Not Another Meeting! Managing Meetings with Your Overseas Teams

17/01/2023 Not Another Meeting! Managing Meetings with Your Overseas Teams

Caryn Tamari

If you’re bouncing from one meeting to another, you’re not alone. The rising number of meetings people have in their calendars often means there’s less time to actually do their jobs. Add to that the complexity of working in global teams across multiple time zones and it becomes a juggling act.

Let’s zoom in (pun intended) on how to plan cross-cultural meetings that meet your objectives,  create the perception you want, and get the results you need.

Do you really need this meeting?
Increasingly, organizations are setting guidelines and minimizing the number of meetings in their organization. Elon Musk’s unequivocal
advice to CEOs is this: “Quit spending so much time in meetings.”

Before you set up a cross-country call, or a weekly check in, make sure this meeting really needs to happen. Agree on an agenda. Only invite those that really need to be there. Time-gobbling meetings put pressure on already busy people. Where possible, find efficient replacements for the face-to-face meeting. Make use of other channels and apps to share information clearly and efficiently, instead of setting meetings that require your colleagues to be online at a certain time.

Phoning into meetings from the car doesn’t lead to great communication, especially when the person behind the wheel is dividing their attention between the Tesla tailgating them and what’s happening on the call. 

When all else fails, hit the record button. This enables anyone to refer back to a vital call when the nuances are as important as the written notes.

 What time is it? PST, EST, IST, and everything in between
It’s 4 o’clock on a Thursday afternoon in Tel Aviv. It’s been a long week, you’re tired and there’s your American colleague, chirpy and wide awake, sitting with his/her morning coffee with a full agenda of updates and must-dos.

Sound familiar? Let’s flip it around. It’s 8 o’clock in the morning in New York. You tried to miss the morning rush hour but there was a pile up on the highway. You spilled your morning coffee on your freshly ironed shirt in the school run, and you need to present to your EMEA colleagues who have no idea how many hoops you had to jump through just to be on this call on time.

It’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it?

Scheduling a time that works for everybody, all the time, is almost mission impossible. It’s either someone’s early morning headache or late afternoon yawn. It’s generally not going to suit someone, some of the time. But it shouldn’t put one team out, all of the time.

Try rotating meetings instead of having them at the same time every week. That way, it’s not always the same hard-done-by team who’s barely had time to shower or grab a bite before they need to hop on a call.

“The Friday Thing”
Now add different working weeks to the mix. Americans sending an email to their Israeli colleagues on Friday will probably get an answer on Sunday morning, while Israelis who work on Sundays will have to wait until Monday afternoon at the earliest to get an answer from their US counterparts. 

When it’s business as usual, the four-day work week can be worked around. It’s when there’s a crisis and you know there’s a good chance you’re interrupting someone’s round of golf, yoga class, family outing, or special celebration that things can get really sticky. You may want to read “Avoiding the Fake-Crisis Trap”  before you shoot off a WhatsApp, make that call, or send that email.

What holiday is it?
If you’ve ever been called on vacation or public holiday, you’ll know the feeling. Surely they know it’s (fill in the major/minor holiday)? What the …?! 

Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. They probably don’t mean to be inconsiderate. Make sure you aren’t either.  Your shared calendar should reflect all holidays when your team will be away from their desk. Remember to send culturally appropriate good wishes; they’ll appreciate it.

This might be stating the obvious but…beyond setting your calendars to reflect international times, your team needs to set time slots on their calendar to reflect when they’re in or out of the office. “Do not disturb” and “On vacation” notifications should be respected, and Plan B’s put in place so that urgent matters can be dealt with in their absence.

Dysfunctional meeting behavior
Lately I’ve been noticing some weird phenomena when it comes to responding to meeting requests. Some accept meetings and don’t turn up, while others double-book. They may have FOMO or the best of intentions, thinking that both meetings are important and maybe one will be canceled, but so far no one’s figured out how to be in two places at once. 

Then there’s people arriving late and then asking questions or making observations about topics that have already been covered. This is when the other people in the meeting (who arrived on time) start rolling their eyes or suppressing an irritated sigh. At the top of the weirdness scale is not responding at all to meeting invites!

There’s no sugar-coating this. It’s downright rude, wastes people’s time, and sends them the message that they / the meeting topic aren’t important and worth their time. If someone sends you a meeting invite when it’s the weekend or too early / late in the day for you to attend, best not to savagely hit the Decline button as you mutter angrily under your breath. To prevent misunderstandings or an action replay, politely turn the meeting down, explain why, and suggest an alternate day/time. Passive-aggressive “meeting deleting” doesn’t build relationships and it creates a negative perception that affects your personal brand.  

Not today!
Consider putting some rules of engagement in places, such as “Meetless Mondays.” Meatless Mondays are great for the planet, but Meetless Mondays are good for your team. It’s useful to have a non-meeting day where they can dig in and get things done without the pressure of a Zoomathon. 

When it’s over, hang up
Just because a meeting is set for an hour, it doesn’t have to last an hour. Covered every point of the agenda? Made time for questions? Accommodated an additional issue that you hadn’t planned for and there’s still ten minutes on the clock? Thank everyone for being efficient, acknowledge how busy they are, and end the call early. They’ll be delighted. 

Speaking of which, when you see your colleague has a meeting before or after the time you want to schedule yours, do them a favor and give them a 5 to 10-minute window to give them a breather. Back-to-back meetings take their toll. 

Ensuring key people work in the same time-zone can be a sanity saver. But when it’s not possible, putting rules in place, using good scheduling and info-sharing tools, and communicating clearly will help you cooperate successfully with your international counterparts.

Enjoyed this blog? You might also enjoy “Navigating in Global Waters – Can Cultural Competence be Learned?“. To learn more about key skills for working with international counterparts, contact us about our trainings.

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