Is it just me, or have conference calls become so pervasive that they are beginning to hamper a team’s ability to get things done? Perhaps I am dating myself, but I do recall when conferencing circuits and services were expensive and were reserved for important topics and meetings. With the increase in the availability of conferencing capabilities, it seems that both the number of conference calls and the number of attendees in the conference calls have skyrocketed.
Conference calls are useful leadership tools. They provide the opportunity for a great deal of information to be exchanged in a short period of time. They provide a forum where issues and concerns can be identified and dealt with quickly. They also seem to provide the opportunity for the dreaded “group think”.
With everybody on the call, and with everybody expounding opinions, eventually a group solution can evolve, unless the call is well managed and led. It is natural to try and take all opinions into account. However too many diverse ideas and inputs can have a tendency to conflict and weaken a direction instead of strengthening it. A leader must remember his responsibility to lead on a conference call, instead of allowing the call to take on a direction of its own.
Conference calls can also have the affect of distributing risk associated with decisions and responsibility. The idea here is that if everyone on the conference call agreed, then everyone shares the responsibility for the outcome. If the outcome is good, this is fine. If the outcome does not produce the desired results, then having everyone share the responsibility for the decision is the same as having no one having responsibility for the decision.
I am a proponent of the association of responsibility and authority when it comes to decision making. That means that the leader is vested with authority to make the requisite decisions, and is held responsible for the results their decisions create. It seems the trend in conference calls is for the decision to be moved from the leader to the conference call attendees. This may result in a decision eventually being made, but it also results in no one having responsibility for the results that are created.
Conference calls can be excellent tools for leaders to use in order to make intelligent decisions. It seems that instead of being a means to an end that they have in fact become the end themselves. Instead of being a tool to enable a decision to be made, that they have become the decision forum itself.
As long as the leader understands their responsibilities, a conference call can be a good tool. However it seems that the trend today may not be in that direction, and every time I get another meeting notice I can’t help but think – another conference call?