Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Ever had a performance review in a coffee shop?

A meeting over coffee can be a powerful way to connect with an individual or small team.  An off site meeting in a cafe setting can be an ideal communications environment. It can act as a leveller where reactions and comments are likely to be aggressive, emotional or confronting. Sales people use the concept effectively to provide a small reward for a client's time and create a comfortable setting to exchange information. 

Great people managers use coffee shop meetings in a strategic and relevant way. Like any well thought out communications approach it is important that the messaging cuts through and the context is aligned to outcomes.  It takes confidence to take the lead in meeting this way, especially if it is with a staff member you don't easily communicate with. If you are new to leading people it can be professionally awkward or even intimidating.

Think about it.... there's the process of inviting, the ride down in the lift,  the walk to the chosen destination, the ordering process (which can take forever if its a whole team) and so it goes on. If you struggle with small talk or just find it difficult to engage with the person or group you are with it can feel like a big effort.

The power of such meetings is not just because they are less formal, more social or a break away from office routine.  The location implies a courteous exchange of information and ideas simply because it is in a polite environment. This can be an unexpected and pleasant way to identify solutions, uncover underlying issues, provide advice, refocus priorities, and demonstrate care.

Coffee shop meetings should be used wisely, with purpose, in a practical way.

The most successful coffee shop meetings are to check-in 'one on one', understand work wins and challenges, identify barriers for achieving goals, explore concepts, or to brief-in projects.

I have experienced some uncomfortable moments relating to meetings over coffee. Here are some examples that come to mind for me:
  • Team meetings over coffee with more than 3 people where the ordering process and delivery time drags on and is a major distraction
  • Regular meetings over lunch where the pressure to eat quickly, talk about important issues, and not be put off by the other person eating made it impossible to catch up effectively
  • A manager who talked so loudly and did not have any discretion about topics or care for who was in ear shot
  • The colleague who only ever wanted to meet in their office and did not seem to understand the value of a two way exchange in neutral space
  • The manager who conducted formal performance reviews with staff 
  • The colleague who picks up every call on their mobile so you are sipping coffee trying not to look like you're listening or annoyed
What are some of the uncomfortable coffee meeting moments you have experienced?

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