“Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something that precedes the individual. Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god. ” — Aristotle, “The Politics”
When you sit down and think about it, many of the greatest accomplishments of the human race are collaborative efforts. The cathedrals of medieval France. MGM musicals like “Singing in the Rain” or “Royal Wedding”. Democracy. The Renaissance. A Double Double Cheeseburger with Fries from In ‘N Out Burger.
These are things that could only have been created by a group effort, human beings working together.
Why? Because we are, as Aristotle observed more than 2,300 years ago, social animals. We live a common life together.
So if we live a common life together and are, at heart, social animals, why do so many teleconferences not work? What, exactly, causes them to be disappointing failures? I think I can confidently state that it is not because we are either beasts nor gods.
What causes many teleconferences to fail is a combination of insufficient technology and basic human politeness. There are what I call “the pain points of teleconferencing.” And they are solvable problems.
1. Set an agenda. Stick to it.
Unless the teleconference is between NFL owners, nobody gets to talk about the Super Bowl.
Before your next teleconference, send out an agenda to everyone. These are items we will be discussing, and this is the order in which we’ll be discussing them. People are busy, and while your teleconference may in fact be the most important part of their work day, it is not the only part of their work day. Nothing kills a teleconference quicker than desultory talk about the weather, the latest flu outbreak or last night’s episode of “Grey’s Anatomy.” We all have other things to do today besides chit chat right now. Stay on point, stick to the agenda, finish the call.
2. People are going to arrive late. Deal with it.
It’s just going to happen: people are going to show up late. They’ll have a million good reasons. We don’t need to hear them. We also don’t need to recap what’s been discussed already.
Think of it this way: somebody shows up late to Mass. The priest doesn’t stop the proceedings, introduce everyone, and then recap what’s happened so far. No. If you show up late, you check where in the liturgy (agenda) we are, listen in and catch up on your own.
There’s no reason a teleconference can’t operate that way either.
3. Use technology that works.
Teleconferencing technology should do the following:
— allow automatic sharing of documents during the call
— visual identification of who is speaking and participating
— late entrants can join without interrupting — or stopping — the call
If your teleconferencing system can’t do these things, your calls are going to be less effective, more painful for the callers, and, ultimately, less collaborative.
We’re human beings. We’re social animals. We’re working on a problem together. Any technology you are using that disrupts collaborative work is anti-social and goes counter to who we are in our essence.