company I founded in 1993 and exited in 2008, I was operating factories in six different cities in four countries, so developing an effective global management system was critical. We came up with a system that shared the travel burden but, most important, made “local” management a part of the global corporation.

In the article, Stephen talks about:

1. The senior leaders from HQ would have monthly meetings at the six different locations, one a month, and the meetings would involve the local manager. This helped to “break down the geographic and psychological borders between subsidiaries,” among other things.

2. The monthly meetings had a huge impact on creating a shared culture across the firm – “we created a team that felt a sense of ownership not just of their P&L, but of the entire company.

3. The meetings followed a specific agenda and format, mixing presentations, discussions, and sharing a meal or two together. Subsequent meetings by the senior leaders would follow-up on issues raised during the day.

4. The sessions were not about assigning blame – they were about sharing success, best practice, and challenges. Equally, “The meetings also helped management to root out fraud and gross negligence, which was a chronic problem at a company growing as quickly as ours. The meetings also provided a positive competitiveness as managers competed to see who could achieve the best performance, and each division seemed to leapfrog each other month after month. Market share expanded, cost controls tightened, safety improved, operational efficiency peaked, and so did profits.

Towards the end of the article, Stephen notes that the need for these face-to-face meetings every month diminished over time, and could be pulled back to quarterly with conference calls in between.

Over time, once personalities gelled and relationships bonded, we were able to scale back the frequent flyer miles by making it a quarterly face-to-face meeting, with monthly conference calls in between. Today a videoconference would be the preferable alternative, as technology is definitely bringing distant operations closer together.

My Comments
Face-to-face meetings are really important – I truly believe that – so it’s good to see the benefits gained at Stephen’s previous company. Being there, in person, on site, gives you something you can’t gain any other way. It’s a cool case study.

The cultural signal / ethos of the meeting – to support, to learn together – was just as important as having the meetings in person. If that cultural signal / ethos hadn’t been there, my sense is the meetings would have been much less successful, and results gained would have been much less significant – or negative.

Question – who do you need to go and visit, face-to-face this month?

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