At Stop At Nothing, we have virtual management meetings twice a year with five partners who live in three cities across two time zones. We know that virtual meetings are here to stay, and they certainly provide a valuable role in keeping teams in sync.
However, an increasing amount of anecdotal and scientific evidence exposes the limitations of digital and virtual meetings in comparison to in-person, face-to-face interactions, meetings and learning experiences.
I’d like to share 3 recent discoveries that prove this:
I recently enjoyed reading Brene Brown’s book, “Braving the Wilderness.” She reminds us that humans related in small groups – human-to-human, face-to-face – for thousands of years. Only recently, we’ve begun substituting this for electronic means.
It started a hundred years ago with the telephone, and sped up with the digital revolution of the past two decades. She credits the esteemed social scientist, Susan Pinker, for concluding that “there is no substitute for social interaction. They are proven to bolster our immune system, sending positive hormones surging through our bloodstream and brain, and help us live longer.”
Secondly, I frequently see Susan Pinker’s conclusion about the value of physical presence in action. Recently, I facilitated an offsite meeting attended by 60 people from across the country.
It was expensive for the company to fly people in from so many places, and travel time takes time away from the necessary and often urgent day-to-day work of these Operations Managers and Directors. But the Senior VP of the group considers this in-person work urgent and necessary, above all else.
Why? “Because not only do I see the incredible value, but our employees beg us to continue,” he said. “They say, ‘Please don’t ever take away these in person sessions or replace them with online sessions.’”
I noticed in this particular offsite meeting that team member exchanges in social settings – at dinner, during breaks – meaningfully added to the proceeding day’s discussions. It reinforced the idea that it’s not just about the meeting itself; it’s about how we relax together and have fun together that builds trust and relationships.
Thirdly, Google has published a well-known study on the key ingredients baked into a high-performing teams. Through extensive analysis of their own teams, they discovered that one factor stood out from all others in promoting a healthy team culture.
Google calls it “psychological safety.” It’s where people can honestly express their views and ideas to one another, without fear of feeling embarrassed or humiliated. This can only be created when people can read and interpret physical and energetic cues. These include verbal tone, eye contact and body language.
The bottom line.
While necessary for many day-to-day tasks…
Communicating via email, phone calls, video conferencing, makes it harder to read another’s tone of voice and body language. It also impedes the ability to perceive what’s happening in the background.
This is why the managing partners at Stop At Nothing make a point to meet in person at least twice a year for a full four days. We do this to maintain and continue to build trust, even when we’ve together as partners for over 20 years.
Implement this strategy for your business.
As you plan your team development activities, consider these questions and principles:
- Ask yourself, what is my team’s relationship and connection strategy? How often is best to meet as a group, and for what purpose?
- When considering learning or convening options, ask yourself: what is the goal, what is the appropriate and balanced mix between in-person and virtual interactions that will help you achieve that goal? It’s easy and expedient to cite budget, or seek to reduce the travel and entertainment line, but it ignores human nature and incurs other costs in the long run.
- Carefully and thoughtfully plan every aspect of the in-person meeting. Be sure to include the dining and social activities, so that they facilitate easy, relaxed interaction. Require all to participate, and structure the agenda to facilitate meeting new people, while not allowing groups to stick together out of comfort.
- If virtual, pay attention to emerging best-practice research about length, attention spans, and how to structure breaks. Pay attention to the true productivity and outcomes of these meetings. Be aware of the tendency to hold back and hide behind a screen, which is often a defense of not wanting to deal with difficult subjects.
- If the goal includes building trust and relationship building, advocate for the in-person meeting, even if faced with resistance or objections. Yes, there are times when we are plagued with too many meetings. But that can also be used as a defense. Some people are becoming increasingly comfortable hiding in front of the screen.
Share this blog and the suggested resources with your team, so that they can become aware of the proper balance between in-person and online interactions.