Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Managing by Sitting Around the Table

In the 1970's I owned a chain of convenience stores. We were a small regional chain of 13 stores, not like giants 7-11s, Circle K and others with hundreds of stores. But we shared the same problems...staying organized

I didn’t have the computerized systems used today by those big chains. We did have a central warehouse and a commissary where thousands of ‘hoagies’ were made every week. This was before text and emailing and keeping everyone informed of what was happening in the company was hard. We didn’t even have a fax machine as they weren’t in use then.

What we did have was a big table in my offices that could seat 20 people and every Tuesday morning at 9:00 AM all the store managers gathered for our weekly meeting. Face to face. No one was excused except for illness or vacation and then the assistant manager was required to be there.

The meeting followed the same agenda every week.
  • Each manager brought their weekly orders for the warehouse
  • New product introduction
  • Changes in procedures
  • Report on new hires and existing staff
  • Report of each store’s successes
  • Report of each store’s problems encountered and what they did to fix them
  • Sales and Promotions
  • Manager’s gripe time (this was my favorite part as I learned what was really bothering them and listening to how they would correct it)

One thing we didn’t discuss was each individual store’s profit and loss. That was done by my store supervisor one-on-one with the store manager at the store. It was a good system.

I sold my stores to a larger chain that did away with my weekly meetings. Instead they began using that new invention, the fax machine. Store managers no longer met except for quarterly meetings. They went out of business two years after they bought my stores. Management thought all the store managers were incompetent and store managers thought management didn’t understand what the stores needed. A total mess. They were in perpetual crisis mode.

Eventually I went to work in the modular housing industry. Most of the factories I worked for or have visited since have tables in their offices. Some are reserved only for management meetings or meeting with builders.

The production department usually has a big table or a couple that can be pushed together to hold meetings to go over the houses about to go on the production line but that is about the extent of the tables in most factories.

In the age of BIM, automated processes and smartphones, that long ago table where we talked face to face has been replaced with instant communication between people that may never actually meet even though they work in the same factory.

Chinese Whispers, a popular children's game in which players form a line, and the first player comes up with a message and whispers it to the ear of the second person in the line is played out every day in most factories.

With the diversity of styles, options, types of modules, state code requirements, etc, playing Chinese Whispers is not a management style.

Those at the end of the communication line often look at what is being required and say “What the heck are they thinking? Too bad they didn’t ask me what I thought of this before they sent it to production.”

It’s time modular factories begin holding “Managing by Sitting Around the Table” again. Inviting those responsible for the different phases of the project reviewing a proposed project before the contract is finalized could mean the difference between a project running smoothly and profitably and one where everyone is pointing fingers and the project is in perpetual crisis mode.

Engineering, sales, management, procurement and production people should meet several times a month or better yet, every week, to look over upcoming projects and develop strategies to build it out before they start.

If nothing else, at least there will be coffee and doughnuts.


Dusty said...

Great post Gary, I couldn't agree more! Fortunately, there are "round table" meetings every day at our facility for various departments and management. I believe this face to face interaction alleviates confusion and helps build a relationship between our staff. Our weekly sales staff meeting is invaluable to me as a marketing director. It helps me get a feel for what our sales consultants are experiencing, and it helps me to better target our marketing efforts. Thanks for the awesome work!

Anonymous said...

It seems like every time we need to talk to a member of upper management we find them sitting around the conference room table. And there is always coffee and donuts. I swear they never go to their offices. I can't remember every having a group of supervisors, foremen and management every meeting there or anywhere else, just those 4 people talking and eating donuts in the conference room.