Not a Regular Meeting

Don't let regularly scheduled meetings become predictable. The only thing that should be is the frequency of the meeting, not the content. That's not always easy at a dealership whether it's in the sales or service department. I've spent many a nights thinking up fresh material to go over at staff meetings I've chaired. One that sticks in my mind was when I used a radical approach to address a rash

Don't let regularly scheduled meetings become predictable. The only thing that should be “regular” is the frequency of the meeting, not the content.

That's not always easy at a dealership whether it's in the sales or service department. I've spent many a nights thinking up fresh material to go over at staff meetings I've chaired.

One that sticks in my mind was when I used a radical approach to address a rash of petty personality conflicts among the service people. The negativity was hurting the work environment and seemingly turning every meeting into a whining session.

We'd meet at lunchtime. Ordinarily, food was brought in, we'd eat at a table amid general chit-chat. When the meal was done, I'd typically start the formal part of the meeting.

We had reached a point where the only “new” concerns seemed like rehashed complaints about things that individual team members either did or didn't do to the annoyance of others.

I didn't possess the power to alter personalities of staffers. Nor could I micro-manage their every interactions. I tried something completely different.

Beforehand, I removed the lunch table, arranged the chairs in a circle and put the food on a clean cloth — on the floor!

There were comments and snickers as people arrived. I responded with silent disapproval. The amusement in the room diminished. I invited the employees to take their food and eat, informing them that I would not be joining them in the meal today as I had some serious matters to discuss with them afterwards.

I stood outside the circle of chairs and flicked through my papers while they ate in silence. I started the meeting by moving to the center of the circle and advising them that this would not be a normal meeting and I expected no interruptions.

I explained that we had reached a turning point and that some behavioral changes needed to occur, either of their own volition or as a result of penalties for non-compliance. I reviewed the list of concerns and then laid down the law, as I saw it, from this point on.

I made everyone aware that they should be ashamed of the petty whining and complaining that were too prevalent. They agreed on a need for change.

To soften things up after the tough beginning, I went around the circle and addressed each person's strong points.

Then I spoke about how good it could be if we worked in harmony, as one team rather than little cliques, each with its own agenda.

I emphasized that in our own way we each bring unique characteristics to the team, and that only by working as a team will we be sure to avoid a negative work atmosphere.

Then I walked away. Within minutes, one at a time, people came to me and said things like, “We needed that.” And, “That was the best meeting we ever had.” I was drained but felt satisfied that we had gotten things in the open and had laid out a viable improvement plan.

I'll summarize what took place.

I shocked the staff into attention by removing the table and removing myself from the group. Then I broke the circle. In the middle of it, I became uncomfortably close to each attendee. They had no choice but to look at my face full of seriousness and disappointment.

I listed my concerns and identified culprits. Then I softened them with positive remarks about each. I outlined how things could, should and would be after the appropriate changes.

It worked. Within the hour, there were visible signs of bridge building, reconciliation and teamwork.

At our next meeting, we had lunch at the table.

Dave Skrobot ([email protected]/1-888-681-7355) is a vice president of training for the Automotive Sales College.

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