Why you need face-to-face meetings

I recently participated in a five-hour videoconference. In so many respects, the technology was amazing. We had participants from across the US who only had to step into their office at work or at home to join the meeting. I could watch everyone’s face in split screen, albeit in relatively low resolution. No one had to waste a day or two traveling. No one had to spend the night sleeping on a hotel bed, eating hotel room service. No one had to dip into their travel budget. What wasn’t to like?

However, as I reflected on the meeting, I remembered an old joke about doctors. “How did the operation go?” one doctor asked his colleague.

“Oh, the operation went well,” the surgeon replied.

“How is the patient doing?” was the follow-up question.

“Oh, he died, but the operation was a great success.”

The meeting held via videoconference didn’t succeed in helping the participants reach a greater understanding; in fact, it failed in its truth-seeking objective. The participants didn’t leave with any greater insights than the preconceptions they had coming into the meeting. When all was said and done, audio and low-resolution video doesn’t communicate nearly enough information.
In the April issue of Pacific Standard, PACIFIC*STANDARD Clifford Nass notes some of the issues with relying on non-physical communication such as Facebook. “The human brain is built to unconsciously detect remarkably small changes in other people’s smile and frown muscles, pupil size (larger pupils indicate happiness), wrinkles around the eyes (genuine smiles have them, but false smiles don’t), skin color (faces get pale with fear and red with rage), eyebrow movement (arching indicates puzzlement), pitch (happy is higher-pitched), volume (loud is more excited), speech rate (rapid can indicate fear), and posture (tight bodies and downward head indicate sadness).” There is an absence of these cues from the text-based interaction typical of the Web, and we don’t get the full effect of these cues from a videoconference, either.
In the high-stakes strategic planning meetings that we facilitate, we always specify a u-shaped table or a conference table arrangement. This enables people to watch and “listen” to all the non-verbal clues of their fellow teammates. We also ask everyone to put their wireless devices, cell phones and iPads into airplane mode. That’s because you can’t really listen when your eyes are focused on the latest email or tweet.

Strategic planning meetings are a truth-seeking investment to optimize the quality, quantity, and timeliness of decisions. Engaged attendees participating in face-to-face interactions can better catch the verbal and non-verbal cues from their colleagues. The more they learn and understand, the better they will be able to apply it to their thinking and planning — and the better the decisions that come out of the strategic planning meeting.
If you’re interested in having a facilitated strategic planning meeting that moves you from concept to tangible implementation, check out our service offerings online, contact us or better yet, give us a call at (800) 207-8192 to arrange for a complimentary consultation to determine if you are ready for strategic planning and our program is right for you.

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