Friday, September 26, 2014

The dreaded all-department meeting

Take a look at almost any company-wide survey asking for general employee feedback on what’s working well and what’s not. Almost invariably, the one item that will top the “not so good” list is “communication.” Regardless of how good the communications are, they’re still not good enough. Although I must admit to having seen, once, a comment like, “There are too many communications!” workers tend to feel left out of the loop quite easily.

Your job is to fill the vacuum that forms usually in about a 2-4 week timeframe. Even if you
thoroughly communicated everything that was going on a couple weeks ago, by the time a few weeks have gone by, your folks are starting to feel like they are out of touch. Fretting doesn’t help. It’s just a fact. So resign yourself to doing whatever is necessary to make them feel like they’re always in the loop. Better yet, why consider it some sort of detrimental situation? This is actually a great opportunity for you to do much more than speak -- you can also get everybody rowing the boat in unison. Generally, a message must be communicated 2-3 times before everybody will really hear it, and 5-10 times before they’ll start believing it. So, by taking advantage of these pre-scheduled opportunities, your bigger messages will be believed that much sooner.

At the very least, get everyone who reports to you (directly or indirectly) into a departmental briefing every month. If you do them frequently, concentrate on important items, keep up the pace, and layer in a little humor, you should be able to take no more than 30-60 minutes and provide enough information to loop everyone back in. It’s good to switch up the presenters as well -- don’t try to do the whole thing yourself. Not only does this offer the gathering a more dynamic feel, but it also gives others an opportunity to address the team, and even show off something interesting that they’ve been working on.

I’ve seen some managers that have used frequent departmental meetings quite well, only to abandon them when projects were getting down into their final stages and time was getting precious. Let me state that this is exactly the reverse of what should happen. When the pressure and stress levels get high, it is more important that the briefings continue. In fact, in those instances it is preferable to shorten the gaps and have the meetings more frequently. You have to keep everyone informed and motivated, and if things are happening fast, then more things are changing, and all the more reason to fill everyone in. There will always be a few of the, “I just can’t afford the 30 minutes out of my day to listen to this stuff” folks, but in the end, everyone gains from the experience.

In between your formal departmental meetings, use email for what it’s best at… general announcements. Give folks a periodic update on cool happenings in your department and from activities around the company. Sometimes, you will be lucky enough to have a boss who does this broadly enough to include all your own employees. That kind of communication can partially offset the need for you to send your emails, and the skip-level information will be appreciated by your team.


  1. I was told there was to be punch and pie...

    Seriously, donuts are a good idea all the time. If you bring them for a regular meeting that you call, bring n-1 donuts so the last guy in gets shorted... It will make folks want to be on time for your meetings.