You Get More With Ribs

With New England Ribfest right around the corner here in Bangor on September 15th and 16th, I’m reminded of how good ribs changed my career for the better and taught me an important lesson.

A long time ago, I was trying to get a project started with another office on the other side of town. All we needed was a meeting, so I set it up for them to come meet the people who would to be working with me. I thought of going to them, but I wouldn’t have been able to bring enough of the team due to our teaching schedules.

The meeting day comes, and they cancel. I call a week later to reschedule, and the conversation sounds just like it had the last time. It wasn’t negative, but too similar to the script that involved them cancelling, so I got desperate.

Side note: Panic may be the cause of some of my best ideas.

So, I say to the guy on the other end of the phone: “Hey, we’re having a staff barbecue on Thursday. Why don’t you come over, enjoy some ribs, and we can talk shop.” Just about everyone loves ribs, and a guy I worked with at the time makes some of the best you’ll ever taste. And no, I didn’t just challenge the whole world to a rib cook-off, but some of you are already thinking about your recipes, your rubs, and your sauces. If you live anywhere near Bangor, you should be thinking about Ribfest.

In less time than it took to read that little digression, the guy on the other end of the phone said yes and the date was set. Success! One little hitch: We hadn’t actually planned that barbecue.

Luckily, the staff I worked with at the time was getting used to my ambitious ideas. I somehow convinced them that we needed a barbecue, and the guy with the magic ribs pulled through. We had a nice lunch, got to talk a bit of shop, and I got the verbal go-ahead to start the project.

The regular meeting would have probably happened sooner or later, but I would have had to go there with one or two people instead of giving the whole team a chance to participate. The issue was that I wanted a meeting with someone whose day was all meetings. I can say very clearly now that my life has far too many meetings in it, but I didn’t think of that sort of thing back in 2008.

There are some professions where lunch is still considered an important and almost sacred part of the business. For most of us, though, it isn’t. We forget that sometimes what we need isn’t a meeting, but a connection. In a spreadsheet of dollar signs and numbers, I could have done the whole thing without ever showing my face, but I was looking for the connection: a real person with an opinion, and hopefully an appetite.

We know meetings, which are easy. I wish there were less of them. We know the working lunch, when there aren’t enough hours in the day, so we act like buying a few cheap pizzas will help us muscle through to meet the deadline. But, how well do we know connecting and reconnecting?

In a metric-driven world, we sometimes lose sight of hours invested into the working relationships that make us successful. Without a chance to reconnect, the dynamic that might have worked well a year ago can become stale. Have a lunch or breakfast for the staff, not a fundraiser, and not something that eats into personal time. If you get invited to a lunch, go. If you need to connect and can’t seem to, then make a lunch happen somehow and invite the people you need to.

– You get more bees with honey.
– You get more people with ribs.

The act of breaking bread with someone remains one of the most effective ways to get people together if you do it for the right reason, which I think should be to connect and brainstorm, not something too close to actual work.

– How often do you break bread with your people to connect, no matter how long you’ve worked together?

Have a great week out there. I’ll see you at Ribfest!

– JT





James Tinker

About James Tinker

James was born and raised in Bangor, and left home at 18 for the Navy. Twenty-five years later, he retired as a Command Master Chief, the highest enlisted rank on a warship in San Diego. His popular blog series, The Day Job, shares personal and professional lessons learned through his career.