Book extract: Blending Leadership
Do we really need to meet face to face?
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Thought leadership, design, mission, meetings, sharing and the off-ramp (the path less taken) are the six core beliefs necessary for a blended leader (one who is capable of leading both in the online and offline world), write educator Stephen J. Valentine and researcher-entrepreneur Reshan Richards in their book Blending Leadership—Six Simple Beliefs For Leading Online And Off.
In the chapter “Blended Leaders Challenge Meeting Structures And Change Meeting Structures”, the authors challenge the need for meetings. An edited excerpt:
Too small to do anything hard in
We have all been in meetings that could have been handled through email. And we have all been part of an email chain that, because of its complexity and nuance, should have been handled in a face-to-face (F2F) meeting. We have all had the experience of getting lost in our work, of forgetting time and restraints, of reaching what might be called a flow state—and receiving a phone call or hearing an alarm on our computer or smartphone that calls us away from that work. To a meeting.
Perhaps even more damaging, and less easily recognized, are the times we have been prevented from reaching that flow state because we are continually watching a clock or looking at our calendars or setting alarms or asking colleagues to interrupt us. Our awareness of impending meetings can act like an ankle bracelet keeping us under low-grade house arrest.
Our leaders serve us best when they think about our time and our talents—how to save the former and give us the greatest opportunity to develop, exercise, and share the latter. Meetings often have the opposite effect; executed poorly, organized around the wrong set of tasks, or calling together the wrong group of colleagues at the wrong hours of the day, meetings can waste time, grind good people down, and reduce opportunities for people to share their talents.
Why do we meet F2F? Technology gives us more options to solve our meeting problems.
Rethinking the Ideal
Do we need to meet F2F? Is there a way that not meeting in the traditional way could actually enhance the outcome of the “meeting”?
The blended leader is committed to figuring out the best way to access people’s best work at a time in their days when they are most capable of producing that work. We all have ideal work rhythms; we all have ideal work times. The interconnectedness of our computing devices means that meetings can happen asynchronously, matching up with those rhythms and times, aligning talents with tasks.
If Joe is a morning person, he can contribute to a shared document at 5am. If Kim has parenting duties that occupy her mornings and her early evenings, she can contribute in the late evening. If Benedict wants to share information with a group, he might simply email that information to the group. If Sonya wants to both share information and seek input on it, she could create a Google Doc, share it with her team, and ask people to add comments in the margins. If a discussion is not progressing as it should in a F2F meeting, why not cut off the meeting and ask people to contribute to the discussion over the next week in a Wiki-style space? Or why not start the conversation there, a week before the F2F meeting? Building a presentation with a group? Meet F2F quickly to launch the parameters of the project, then launch a Google Presentation and ask people to contribute slides.
Facing a time-sensitive situation and having trouble getting all the key players in a room? Consider using Google Hangouts or asking someone to phone in or Skype in. You could bring in a special guest or consultant the same way. Different modes of communication or meeting have different affordances and limitations depending on the context and purpose of that communication or meeting. An F2F meeting in the same physical space could be an organized group or committee, or it could be an informal conversation between colleagues in the hallway. An F2F meeting can also occur with individuals in different physical spaces using videoconferencing tools such as Google Hangouts. Voice meetings can happen with telephone conference calls or VoIP (Voice over IP) conversations using Skype. Synchronous text meetings can take place in a live Google Doc, through a Twitter exchange, or in iChat. Asynchronous text meetings can take place in a Google Doc or simply over email.
None of these modes is intrinsically good or bad. Instead it is important to understand what is gained and what is missing from each mode when making a decision about what type of communication structure to engage or what kind of meeting to organize.