As technology blazes forward, so too does the quality of the interactions available to those who choose to meet virtually. Yet, the perception that in-person meetings are superior somehow remains.
In the HBR blog post, How to Conduct a Virtual Meeting, the author begins with the assertion: "Virtual meetings are the suboptimal reality of most information workers' lives." While there's no doubt they're increasingly commonplace, are they necessarily "suboptimal"?
Is altering a goal or halting work towards it a failure? A myriad of oft-repeated adages would lead us to believe that anything varying from the predefined result is a breach of accountability ("Do what you say you're going to do.") or abject failure.
Whether in grade school or at summer camp, most of us played a game that offers insight into team communication. While its name, the "Telephone Game" may not be familiar, how it's played should quickly refresh dusty memories.
Participants form a line and the facilitator whispers a story to the first person. That person is then asked to whisper the story to the next person. The process is repeated until the story reaches the line's opposite end.
At the point, the first person and last person in line are asked to repeat what they've heard. What follows is predictable. Usually the room breaks out in laughter as participants enjoy with disbelief how distorted the details have become.
For project teams, one of the game's lessons is obvious. Keep communication paths as short as possible.
The Real World
Of course, the game is simplistic and doesn't fully reflect other real world challenges.
For example, each of the Telephone Game's participants are more or less equally qualified to pass on a basic story. On project teams, this is not the case. Experts often need to collaborate with experts on the same team or on a partner team. This communication is most effective when it's direct.