Several years ago I accepted a position with a new company and was immediately invited to join the division’s senior management team for coffee each morning. It was important to me because being included validated my standing in the organization and, as a newcomer, it was a great way to learn the culture, personalities, and methods of the key decision-making group.
One of the things that made this daily session so useful was its informality. It wasn’t a management meeting, it was a group of friends having a cup of coffee at a nearby restaurant. We discussed family issues, sports, and yes, business. It was a time when we could let the organizational facades fade to background as we talked conversationally and honestly about the pros and cons of various initiatives. In fact, many of our most important and best decisions were made in this setting.
Because of the various business segments we represented, resource constraints, and sometimes different views on the correct future direction of the organization, we were bound to have different perspectives at times. It wasn’t always non-confrontational, but it was always respectful, relaxed, and informal. Out of this process came consensus-driven decisions that all were invested in. As a result, this team worked together over the course of several years to affect a remarkable set of changes. We designed and built a new headquarters facility while simultaneously relocating two other major sites and developing an offshore presence. We changed our core processes, successfully implemented significant technology programs, and eliminated organizational and geographical stovepipes that had been hindering us for decades. We moved from a “I don’t know, let me get back to you” culture to having real time metrics on key operating information and a balanced scorecard that executive management routinely checks. Our stock in the C Suite went sky high as a result.
Now, however, the corner restaurant with the very attentive staff (who used to let us in well before opening) is too far away. The days are too hectic (but no more so than they were before) and we all seem to have different agendas (didn’t we always?). I still have coffee each morning, usually alone in my office. I have become my own counsel, and sometimes I’m a lousy counsel.
On second thought, it’s not really the coffee I miss at all. The good news is that I can do something about this. Excuse me, please. I have a few calls to make!