Don’t Forget the Value of Facetime

I’d like to introduce a member of our McCormick LifeScience team, David Kroon!  Dave brings us 18 years of experience in the pharmaceutical industry, in roles ranging from validation to manufacturing to clinical supply.  Most recently, Dave developed and managed a complex clinical supply program requiring 25 CMOs in six countries, delivering drug product from 23 production sites to more than 80 clinical sites in US, Canada, and Europe (ok, I’m done bragging about him now).

Take it away Dave!

When I think about the changes I have seen in the last fifteen years, I sometimes wonder how we got anything at all done before computers and the internet.  Scanners allow us to revise and sign documents in a single day.  Conference calling, WebEx, and email on a cell phone all mean that we can communicate with nearly anyone, or any group, nearly any time.  These are amazing tools that have reduced the time required to write and approve a document or advance a project by orders of magnitude.  No doubt the economists become giddy as they calculate the resultant increase in our productivity.

But there is a downside to all these advancements.  Time and again, I have seen organizations tempted to rely solely on these tools.  Travel is expensive and time consuming, technology cheap and quick.  It becomes too easy to rely on conference calls and emails to drive the project forward.  But if there is one thing I have learned, it is that the face to face meetings still have immense value.

We all know it is true . . . the people sitting on the call, back in their offices, are checking email, on the internet, or even sneaking down to the lunchroom to get coffee.  That doesn’t happen in a face to face meeting.  You can be assured of getting everyone’s undivided attention when they are all seated around the same table (except for the occasional co-worker who dozes off during the meeting.  Provides for great company holiday party stories!). Nonverbal communication comes through in a way impossible on the phone, and the ability to walk down the hall and look directly at a problem can cut right through the issue to a resolution.

When I was managing a complex, clinical supply program that required 25 manufacturing sites in multiple countries, I made it a policy to have annual Program Review meetings with each of the vendors.  We agreed to meet and review what was working, what was not working, program updates, trending of quality and performance metrics, and a host of other items.  I found the vendors were happy to alternate venues between their offices and ours.

We found improvement in nearly all aspects of the program.  Outstanding quality incidents, which had languished unresolved began to get the attention they deserved.  Members of the team began to form friendships, which had a truly amazing impact on how well the team functioned and cooperated across the corporate boundaries.  This led to a greater willingness to acknowledge the need for improvements.  A little data and a friendly face can go a long way towards developing collaborative relationships.  It did not take long for the skeptics; those who wondered why I was making them go on these trips, came around to see their value.  Perhaps the greatest endorsement came from senior management who placed these meetings at the bottom of their lists of cost cutting opportunities.  We used to say that one face-to-face meeting was worth 20 conference calls.

People are social by nature, and it is easy to lose sight of how important those interactions are.  We love our technology, but let’s not forget each other’s facesMaking a small investment in these intangibles will yield tremendous dividends.


  • Remember to alternate meeting locations between the vendor’s office and yours; this shares the travel burden and encourages a collaborative atmosphere.
  • If you are finding it difficult to make the time, see if there is an industry conference both teams will be attending.
  • Make sure that everyone has adequately prepared for the meeting. These opportunities are precious, and preparation will ensure the teams get the most out of them.
  • Make some social time for the team. Dinner is a great opportunity to talk shop and build relationships.