Negotiating a global meeting schedule

When global teams need to meet, there's no schedule everyone will like all the time, but there are alternatives everyone should be able to accept

Dear Bob ...

I am looking for insight on how to schedule a recurring, global meeting.

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My management team meets weekly via Web conference/teleconference. There are a dozen sites involved from around the globe, and the meetings have been going on for a while now. It's a good meeting, and the team has bonded well. The issue is that attendance is falling at the non-U.S. sites.

We hold one meeting a week, at the same time each week. We tried to pick the best time, but it's always either early morning or late evening somewhere. Participation is starting to fall, as people can't be expected to call in at 6 a.m. or 11 p.m. week after week.

I'm trying to think of the approaches for when to hold the meeting:

  • One meeting a week at a set time: For some sites, it is an inconvenient time. They participate as they can, but may miss multiple meetings. One meeting is good for keeping the team bonded and the discussions moving forward. However, some sites may feel excluded or secondary, as they are being asked to call in during off-hours.
  • Two meetings a week: Each is about 12 hours apart. Sites choose which to attend. Each meeting covers the same topics. This is more convenient, but it also may break the group into regional teams. It may also take longer to make decisions, as the input from the two meetings needs to be shared and discussed.

I also suppose there could be a mix of the two: one meeting a week, but alternate its time. I think that may be too disruptive, however.

Is there another approach? I'm concerned with moving from approach A to B and impacting the group and the process. There's the issue of how to thread the discussions and who will chair the meetings, if there are two of them.

However, with the current approach I'm worried that participation will decline to where some sites are simply excluded.

(An important detail: Many of our issues are decided by consensus, as part of the meeting, so lack of attendance has an immediate, negative impact.)

Do you have any thoughts on either approach or what seems to work well?

- Time Zoned Out

Dear TZO ...

It sounds like you're suffering from authority issues -- namely, you don't have any. It seems to me that step one ought to be figuring out who has authority over this team and asking that person to remind everyone -- diplomatically -- that the meeting, however scheduled and however inconvenient, isn't optional.

That's one of those messages, though, that has to be phrased quite carefully or it will do more damage than good. It should include a lot of empathy regarding the time zone challenges and not just be a "that's why they call it work" statement -- which doesn't answer the question you asked, so let's get to that.

What not to do: two meetings. For so many reasons, it just won't work. What it will do is divide your team into two rival teams -- exactly the wrong outcome.

Based on your description of a dozen sites involved from around the globe, I'd think the best solution would be one meeting that takes place on a rotating schedule. Rotate among three times that are each 8 hours later than the previous one, rather than two that are 12 hours apart. If you do that, then any given meeting should be during work hours for two-thirds of the participants, more or less.

As you operate by consensus, offer up the idea in your next meeting and ask everyone in attendance if someone has a better alternative. When the discussion is over, whatever alternative you end up selecting, I'd advise you to make the point that with the new schedule, your understanding is that everyone on the team is committing to attending all meetings, not just the ones that are convenient.

It might be a good idea to confirm this on a roll-call basis, by name, so that everyone publicly commits.

The only alternative I know of is, to my mind, even worse, and that's to officially move some team members to either second or third shift, depending on their location. In addition to being a bad way to treat people, for a group like this, interacting with local colleagues is more important than participating in your team meetings -- which means this solution would do more harm than good.

You'd think that for all the talk about the world being flat, globalization, location independence, and so on that someone would have figured out the technology for having the sun shine everywhere on earth at the same time, wouldn't you? It's time for the astronomers to step up to the plate and get the job done.

Until that happens, the three-time rotation I described will probably have to do.

- Bob

This story, "Negotiating a global meeting schedule," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Bob Lewis's Advice Line blog on InfoWorld.com.

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