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Posts Tagged ‘Face-to-Face Communications’

On Friday, Forbes.com featured a write-up of an interview with Patrick Lencioni, a leadership consultant and author of several books on the subject. The article focuses on the degree to which technology can be relied upon to manage virtual teams and offers useful advice for organizations and managers alike.

Lencioni takes an interesting approach when he compares workplace teams to families:

No family would say, ‘Well, Dad lives in New York, Mom lives in San Francisco, and the kids are spread around the country, but thanks to my iPhone and computer, it’s no different from living under the same roof.’ The simple but often overlooked truth is that without the daily interaction of breakfast or dinner or homework or late night conversation or doing the dishes, a family can’t possibly develop and maintain the strength it needs to thrive during good times and survive during challenging ones. The same is true for teams that have no incidental conversations in the hallway, or at lunch or in the elevator for that matter.

But Lencioni understands that face-to-face isn’t always possible and turns to conference calls to facilitate virtual team meetings when necessary. He also acknowledges that high-end video conferencing may be an opportunity for better connecting virtual teams, but he warns that “no single device or tool can replace face-to-face interaction” and that such sophisticated technology is absent from most organizations.

Ultimately, Lencioni concludes that, whether meetings are face-to-face or via the latest technology, a few common rules apply:

Regardless of whether teams get together in person or remotely, they need to regularly revisit their purpose, values and mission. They need to work at developing trust and determining methods for hashing out differences remotely. They also have to establish ways to keep their team goals—not just their individuals’ goals—visible and urgent.

Read: When You Absolutely Can’t Meet Face-to-Face by Terry Waghorn for Forbes.com (10.16.09)

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Four years ago, I became a manager for the first time. Thankfully my supervisor was a patient mentor and helped me acquire skills that I still use to this day. But let me be clear: it was not an easy road. Those initial several months were incredibly painful (for both of us, I’m sure) and at times seemed an exercise in futility.

For reasons that baffled me at first, she insisted that I meet with my staff at 8:00 a.m.—daily. So each workday for two years, almost without fail, everyone in the department crowded into my office to talk about deadlines, identify roadblocks, and share ideas.

I was reminded of this exercise a couple days ago when I read an article in the current issue of Communicate Magazine, called End of the huddle?

Read: James Bennett on the irreplaceable value of face-to-face communications for Communicate Magazine

The author defines the huddle as:

… not a discussion but a series of statements listened to by the key members of the company. The huddle leader then asks each individual what he or she is working on that day and may ask for a short daily sales report or any outstanding achievements, events, or queries. Finally the leader questions each member on whether they are facing any potential ‘blocks’, or problems that could prevent them from carrying out their daily duties. Anything else is then taken offline and worked on separately.

In my department’s morning meetings, we never met for more than 10 minutes at a time and we mostly just glazed the surface of issues. But our huddles quickly became the most valuable touch points of my week as a new manager. They were a tool for me to learn about responsibilities and work product, an opportunity to identify potential problems, and a chance to get to know my staff on a personal level.

Now, software such as Yammer makes it easy for teams to connect and keep in touch with one another in a similar way. But whether online touch points are as effective as a face-to-face encounter is up for serious debate.

Bennett states that even using the best online networking tools, “face-to-face contact and that instant sharing of crucial first-thing-in-the-morning, targeted information is immediately lost.”

Today, with so much of an organization’s information-sharing facilitated by online tools, huddles and other face-to-face meetings are at risk for becoming obsolete.

But, as Bennett rightfully suggests, the value face-to-face meetings bring to an organization and its internal communications cannot easily be replicated in the online space.

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