June 19 – Building the informal network by walking around

“If you are wearing out the seat of your pants before you do your shoe soles, you are making too many contacts in the wrong place.” (Anonymous)

In the 1980s there was a great push to have those in management get out from behind their desks and start actually talking to their employees. The idea was that if managers were up walking around, they would be more in touch with the needs of their people, and would spend less time writing memos. Today memos are mostly a thing of the past, but there are still some managers who prefer to sit in their cubes writing emails and IMs rather than getting out and being with those who work for them.

As I have been on my weight loss journey, I have spent a lot more time up and walking in my building. When I have the chance I attend meetings in person, often taking the long way to get there. When I have a question for a coworker, I will go look for them rather than simply writing an email or IM. I started doing this purely for the exercise, but it has had other beneficial effects as well. In addition to changing where the wear and tear are occurring, I am also reconnecting with people in a more personal way.

The business world of today is dramatically different from what it was as few as 15 years ago. Today all members of the team are connected to each other in multiple ways, and information flows quickly through the organization. News and information that once took a day or two to make its way around the office, is now spread in an instant. Technology advances make it easy for people to work from anywhere and participate in meetings. They can be in the four corners of the earth, working from home or a coffee shop, or sitting at their desks – all with little or no impact on their ability to collaborate and share.

Twice a month I host a meeting that includes about 75 people on 3 or 4 continents. We all see the same information and make decisions as a team quickly and easily. About 20 of the people on the call all sit in the same building that I do. We reserve a conference room for those in our building to attend in person. Over the last couple of years, the in-person attendance has dropped dramatically as people elect to dial in from their desks. Dialing in from the desk doesn’t impact how a person can participate in that meeting, but it is not without its impacts overall.

I have found with that meeting that some really important things happen just before and just after the formal meeting. During that time people who attend in person have informal conversation. Usually it is about their lives outside work, but occasionally there will be comments that are project related. No decisions are made or actions taken in this time, but what is happening is that relationships are forged and grown.

One thing that has not changed in business is the need for relationships. To be successful I have to be able to effectively navigate both the formal and informal structures of the company. The formal structures of the company are relatively easy to learn. The processes are documented, and procedures can be found in any number of places. But for those less used, less formal processes, there is no replacement for personal contact. And for that personal contact to be nurtured requires more face to face time with people.

As the in-person attendance at that meeting has changed, my relationships with others on the team have as well. I find that I am more connected to those whom I see at each meeting in person, and less connected to those who dial in from their desks within the building. There are other opportunities to see those people, and I take them when I can, but losing that connect point does have an effect.

That meeting takes place in just a few hours, and I am going to note for myself who attends in person, and give some thought to how I can improve and build the relationships with those who don’t. While I am saving the wear and tear on my trousers, I will look for ways to pay them a visit and keep that informal network running.

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