Virtual meetings and winning the lottery

2012

Now that the cynical title of this post has sucked you in, allow me to explain. I'm not saying that virtual presentations, webinars and webconferences can make you instantly rich (although the bean counters will tell you that if you'd just quit traveling everything would be MUCH better. It won't). I am saying that how your team works - or doesn't - does precisely what winning huge jackpots does. It reveals your team's personality.

Recent research on people who win the lottery show that sudden amounts of money don't guarantee lifelong happiness and prosperity. In fact, a large number of winners wind up being broke. This gives rise to the old adage that sudden wealth doesn't change who you are, so much as it reveals who you always were. Basically if you were a spendthrift idiot before hitting the lotto, you're going to be as big an idiot as ever, but with more money to spend and a red Ferrari you might wind up living in.

The same is true of virtual meetings. They don't (always, permanently) change your team's dynamics, but can certainly reveal the strengths and challenges present in your work group. A very good post from Justin Jones at Interactive Associates makes this point nicely.

If your team is proactive about reaching out, eager to participate and contribute and is excited about their work, online collaboration tools are a great boon. You can do things much faster than trying to get everyone's calendars together and trying to find an available conference room.

On the other hand, if people don't trust each other, aren't willing to exert themselves to help out or don't feel their input will be valued enough to warrant the extra effort, there will be silence on conference calls, no response to calls for input on problems, and a general malaise blamed on working remotely.

Just as a potload of money doesn't suddenly give you the wisdom to invest wisely, spend sanely and say no to your relatives, the ability to connect instantly from anywhere on the planet and in multiple ways doesn't mean people will take advantage of the opportunity.

In fact, it's frequently the opposite. If I'm not excited by what we're discussing, it's easy for me to "multitask" and check email instead of paying attention. If I don't believe my boss really wants my input, I can sit passively in a way I probably couldn't in a conference room where I'm in her line of sight.

What this all means is that technology isn't the root of the problem, but it is a complicating factor that magnifies the underlying issues of trust, competence and communication. Yes, you have to learn the tools, use them effectively and have access to them when you need them. More than that, though, leaders need to create, monitor and maintain an atmosphere where people can not only communicate at the speed of light, but actually want to make the effort.

Just as with winning the lottery, finding yourself working in a remote project team or work group doesn't magically create or destroy a team's cohesion. It simply reveals how it's really working and where as a leader you need to put your efforts.

It might feel like the odds are more in favor of winning the lottery than pulling this off. They're not, and you can actually do something to improve them if you're willing.

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About The Author

Wayne Turmel
Wayne Turmel

Wayne Turmel is a speaker, writer and co-founder of The Remote Leadership Institute. He’s passionate about helping people present, sell and lead people and projects using today’s virtual communication technology. His books include Meet Like You Mean It - a Leader’s Guide to Painless and Productive Virtual Meetings. Wayne is based in Chicago, IL.