Feature Story – By David R. Brin
The next time you are faced with the global telephone game, try these strategies.
If you’re anything like me, then you loved to play the game “Telephone” when you were a kid. It seemed such an easy task. One kid whispers, “I’m going to my grandma’s house this summer,” and this secret is passed to each child in a line by whispering the message to the person sitting next to them. Yet inevitably when the last person announces to the room that “I’ve got graham crackers stuck in my blouse” is what they heard, the room erupts in laughter and everyone looks around wondering how such a simple message was so distorted.
Playing the global education version of the telephone game can feel quite similar. In dealing with time zone differences, language barriers and, in many instances, unique educational structures, the goal to standardize and run as one global unit can be challenging. There are, however, some rules of engagement that can help. The next time you are faced with the global telephone game, try implementing the following strategies:
1. Write an Executive Summary
Having an executive summary gives you a North Star. It’s a clearly written document that can be easily shared with all stakeholders and should include metrics that can be evaluated along the way.
Three rules of thumb about an executive summary: First, this document should be written in a way that not only informs the reader, but also motivates the reader to want to learn more. Rather than an extensive report detailing everything behind the project, the executive summary should be a one-pager that takes the reader only a few minutes to read.
Second, the executive summary needs to create a sense of urgency with the reader. Telling someone who lives in Colorado that there is a weather threat in Florida has little effect on them, unless you can relate the statement back to the reader to trigger an emotion and response. Building on this example: Telling someone who has an elderly mother living in Florida that there is a weather threat, however, may likely trigger them to act. The executive summary should cause your reader to want to learn more and if possible, become involved.
Third, to prevent scope creep, keep the creation team for your executive summary to a small group of people.
2. Gain Senior-Level Support and Manage the Chain of Command
As learning leaders, we can all think of a small pilot project that grew from a napkin idea into an enterprise-wide initiative. It’s rewarding to see this type of initiative take off, but this approach can also be quite slow and risky.
Gaining the buy-in and, more importantly, having resources allocated from senior leaders shows every region involved that the initiative is valuable to them. Senior level buy-in promotes increased visibility of your initiative and further ensures that conversations focused on your effort are taking place on many levels of the organization.
People call them touch points, check-ins or status updates. Call it what you will, but work hard to stay on top of these critical check-ins. Deal-breakers of any well-intentioned global project include individuals not having a clear understanding of project goals, feeling they do not have a specific role or lack of a thoughtfully laid-out plan for everyone to easily reference.
A common mistake that takes place in these meetings is that one person tends to lead every call and it becomes only a review of what work has already been done. Try starting the meeting with a quick round-table highlighting one success from each person about the project since the last touch point.
Because you are working with a global audience, get flexible and creative with the times and methods of these check-ins. You may find yourself on a call at midnight or leverage a video-text to deliver a quick update to other team members.
4. Set Milestones and Report Back on Them
Mentioned earlier is the need for an executive summary. Another integral document is a milestones dashboard: a one-page document or summary slide that can easily be shared across regions.
Use the executive summary to gain leader buy-in and investment and use the check-ins to keep project owners on track with work. Then, utilize this milestones dashboard to not only capture key metrics of the project, but also to highlight the team’s progress toward the expected goal.
Further, don’t be afraid to use the milestones dashboard as a tool for your team in communicating to stakeholders when additional resources may be needed.
The game of global telephone has been around for decades and will likely continue to be difficult to master for years to come, and while there are planful steps that can be taken to support the project, do remember to use this quick and easy rule, “Freedom of the journey, not the goal.” This will help put your mind at ease knowing your global counterparts are looking to accomplish the same outcomes despite varying regional/local strategies that might be used.
The variety may surface in the form of how one team sets up a program compared to another region, or with cultural differences that require time and understanding in facilitating more seamless teamwork. What is important is to continue to consistently reaffirm goal alignment with project champions, individual contributors and executive sponsors.
Knowing that your global team members are aligned on the goal with freedom around the journey will instill stronger trust, compromise, mutual respect and the personal investment needed in order to meet milestones and the ultimate endpoint by the scheduled deadlines.
David R. Brin is senior manager, education, for Abbott Electrophysiology, and a member of the LTEN Advisory Council. Email David at firstname.lastname@example.org.