The Power of Touch

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It’s innovation time. Your team has been blessed by leadership to come up with the next big thing that will win the hearts and minds of your customers. Meet the team. Joe the designer likes to work remotely from his house – he wants to spend more time with his kids. Sarah the engineer is located in your East Coast office – given the latest budget cuts, she cannot travel that often. Marc the Product Manager is located in your West Coast office – he’s always in the office, but spends 80% of his time in meetings giving updates to the leadership team.

No problem, your organization is giving you all the tools you need to “collaborate” and become a “high performing team”. The chances are that your IT department has spent a good amount of money to create an infrastructure that will theoretically increase productivity and minimize traveling costs. Webex and Cisco Telepresence are the weapons of choice. Past experiences have eroded your faith in these tools, so you’ve also built your own arsenal of reliable workarounds…Skype and Google Hangout, just to name a few.

You lay out a project plan with key milestones, daily check-ins, monthly face-to-face meetings, and clear roles and responsibilities on the team. This all makes sense until the sexy plan on the page turns into the reality of collaborating in meetings.

“Hey team, Webex is acting out today. I don’t see you on the video. Let’s try Skype. Oh, Skype is slow today; let’s go to Google Hangout. Dammit, for some reason Marc can’t get on Google Hangout. Let me text him and see if he can try Webex again.”

And round and round you go. Before you know it, you have spent 20 minutes figuring out how to finally get to a mediocre workaround to actually start the meeting. Everything that could have gone wrong went wrong.  Unfortunately, this has become the norm for millions of corporate workers around the world. Somehow, we have become numb to the imperfections of these tools with the hope that the technology will one day catch up with our collaboration needs.

Being a true believer in intact and co-located teams, it occurred to be me that technology is not really the problem here. The real problem might be our assumption that technology can enable true collaboration. Perhaps we are conflating communication and collaboration.

We don’t have to go far to witness true collaboration. All we have to do is turn on ESPN and learn from athletes. They high five, chest bump, butt slap, fist bump, and hug more than they play the game. Whether they’re celebrating as a team, encouraging each other, or consoling one another, these moments all have one thing in common – the power of touch.

fist_bump

These are not empty gestures – they reflect the true essence of a team. Touch strengthens relationships; establishes trust, equality and respect in the team; and more importantly it creates a system of accountability amongst the team members (in other words, friendship) that goes beyond individual performance. These gestures create rituals and traditions that the team can fall back on in good or bad times.

Leaders need to understand that innovation is ultimately a team sport, not a resourcing sport. Teams are not set up for success if you simply enable them to communicate. Innovation is harder than that – it’s garbage in, garbage out. You need to create the space for a group of random people to build genuine, personal relationships and let them emerge as a real team that is passionate about changing the world, and not preoccupied with the mechanics of working together.

Here’s to letting your teams “touch” each other, literally and figuratively, as well as HR appropriately 🙂

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