A few weeks after I got to my large construction project in the-middle-of-nowhere New Mexico, I walked into the superintendent’s area and found most of my staff deep in discussion about a process. A functional manager within the company distributed the process dictating – It must be followed! No one on my staff agreed with the process. It was clear that the process was written from the perspective of the functional manager and the perspectives from other functional areas wasn’t considered.
I initiated an impromptu meeting to come up with our version of the process. The men who reported to the functional manager were concerned about not following the dictated process but I told them not to worry about it – my job was to sell our process to the larger group of senior managers and explain why it is better.
I then asked what other processes we needed to look at and boy, did I open a can of worms! I decided to formalize my Process meeting.
Now, the very last thing I needed was another meeting – I was already on meeting and conference call overload! My project staff was already meeting adverse and haD defected from the weekly staff meeting. Therefore, my solution was to schedule the Process meeting for lunchtime on Wednesdays and to entice my staff, I provided free lunch. Yes, I reverted to that tried and true method of enticing men through their stomachs!!
During the first meeting I explained my concept of the Process meeting – to get together every week and improve/write our operational processes. It was NOT going to be another worthless meeting – we were going to lead the company in solving its operational problems. We were going to become the experts in the company!
As it turns out, a slightly rebellious attitude, active problem solving and free food is a great combination for leading men!
Every week we tackled a new issue. Sometimes the staff would suggest a topic, sometimes we discussed what I saw as “the issue of the week.” Since I like to pull out the dirty laundry that was hidden under the bed, nothing was off limits!! When we discussed a process everyone (except one guy with a severe attitude problem) participated even if they were not actively involved in the process. I like people who know nothing about the process to participate because they are objective and offer another perspective. Our foremost goal was to look at the process/problem from as many perspectives as possible in order to form a complete solution.
There are two very tangible benefits of the Process meeting. First, it is a very cheap method to train the entire staff. I had a budget of $100 per week for lunch. So for about $5,000 a year, 15 people got weekly training. It was a phenominal return on investment!
Secondly, it was great for team building. There is something about sharing a meal together that bonds us. To make it more personal, I broke the staff into 4 groups and each week a group provided lunch. Most of the groups brought in homemade food – everyone likes showing off their favorite recipe and homemade food is more intimate. The meeting gave me an opportunity to see the entire project staff together and gauge the level of internal conflict. With most of the staff working away home, there was a high level of personal stress I had to stay on top of!!
It didn’t take long for our Process meeting to become well-known throughout the company. (It’s amazing how many visitors came to our remote site on Wednesdays!!) We became a source of knowledge – if someone wanted to know how to deal with an issue, call our project, we would tackle it in our meeting. The rebel/leader in me liked standing up in a management meeting and discussing how we operated; how we solved or prevented a problem.
I consider my Process meeting one of my great leadership accomplishments! It is the Power Tool in my management tool belt!! Put it in yours!!!
Empowered women put power tools in their tool belt!
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