Better Communication With Your Team is Easier Than You Thought...


Nicholas Kaczmarek
Graphic Designer
March 24, 2018
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Get to the Point

  1. Start Scheduling a Regular Meeting - Seems pretty simple, but the first step is deciding how often you want to meet, and having your team set aside the time to get together.
  2. Plan the Meetings - Never go into a meeting blind. Have topics to cover, and questions you want answered. The goal of a meeting is for everyone to have better information about how to do their job once it’s completed.  Have one or two things everybody knows they can do before the next meeting. This doesn’t have to be homework, but rather skills to work on or note.
  3. Know When To Meet About What - Some problems that come up can be addressed one on one, while some things that come up are too big for the weekly meeting. Being able to discern when you need to meet comes with time, but it will help communication.

I bet the phrase "death by meetings" rarely comes up from staff at small contractors. Who has time for boring yak sessions outside the big jobs today? When more than half of your team is out working jobs for homeowners, the phones are ringing, and you already know you're going into overtime, why pull everyone away?

Yet the only way to grow is to act differently. Reacting all day every day is just more of the same. Meetings are a tool, not an end, and done well they change the way you and your team act. As a leader, I want my staff to believe that no matter what happens today, they're never more than a day or a week away from talking to the team and I about it.

I chuckled when I started searching for other's thoughts on this topic and quickly found that one of my favorite business authors, Patrick Lencioni, wrote a fable actually called Death by Meetings. He points to four kinds of useful meetings, and here's my take:

  • Daily Check-In: This is a quick stand-up roundtable where each team member brings up the biggest issue on their plate that day involving others. Get an answer now, assign a plan to tackle it, or table it for one of the other meetings below. Seek out exceptional jobs that break our flow.
  • Weekly Tactical: Looking at weekly activities and metrics, where are we having trouble and why? What will we do about it next week?
  • Monthly Strategic: What long term issues really affect us? Get out-of-the-box on them.
  • Quarterly Off-site Review: Take the team away for a picture of our firm in our town, our customers' homes, our vendors' shops, and our own lives.

Lencioni even gets into the qualities of a good meeting. Briefly with my cut:

  • Never break up without specific assignments to people with due dates.
  • Start with a purpose and an approach so people know what's expected of them, like "What jobs are at-risk?" and "List what we'll do differently to close it well" or "We're down on service agreement visits this week" and "Debate two alternatives to fitting them in."
  • As part of the purpose, why is this issue important? For "declining service agreement visits," we're "mismanaging customer expectations, building a backlog of labor owed, and potentially letting furnaces run below our standard." Now I care!
  • Get people to sink in their teeth in the first ten minutes. How will you do that?
  • Rather than avoid conflict, foster it respectfully. As the leader, you shouldn't be the source of all ideas or you're limiting your company to your own deficits. How can you constructively guide the debate among your team members, and earn their commitment in the process?

Many of business books put themselves in a vacuum, such as assuming your team mostly works out of a single location. How does this stuff work in real life for a residential plumbing, heating and cooling, or electrical contractor? Here are my thoughts:

My team is out in the field. Some firms start their day together. Put your daily at that time. Have one just for the folks on second shift for a better handoff. Other firms send techs from home to their first visit, so choose a time on the same day each week for the full-team. If your techs miss the daily, have your dispatchers get their input on critical items before the daily and report the decisions back after. Make the loop a daily reflex. This goes a long way to being "one nimble company" not a "bunch of employees."

There's always someone absent, so we keep delaying. Absences shouldn't stop progress. Like above, get feedback from those who can't attend and give them results after. Remember, you're building processes.

Do we have to pull the whole company together on every little issue? No. Instead, by example teach your team members to recognize when a problem crosses several people and how to run an effective meeting. In bigger companies, teams may have their own dailies, weeklies and so on. But at small firms with little hierarchy, let peer to peer meetings start freely. Empower everyone to pull together 5-minute 1-3-person lightweight chats to get decisions. Coach the meeting leaders offline.

How do I recognize a problem? The easy stuff comes from what irritates your customers and team mates, but that's already late. Get ahead through your work order management software like Field Nimble. Just by using your software to keep track of jobs, you're naturally capturing inputs for measures like service request counts, conversion rates, cancellations, call-backs, visit time and more. There are lots of ways you can determine just five or so measures that really drive everything else -- talk to owner coaches and your team leads, read, and run experiments. When it comes time for a meeting, your software's reporting dashboard gives you a place to assess operations performance. Where you see a problem, dig for evidence on example jobs. Bring the data to your meeting. You'll quickly get from "I don't believe that's a problem" to "what are 3 things we'll do about it, and how can we measure it?"

The problem is too big for the daily. Then table it for the weekly or monthly, but say so in front of everyone, setting their expectations. Nothing's worse than an undercurrent of resentment about an owner who leaves problems simmering, especially when it's not true.

I'm afraid of what a specific person will say, or of letting talk get out-of-control.Have you tried just letting the conversation happen? Your fear could be the problem. Let's say you really do have a toxic person on staff. Is he holding your company hostage? Dealing with him one-on-one could cause a meeting with everyone that's the first step toward a brighter future (exhale!). Should talk go off-rails, you're the guide -- set expectations up front and do your job. You can always practice a conversation by trying it with fewer people first, uncovering the landmines, and then bring everyone together when you have a constructive approach.

As you get good at huddling and breaking as a company, I think you'll focus more on curating what's worthy of a meeting and what can be handled some other way. When you get the whole team together, field techs included, everyone will know it matters. That's a nimble company.

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