Earlier today we wrapped up three consecutive days of video teleconferences to train five new knowledge managers. The trainees were located in Greenville, Calgary and Houston, while the other trainers and I were primarly located in Southern California. In better economic times, our trainees would have travelled to Southern California for the week, spending some serious face time not only with those of us leading the training, but with most of the core KM team.
This face-to-face KM immersion did two things:
First, it allowed them to focus on what they where learning, without the distractions of the everyday office activities around them. Sitting and working side-by-side with the KM team gave them an opportunity to really absorb a great deal of knowledge that wasn’t necessarily a part of the training outline.
But the second, and even more important result was the relationships that were built. In most cases, this gathering was the first time we worked together. In addition to spending most of the work week together, we would eat lunch together and even go out afterwards for dinner or go sailing. The bond that formed provided a solid foundation for an ongoing working relationship. They felt comfortable coming to us because they knew us well. They trusted us, and knew we were there to help them. They understood the gravity of their new role as knowledge managers. They reached out for help or to brainstorm solutions for integrating knowledge management into their community’s work processes, and gladly participated when we asked them to help us with an enterprise KM initiative.
Doing this via video teleconference has required a change in approach. Sessions are shorter, with more pre-reading and pre-work. There are exercises that require multiple touch points with the KM team, ensuring that they will talk with someone on the team on a fairly regular basis. Will this suffice? Not a chance.
Fellow KM-er David Gurteen recently shared a great article on Harvard Business Review via this tweet:
In his article Why Face-to-Face Meetings Make All the Difference, Stephen Greer describes how use used face-to-face meetings to build and strengthen relationships with his leadership team. Greer concedes that after the relationships had been established, he was able to reduce the frequency of meetings, and conduct more of them remotely.
“Over time, once personalities gelled and relationships bonded, we were able to scale back the frequent flyer miles by making it a quarterly face-to-face meeting, with monthly conference calls in between. Today a videoconference would be the preferable alternative, as technology is definitely bringing distant operations closer together.”
Note that he didn’t jump straight away to conference calls. He notes that it took time to build and bond relationships with face-to-face meetings. Only after those relationships were bonded could they scale back the frequency and begin leveraging alternative technology like video teleconferencing.
Yes, face-to-face still matters.
The challenge is this: What do you do when face-to-face is not an option? How do you build those relationships that are necessary to create trust between people who don’t really know each other that well?