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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Losing and finding touch

Yesterday, I attended the regular monthly meeting of the Ottawa-Carleton Home Builders' Association. The difference between this meeting and previous experiences is that our company had three representatives there -- including Daniel Smith (responsible for sales) and Ken Lancastle (our new editor). We ended up sitting together at a table near the front of the room, sharing the less-than-full table with a key OCHBA employee and her friend.
For the first time in more than a year, I didn't have anything to 'do' -- previously, carrying the dual role of editor, I had to work, taking notes and photographs, and thinking of the journalistic relevance of everything happening around me. And I'll admit something -- you indeed retain much more of the speakers and information when you have to follow things closely to write a story about the event!
Thinking back, in some 15 years working with the association, we had never had this intensity of representation. My former leading Ottawa sales representative conducted virtually all of her business on the phone and never got out to meet people (a costly mistake, I eventually learned). Previous editors would cover the meetings; often I felt since I wasn't 'needed' I could skip them. This also proved to be a near disaster, when our last editor (before I resumed editorial responsibility) also felt he could skip the meetings and handle anything required by phone. So for many months, we were unrepresented, and didn't obtain key feedback of growing dissatisfaction with our publication until the editor left and, out of necessity, I started attending the meetings again.
The paradox is that, with three of us in the room last night, were we much better represented than when I went alone over the last year? While we certainly did the right thing -- connecting and speaking with others in the room -- I sense more of our time was spent on internal stuff than outward observations; and of course the company had the cost of three dinners, not one, to pay.
The common suggestion on how to deal with this problem is to split your team up -- have employees sit at different tables, to more effectively network and connect with others. Theoretically, this makes sense, but it is certainly unnatural! I suppose also I could say, with two key employees in the place, there is no need for me to be there -- I could be home with my family, instead. But I would lose the insights and observations possible by being on site.
In the end, I think the best solution will be a hybrid -- we'll establish some productive meeting engagement guidelines, and use the opportunity to meet and conenct with more people; without being artificially social.

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