I always enjoy face-to-face team meetings. In many ways this could be quite sad, but in truth it is more because I spend so much of my time talking to people one-on-one, sending emails and on the telephone. Three times a year I get to arrange face to face meetings of my leadership team. I look forward to these meetings. I work hard for these meetings. I get an immense amount out of these meetings. I learn so much from the people at these meetings.
Over the years there have been reasons why I have had to run these F2F meetings virtually. Normally due to a travel restriction of some sort – budget, security and even volcanic ash – but virtual always causes my heart to sink. It’s much harder to get all the personal benefit and to deliver all the business impact if we are all remote.
But needs must. If some constraints are in place then I work within them every bit as much as everyone else. And sure enough last week came along and I had to arrange and attend my leadership meeting as a ‘Virtual F2F’.
The good news though is that technology is so much better these days than it used to be…and more importantly we are so much better at using technology that we used to be! We used videoconference. Teleconference. And shared our slides over the network. We spoke to each other. Saw each other. Sent each other instant messages. And even ran break out groups together.
There were two obvious downsides. It is very hard to stay off email when you need your laptop open in front of you to see slides, to communicate to other attendees, and to be visible on the video. I realised this when I saw the number of emails that came in over the two days to me from people on my team who were in my meeting. But then again, I was reading these – and other emails – and I was replying…
The second is that – by definition – you miss out on the more social side of these events. Coffee breaks are a solitary experience. Dinner discussions about topics covered during the day are absent. It is amazing how much of the benefit of a face-to-face meeting happen in these less formal…and more social…moments.
But our meeting last week was still a great success. At least I know I left feeling engaged and inspired. We also had chance to experiment…a meeting within our meeting.
Unbeknownst to me, my event last week clashed with an important meeting with one of our major external partners. Several members of my team felt they had to participate in the partnership meeting (and I agreed). But I also knew that if they left my meeting, our value would go down quickly.
Resolution of this dilemma was to combine the two meetings into a single meeting for an hour. Not only did we avoid either one of the two meetings being less successful, but we also created a new opportunity for the two groups to partner with each other in a very different (yet still virtual) way.
This was pretty nerve-wracking to arrange, and at times the session itself felt more like Speed Dating (OK that was deliberate) but again it was high energy, very engaging, enjoyable and a number of genuine new opportunities were created and captured.
I was pleased and relieved (in equal measure). So much so that we may well get – or look to create – opportunities to try out this new speed dating format with other partners…either virtually or in person.
Now there’s a scary thought…