One of the big challenges we hear about hybrid and remote work is that “collaboration is difficult.” One CEO I spoke to said, “My people just come up with better answers when they can work together physically.” That led to an interesting discussion: What does it mean to come up with the best, or right, answer?
What makes it “right”?
Before you can make a great decision about whether to brainstorm and collaborate in person, it’s important to figure out exactly what the “right” or “best” answer is. Usually there are four things you need to consider:
- Do you need a short-term answer or a long term answer? In other words, is speed the most important factor in solving this particular problem?
- Do you need to reach the best technical decision?
- Does the answer need to be the highest quality possible solution?
- Does the answer need to be something that everyone can live with?
There is a fifth question that plays into this as well:
- Will the organization support the answer you come up with?
Which kind of collaboration is the best way to generate answers?
Each of these questions has its own set of challenges. If, for example, you just need a short-term answer, and speed is of the essence, is it worth the time and challenges of getting everyone to come in and discuss it? Would a web meeting achieve the same thing? Do you need to pull everyone together and get everyone’s input if you just need to put out the fire in front of you?
On the other hand, if you need a long-term solution, pulling everyone together and expecting to leave with the perfect answer might be unreasonable. What about those good ideas, or realizing barriers that didn’t come up in the meeting? It might be too late to do anything about them once the meeting is over.
The Pros and Cons of In-person Meetings
In-person meetings often feel more satisfying to participants. Our brains really like them: they involve interaction with others, we get neurochemical rewards for participating and being accepted, the approval of others when you all agree on an answer feels amazing. You’re a team. We’ve beaten this thing. Yay us!
Conversely, the in-person dynamics that make meetings enjoyable and give us a sense of accomplishment have traps that we need to be aware of, especially if the “highest-quality” answer is what you’re hoping to achieve. Group dynamics that impact the absolute quality of decisions include:
- Power dynamics in the group (are some people granted access or credibility that others aren’t)
- Peer pressure
- Extroverts dominating the discussion
- “Groupthink” that can create a momentum that feels right but may not be the best ultimate solution
- The rush of reaching a decision sometimes makes us shut out the little warnings in our head
This is not to suggest that in-person meetings don’t add value. There are some great reasons to meet physically:
- Long-term relationship building and creating a basis for trust
- Talking “out loud” is beneficial to those who aren’t necessarily visual learners
- You can read body language and hear vocal nuances that allow for deeper questioning. “Are you sure?” “You look confused,” and “Is there anything else?” are often prodded by the look on someone’s face.
- You can include everyone easily in the discussion (assuming you’re monitoring the challenges like individuals dominating the discussion).
Finding the best value
Asynchronous meetings have great value in terms of allowing people to sleep on information, getting input from those less likely to speak up in person (think people with English as a second language, or those with social anxiety, or the newbie on the team).
This is NOT to say that in-person collaboration isn’t the right answer. It might be. But have you checked your assumptions and figured out WHAT THE RIGHT ANSWER NEEDS TO LOOK LIKE, before you figure out HOW TO REACH IT?
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. Wayne and Kevin’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammate, offers a roadmap for success not just for leaders, but for everyone making the transition to working remotely.