High Tea helps face-to-face communication

While working at CSG Openline as the Vice President of Operations, one of my biggest challenges was to create a collaborative environment across the different delivery departments. Immediately, I had recognized that the teams relied too much on email communication and not enough on basic face-to-face resolutions of problems.

In order to facilitate better teamwork at the management level, I scheduled a weekly “High Tea” get together. Managers of the different delivery departments were required to dress up (coat or sweater with a tie for men, and professional attire for women) and attend High Tea together. I thought this was quite a civilized approach to improve our “conversations”. So, I brought in a tea set for the office and even coaxed my wife, on occasions, into making cucumber sandwiches and crumpets for us.

CSG Openline is a Channel Marketing company, mainly servicing call center campaigns to Microsoft partners. The delivery departments completely relied on one another to get their job done successfully. For example, the call center was dependent on IT to customize each campaign interface before it could launch a new program. IT, for its part, had multiple, and often conflicting requirements from the different project managers. Obviously, effective communication and cooperation amongst these groups were vital to the long-term success of the company.

At first, the employees found it humorous that their managers dressed up on “High Tea” day. After the jokes, however, people realized that management was taking better collaboration seriously. There was physical evidence of a commitment to change.

Within the management team, initial skepticism eventually gave way to addressing some deep-rooted trust issues amongst the groups. The managers began better understanding each other’s challenges and started working collectively together to resolve a few underlining problems. Over time, we all shared some of our personal lives as well, allowing everyone to understand each other at a more intimate level.

Although we continued to butt heads at times, general communication improved. Eventually, the “High Tea” conversations ran their course and we changed to a more conventional management meeting format. However, this experience did reinforce the idea that in our incredibly productive corporate world, sometimes we just need to breathe and be more human with one another. Email is an efficient method of communication, but at times it can be very ineffective or even counter-productive. Face-to-face resolutions of issues can be stressful, but often times can be the most effective way to work out issues for the long-term.

Last week, I met with a management consultant (readers of this blog will “MEET” him eventually) who helped CSG Openline. He reminded me about these “High Tea” meetings and explained how he appreciated the simplicity in the idea of getting a team to buy into each other and communicate more directly with one another. So, I decided to share.