Monthly Archive: February 2014

The Ultimate Cheat Sheet on Effective Teleconferences

conference call

Working from home has many advantages. The fact that I just had a powernap with the dogs curled up at my feet is one of them.  The other also happened today: one too many glasses of wine at girls night, and I was not so pretty this morning. On went the sweatpants and off I went to conduct business in the comfort of my living room. What convenience! No commute. No fussy office attire. Hair and makeup? No thanks. #sorrynotsorry

Companies are on a mission to cut costs and tele-commuters and flexible work arrangements are on the rise.  Teleconferences are (when executed well), an efficient and cost effective way to get things done.

A colleague of mine sent me this the other day after a particularly painful teleconference.

As comical as that was, the real truth is teleconferences can often be frustrating and ineffective. Whiteboard has a few simple tips to make your teleconferences better, faster, and cheaper. Behold! Whiteboard’s Ultimate Cheat Sheet on Effective Teleconferences (Click to Tweet):

Whiteboard’s Ultimate Cheat Sheet on Effective Teleconferences

1. The right medium.

First before deciding to hold a teleconference, ensure that it will be the right medium.  Teleconferences are great for information sharing and questions.  In-person meetings are better for decision making, complex problem solving, brainstorming, or decision-making.

2. An Agenda.

Create an agenda and use it.  Clearly state the objective of the meeting and expected outputs and timing. People will be better prepared when they understand why they are there.  Also feel free to place some of the tips for participants in the agenda (particularly #3).

3. Mute & Speakerphone.

I’m going to say this only once. Use this cute (and not nearly as crude as my last) helpful mnemonic:




Please &




No one wants to hear you masticate, your yappy dog greet the mailman, or your heavy breathing.  Nor do you need to sound like Darth Vader. Speakerphone quality is horrible compared to a mouthpiece, and all these extra sounds make it worse. AMPLUS. Catchy, eh?

4. Make it personal.

Have everyone on the line introduce themselves and their role/title. Make sure people’s ideas are heard.  If you know Sally had questions about the budget yesterday, but all you hear is radio silence when you’ve finished presenting, call it out with a conversation starting open-ended question: “Sally, what are your thoughts on the budget?” or “Doug, this indicates some significant cuts to your division’s budget. How will this impact you?”

Note: this also keeps people alert and focused (i.e. not checking email, playing CandyCrush, or making breakfast).  Ruth did this to me on a teleconference the other day and I was MORTIFIED because I had just looked away to read an email and had no idea where they were in the document.  #teleconferencefail

5. The 10-second rule.

Without seeing facial expressions, it’s often hard to gauge how people are reacting to the content you are delivering.  Often, people’s natural reactions are to fill that glorious muted silence with more of their own cherubic voice.  They never take a breath for anyone to jump in. Or worse, they say “Any questions?” (Olympic 0.000037s pause). “Great Thanks. Talk Next week. “.  Allowing a whole 10 seconds (1 Mississippi, 2 Mississippi……) allows for that awkward silence to penetrate and 9 times out of 10 someone (or more than one) will pipe up with a great question or comment that will spur discussion and make your call an effective use of time.

Like these tips? Have some funny teleconference stories to share?  Give us a shout at @whiteboardcons!

Until next time,


Processes of Olympic Proportion

Sochi Olympics When you are really and truly a process geek, as I am, you are fascinated by processes everywhere you go. Whether it’s standing in line at airport security or waiting for your latte at Starbucks, there are opportunities to make things Better, Faster, and Cheaper everywhere you look.

There are also great processes that catch your eye and cause you to geek out, just a little bit.

Case in point. The Olympics.

No, not the overall Sochi experience, which I’m sure would be an AWESOME process improvement case study. No, I mean the athletes’ approach to perfection.

Variation is evil!

If you’ve been watching any of the Olympic coverage and wondered, “how do these people DO these things”, then wonder no more. Everything they do is a process. And everything they do well, is an excellent process that they have mastered, and are able to do over, and over, and over again.

One of the important concepts that we teach when working with clients on process improvement projects is that of consistency. In fact, we go so far as to say “Variation is evil!” (Click to Tweet) (It’s a strong statement, but it’s easy to remember.)

I was watching the Ice Dancing earlier this week and was interested to hear the commentator speak about variation when referring to some of the skaters. Common phrases included “they struggle with consistency”, or, “she’s had trouble repeating this routine”.

Famed Canadian skater Brian Orser won both the short and long programmes in the ’84 Olympics, but did not take the gold because of his poor performance in the then-compulsory figures. Back then, consistency was a critical element of judging skill, because it showed the ability to consistently master the basics. (Side note: I find it odd that “figure” skating would eliminate the need to show skill in compulsory “figures”, but I’ve given up figuring out the judging components. Anyway.)

There’s a commercial on right now in which a skiier sits on the chairlift at night and as he travels up the slope you hear him reciting in his head what he has to do in order to have a good run on the course; “Turn one, knees down, cut the edge. Turn two…” You can believe that most athletes do the exact same thing every time they approach their event – consistency is key!

Eliminate the Variation. Then Focus on Improvement.

So how do you apply this to your processes at work? First, focus on improving consistency. When you can do the same thing, over and over again, it becomes much easier to then improve the performance.

Picture a bullseye with shots all over the place. Then picture one with shots clustered off centre, but all within a few centimetres of each other. It is much easier to teach the consistent biathalon athlete to shift her aim than it is to help the varied biathalon competitor understand what she’s doing wrong (and differently) each time.

You just know that the winning biathlete is saying the same things to herself every single time she takes aim. She has a process, and if she’s hoping to win gold, she’s following that process Every. Single. Time.

The same is true for you at work. Make your office the gold standard of efficiency by eliminating the variation and focusing on the process.

Until next time,


The “ASS²” Method of Resolving Conflict.

ASS2 Method
Yep, you read that right – ASS “squared”.  I’m tired from a busy two weeks after vacation and I’m feeling cheeky.  I also met a Canadian guy while on vacation that owned a donkey in Albania named Richard (it’s a long story).  It’s my blog and I’ll swear if I want to.  I also hate mnemonic sayings that you forget.  You will never forget the ASS2

As consultants, Ruth and I recommend a lot of different things to a lot of different people. We see some recurring themes.  One of them is:

How do I deal with difficult situations at work?

I’m an avid conflict avoider.  My natural instincts are to apologize profusely, take all necessary actions to avoid said conflict again, and cry privately while staring at myself in the bathroom mirror. Not really a great coping mechanism.

The better option is to calm your emotions and deal with the issue as soon as you can.  Organizations large and small, public and private are all subject to workplace conflict.  Differing personalities, competition, cultures, work styles, thinking styles, communication styles, and lack of clarity in roles and responsibilities are all potential sources for conflict in the workplace.  When you confront your conflict, or have someone confront you – use the ASS2 method.

6 Tips to Resolving Conflict

  1. Actively Listen: Use silence, nod, maintain eye contact, show open body language, and use kindness and curiosity to probe for more info.

“Tell me more?”

“Help me understand!”

  1. Say it back: Repeat what you heard in your own words.

“It sounds like the tone of my email really upset you.”

“Let me try to paraphrase. You are unclear where your role ends and mine begins?”

  1. Sympathize: Show your genuine concern for their emotions.

“I can see how that would make you feel.”

“I understand your frustration with this situation.”

  1. Appreciate: Thank them for confronting you or for taking the time to hear your concerns.

“I appreciate you bringing this up to me.”

“Thanks for being so open to hear my concerns.”

  1. Sum up your Options: Allow some discussion to analyze the situation.

“Let’s talk about how we move forward from here.”

“Let’s consider the options.”

  1. Solve: Create a solution that results in benefits for both parties.

“Can we both try to….?”

“Perhaps to mitigate the risk of this occurring again, we can….”

Conflict Resolution

Confronting conflict is not easy.  Hearing constructive feedback from a team member, peer, or leader is equally difficult. Respect one another’s feelings and emotions. Not treating one another with respect makes you the square root of ASS2 (a bit of an ASS).

Having trouble with a team member, peer, or leader in your organization?  Contact us to learn more about resolving conflicts in the workplace in the best way possible. Tell us what you think of the ASS2 method and what your results were if you tried it out.

In the meantime I’m going to spend some time thinking of more shocking yet amusing mnemonics for you readers in hopes of you having a laugh while learning.

Until Next Time,


Kindness & Curiosity in Coaching

One of our most favourite things to do is to teach. And when teaching, one of our most favourite topics to cover is how to be an effective Coach at work. (We’ve coachwritten about it here, here, and here.) And when teaching about being a Coach, one of our most favourite concepts is that of “Kindness & Curiosity”. We consistently get feedback from our students that this way of coaching is transformative for them.

I remember learning about it from my Mum when I was a little kid. We were driving behind someone who was exceedingly slow, and she said “well, maybe her passenger has a pot of hot soup on her lap, and they’re taking it to someone who’s sick.” Another time, we were cut off by someone who was speeding and weaving, and she said “maybe his wife’s having a baby and he’s trying to get to the hospital”.

I know. Kind of far-fetched, but it could be true. And although it doesn’t make it right, it does give you some context and make you think.

The next time I was introduced to this phrase was by an executive coach. I was talking to her about a difficult situation I was facing in the office – a fellow Director had shouted at me in a public place about something she believed one of my employees had done. I was taken aback and reacted quite defensively. My coach said to me, “Ruth, what kind of day, or week, or life must this woman be dealing with that makes her act like this?” And then she said the phrase I have never forgotten:

Kindness and curiosity leave no room for anger and resentment.

Oddly enough, the same situation presented itself again only a week later. With the same person. Instead of reacting, I looked at her and said in an even tone, “how can I help you with this?”

It was like I poured a bucket of water on her. She stopped, looked flustered, and completely changed her tone. She was still angry, but she was able to be conversational. (I later found out she was facing serious personal problems. It wasn’t my job to coach her on her behaviour, but it was my responsibility to respond professionally. Being kind and curious allowed me to do that. Oh, and believe it or not, we are now friends.)

How to Make It Work in Coaching

Ok, so you get it. But maybe you’re thinking, how is this any different than “do unto others” – you know, being nice to people is important, and when we coach people we should be nice. coach1

It’s a little different. The Golden Rule says we should treat others the way we would want to be treated. In coaching this applies because we should treat each other with respect, dignity and fairness.

On the other hand, the principle of Kindness and Curiosity applies specifically to a person’s natural tendency to make assumptions and jump to conclusions which may frame our approach and our words. It allows us to step back and stop from taking things personally, which allows us to “take the high road” and hopefully direct the conversation in a constructive manner.

So the next time you have to coach an employee in a difficult or confrontational situation, be kind and curious. It will keep you from getting angry and resentful, and your coaching session will be much more productive and effective.

I’d love to know if you give it a shot – let me know how it goes!


PS – watch for our public course on coaching, soon to be scheduled. Hopefully this spring!