Ask Winnie: Column 1

Ask Winnie: Column 1


Dear Winnie,

My company is marking its 50th anniversary soon, and our CEO has approved a generous budget to celebrate the firm's success. Three people were chosen to organize the celebratory events. As usual in our company, people with promise were chosen to test their skills. If the events are a success, the team members will be assured promotions. Needless to say, I was ecstatic to have been chosen for this very special assignment, and I have some good ideas for the events.

We were notified individually by the VP who will oversee our efforts. He gave each of us a letter from the CEO stating our goals. The VP said that we were to report our progress to him each month, but we would be pretty much on our own.

I already know one of the other team members, Jack, but not very well, and don't know Elliott at all (Jack works in my building, but Elliott works out of his home 100 miles from here). Jack and Elliott are well acquainted with each other. I immediately called each of them to introduce myself, and asked about getting together for an initial meeting. Because we all have our regular duties in addition to this new project, we agreed that we should talk again in a week to set up a meeting time and place. In the interim, I suggested that we think of ideas for the events so we could share them when we got together. I followed up the phone conversations with a memo to each of them summarizing what was said. I have been busy writing up my ideas, and today I was to call them.

This morning the VP in charge of the project called me into his office and asked why I wasn't involved with Jack and Elliott in the initial plans for the project. I was dumbfounded and told him that we hadn't met yet. He said that he ran into Jack on Friday and Jack said that the team was already generating ideas and discussing some possibilities and asked him if he wanted copies of their email discussion. He said okay, so Jack forwarded some messages and Mr. Berringer noticed that I had not participated. Email?? Winnie, I don't use email much. Oh, sure, I check it every so often to read the President's weekly message, but my work has never depended on it before. Jack and Elliott had been sending me messages, but I didn't know it, and I had to explain all that to the VP.

What should I do now? I know Mr. Berringer thinks that I probably can't keep up with the boys. And what about those boys? Are they out to sabotage me? Jack knew it wasn't necessary to send those messages to Mr. Berringer, and he also knew that I wasn't a part of the communication. Jack also didn't bother to make certain that I was receiving my email, which is what I would have done if someone was not responding to me. Anyway, I have to call them in a few minutes, so I would like to know how to handle this situation. My career may depend on what happens next. Can you help me?

Desperate in Des Moines



Winnie Responds


Dear Desperate,

First of all, don't assume that the guys deliberately left you out or tried to make you look bad. You used your favorite modes of communication (telephone and written memos), so it's not surprising that they used theirs (email). They probably assumed that you would read your email because they always read theirs.

Yes, I would have checked to see whether everyone was receiving their messages, but they probably thought you were waiting until you got together with them to share your ideas.

We'll given them the benefit of the doubt this time, but you need to assert yourself and insist on clarity about communicating. When you call them, use the conference call feature of your phone system so that you speak to them both at the same time. Say something like this:

"I'm calling as I said I would so that we can set up a time to meet face-face to get this project off the ground. Berringer wondered why I hadn't been part of your email discussions. I guess we need to be clear about how we like to communicate. Now that I know you like to use email, I can certainly use it, too. I do think we'll need to use phone and fax for certain things -- we can work this out when we get together. I have plenty to add to the discussion, so I'll send you my ideas via email this afternoon. Okay, when can we get together?"

When you all three of you meet -- and it is very important to meet face-to-face for your initial project meeting -- the group can make some ground rules. Decide, for example, how and when to communicate, how and when to inform Mr. Berringer of your progress, and what decisions can be made unilaterally and what have to be made by consensus (or at least by majority rule).

Share some personal information (but not too personal!); eat a meal together, and get to know one another. Then get down to business! Let me know how things progress after that.

Winnie


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