The Conference Call from Hell

Look, I hate to be pessimistic (not really), but has a single conference call in the history of time ever gone according to plan? I mean, have you once ever organized a call or participated in a call that involved more than just you and one other person and had it go smoothly from beginning to end? Of course you haven’t. And neither have I.

Today, though. I mean today I had a conference call that went really awry. I’m not really sure if there are varying degrees of awry, but if there are, mine went the most awry possible.

The sales person who works for my employer scheduled the call yesterday and couldn’t see my schedule online for some reason, and scheduled a call with her customer and me right over another important meeting that I had to attend. That was the least worst thing that happened.

Naturally I informed her that I couldn’t attend a meeting at that time on Thursday, so she called back her customer contacts and rescheduled the meeting for Friday at noon. Nobody likes to meet during their noon hour, but when a deal is going to close and a quota is on the line, you schedule meetings on Saturday if you have to!

The newly proposed time appeared to jibe with my Friday schedule so I accepted the meeting invite. Her invitation included all of the juicy meeting details, including a long distance number and an access code. Simple enough, right?

So I’m at my desk, involved in several different tasks, and at the last minute remember that a meeting reminder popped up fifteen minutes ago for this customer conference call, so I better jump on. I dial the provided number, enter the access code, and wait. Beep. Every few seconds – beep. Every once in a while an automated message plays just to let attendees know that they are on the call, but waiting for the organizer to join.

In today’s high tech environment, so many methods exist to communicate that it’s almost impossible to mess up something as simple as a 3-way conference call. Texting, instant messaging, mobile phones, landline phones, VoiP phones, walkie-talkies, sattelite, WiFi, LTE, 4G, Morse code, telegrams, smoke signals, email. It’s all there. If one thing doesn’t work, you switch to the other. And then the other. Unfortunately, sometimes too many options can lead to inefficiencies.

A few minutes pass while I’m waiting for the “conference organizer”, but still nothing. I notice an email pop up in my email inbox from the sales person: “I’m not in a location where I can access the conference call information. Could you please set up another conference call?” Sure, I think – no problem. I have a GoToMeeting acccount and can set up an instant meeting.

So I hang up on the current conference call that I’ve dialed into, load up my conference call application, start a new meeting, and invite attendees. It takes me a few minutes to access the necessary details, but I’m in a hurry and send my email with call-in information.

I wait a few seconds to see if anybody joins my meeting, and notice an email from the customer in my inbox. I take a quick peek. “I’m happy to set up a conference” says the message. Trying to be helpful, she includes new dial-in information for yet another conference call for attendees to dial into.

Meanwhile, the sales person has joined my ongoing conference call. We talk for a couple of minutes. Surely, the other parties will see my email and call into my updated conference call, won’t they? We wait. And wait. It’s 12:13 now, 13 minutes into a call that is supposed to take about 10 minutes.

The sales person decides we’ve waited long enough, puts me on hold, calls one of her customer contacts directly to see if they’re going to join our already-in-progress call. The answer to that question is no, as two of them have already joined the other call.

The sales person hangs up with her customer contact, gets back online with me, and informs me that we need to join the other call. By now it’s about 12:20pm, twenty minutes into our 30 minute call and we still do not have all parties on the same conference call.

So the sales person and I say goodbye for the second or third time now (I’ve lost track) and prepare to join the customer’s conference call. I look at the customer’s email with the call details and dial the number.

“Hi, this is Judy,” says a voice on the other line. “Hi Judy, I’m trying to dial into a conference call and was given this number. Is this 800-555-5555?”, I ask her. “Um, no, that’s not this number,” she replies. “OK, sorry for disturbing you.” I hang up.

I’m sure I dialed the right number, but it’s always possible that “fat fingers” got in the way. I hang up and try the provided number again.

“Hi, this is Judy.”

Not again.

I’m really confused now. “Sorry, Judy, but this is the number I was given. Do you ever get calls from people trying to connect to a conference call?”, I ask.

“Yes, I do,” she says. I ask her where she is located. “Arizona”.

We exchange our second set of pleasantries and hang up.

Ok, what now?, I think. I switch my attention to my email inbox.

A series of emails are flying back and forth between the customer, the sales person, and me.

Turns out my sales person is having the same challenges that I’m having with the dial-in number provided by the customer. Judy in Arizona is beginning to get perturbed about the quantity of wrong numbers she’s fielding.

The sales person calls me and tells me that she’s going to suggest we use the meeting I had previously organized. After 27 minutes into our 30 minute call, we finally get all parties connected on the same conference call.

One of our two customer contacts apologizes for providing incorrect conference call information. All parties discuss the issue at hand, get their questions answered, and we finish our intended business in about 15 minutes.

In retrospect, the irony about the conference call from hell is that the customer involved in this bridge call fiasco is a major telecom provider.


Know When to Turn Your Game Face Off

Not a day goes by without another conflict somewhere around the world grabbing the headlines, where people are fighting and killing each other over what are often trivial things. Some people don’t even recall what they’re fighting about; they just know that they have to harm anybody who represents “the other side” because it’s ingrained in the mentality of the culture.

While many countries have gone beyond resolving conflict by killing members of the opposing side, some continue to use the battlefield, well, as a battlefield. People in more developed cultures that have defined a new battlefield in the business realm often don’t understand why people continue to inflict and endure real physical and emotional suffering in a constant loop of tit for tat killing.

This got me thinking about how we, as humans, create and maintain affiliations with certain types of groups – teams, if you will. Yes, just like our local professional football or baseball team. We collectively get involved in one of the four U.S. major professional sports seasons and support these teams during their seasons – baseball in the spring, football in the fall, basketball in the winter.

If we narrow down the list of sports we enjoy, we maybe end up with 2 or 3 serious sports affiliations, and that perhaps is the extent to which we think about our team affiliations. Many take these team affiliations seriously, dedicating weekends to supporting a team or maybe two – college football team on Saturday, professional football team on Sunday, and then making them all day events!

Sports gives us an easy way to think about teams. We call these groups of professional sports groups “teams”; but if we look at our other affiliations from a higher level, we may find that we’re associated with a multitude of “teams” on a daily basis.

A typical team can be described as a group of people participating in a specific cause or activity with a purpose. So starting with sports, I support maybe 3 teams for the 3 sports I like – football, basketball, and soccer. That’s pretty easy to see. But what about all of the non-sports teams I’m either “on” or support?

People can be passionate about anything, including a religion, a school, politics, the company they work for, or even electronics. Ever met an iPhone owner or Android smartphone owner who had an opinion about how good their product is? They’re often more passionate about their electronics provider than any sports team.

We typically don’t think about most of these “teams” on a daily basis, as  we don’t put on a “Sony TV” shirt, paint our face with a Sony logo, and cheer for the Sony electronics team to sell more electronics than say Sharp or Philips. Sounds kind of funny doesn’t it?

Let’s use what could be a typical morning for some people in order to count some other affiliations we might have that could also fits our team analogy. The alarm goes off on your Apple iPhone, you get up and initiate the Keurig to make you a coffee, jump in the shower and use Dial soap and Suave shampoo to lather up and get clean, turn on your Samsung TV to Channel 5 to get the morning traffic, put on your Levi kakis, Ping golf shirt, and Florsheim shoes, jump in your Ford Mustang, head to the voting booth to cast your ballot for a particular political candidate or cause, and then off to work at Google.

Not all of these are teams in the traditional sense, of course. They’re mostly products, brands, and groups. Often times, though, we’re just as passionate about the type or brand of car we drive, our coffee provider, or the company we work for, as we are for anything else.

In the developed world, business is the modern battlefield where we assert our influence and have someone else’s influence asserted on us (aka, “taking our lumps”). Maybe Ford sells more Mustangs than Chevy sells Camaros one year and the next year the reverse is true. This doesn’t stop those who are on each of these team from trying to crush each other on the business battlefield every year.

The beauty of teams in the business world is that this is where we can express our frustrations and anger regarding every day life, which everybody has (just don’t kick the dog, please!). But instead of killing thy neighbor, we can just put on our game face for a few hours and then use business as the “battlefield”.

A metaphor for this is eloquently created and illustrated in the Warner Brothers classic cartoon “Ralph E. Wolf and Sam Sheepdog”,  where the wolf and the sheepdog check-in together at 8am each day to be enemies (be on different teams) for the work day and then when the “end of work day” whistle sounds at 5pm, they’re back to being old pals. The enmity between them is put on hold till the next day, where they do it all over again.

I like to look at teams in this manner because it reminds me to not assign the same level of priority to all of my affliations. Don’t get me wrong – I love my local soccer team. And I will paint my face, chest, hair and yell at the top of my lungs in support of the team when I’m in attendance at a (home) game.

What I won’t do is injure a player from the opposing team because he/she scored a goal against my team and lost my team the game, even if it is my beloved team. Remember that in the new world of team affiliations, you can put your game face on and dislike the opposition for the duration of your involvement in that team activity. However, when the whistle blows, signifying the end of the current game, we can stop being bitter foes and go back to loving (or perhaps just liking/tolerating) thy neighbor like Ralph E. Wolf and Sam Sheepdog do.

This behavior makes sense in so many ways because ultimately you’re going to be associated with a multitude of “teams” and you might – no, will – “play” with someone on one team and then oppose them on another. We all do! One day I’m supporting the Seahawks with my colleague and the next day we have sons playing on opposing high school football teams.

The team concept can be applied to any type of group (the Republicans and the Democrats!). There is a time and place for game face on and game face off for our multitude of affiliations. The team we dedicate most of our efforts in support of is the company for which we work. Even though business can be brutal, its beauty lies in the cost of going into battle being lost dollars as opposed to lost lives and human suffering.

Our imaginary friend, Ralph E. Wolf, plays on at least a couple of teams – team wolf and his unquenchable appetite for stealing chickens and team Acme, the company whose products he supposedly peddles. If two imaginary animal foes can adhere to the game face on/off principle, then certainly non-imaginary, civilized people can too!