In The Room

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“In less than a day, we restored 8-years of trust that had been eroded by not being together.”

     –  A friend of mine who runs a big hunk of a big business, on the relationship between senior leadership peers

It’s been almost 14 months.  The lion’s share of companies erred on the side of caution and sent everyone home — everyone they could, at least, and, even when they couldn’t, pretty much everyone that wanted to.

Everywhere we turn, there are articles and opinions on how work-from-home (WFH) is becoming / has become the “new normal.”  Reputable, well-researched articles from authoritative, even-handed sources.  I’ve noticed though, and I’m not going to try to link all the articles I’ve read on the topic, for fear of breaking The Googler, a balancing of the perspectives.

It hit me like a ton of bricks this weekend, in a conversation with a good friend who is a senior executive with a big financial services company.

We’re not wired, as a people, to work from our guest rooms or dining room tables, and no matter how good we are at it — real damage is done at the relationship level — and that’s where commerce occurs unless we’re selling widgets on the Interwebs.

The details are superfluous — but the story is compelling.  It features two executives who’d been close working partners for almost a decade, leading opposite sides of a complex business, well-chosen, well-trained, and well-positioned to be the yin to one another’s yang, closely aligned even during major strategic decisions over which they disagreed on significant elements of the decisions to be made.  They made one another better, and they trusted one another to be real.  The business was performing because it was in good hands.

Over about a six-month period, though, the stars felt out of alignment.  From one video screen halfway across the country to the other, the signals that were obvious during monthly face-to-face meetings pre-COVID were getting missed or misconstrued.  The big decisions were even bigger, and the alignment even more important during unprecedented times.  An inch at a time, they had drifted apart, because the connection was strained, almost missing.

Last week they found themselves in a conference room together.  Appropriately distanced, despite both being fully vaccinated — they walked through a list of what was on each other’s mind.

The quote that leads this post was the outcome.  An evening of breaking bread and raising a toast or two followed and further realigned the stars, to the benefit of the business, and the executives leading the business.

I’m not saying we have to be back in the room right now – it’s not my place to force my sensibilities or beliefs on anyone else.

I’m simply saying we ought to be very careful before we think that anything can take the place of being in the room, or we ought to be willing to accept that the “new normal” is going to be way short on connectedness, collaboration and camaraderie.

Rant over.

Thanks for coming along…

 

PS  I’m not sure “normal” — new, old or otherwise — is a term we should get too comfy with.  It was perfectly normal to go to Blockbuster to pick up a couple of movies for the weekend, and the idea that we’d do our grocery shopping over the phone while the Tallest of The Three took the order on the other end and packaged them up and put them in a van for someone to drop off on our doorstep was anything but normal.  If we’re going to be here, now, “normal” isn’t the descriptor we should be seeking, or we’ll miss the opportunity to be there, then, when the game changes…


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Comments

  1. Dan Thome says

    Amen, brother. Negotiating and closing transactions and doing effective diligence isn’t impossible in this environment, but the risk of error is substantially higher. I’ll say it, you don’t have to, the government doesn’t care. Until the entity fails, then they can spring into action and pay entitlements. New normal? I hope not.

    • You eloquent devil, you! Bad deals are ultimately bad for everyone — and if being in the room reduces bad deals, then that is, by definition, better for everyone. And it’s not that (as you know, and do as well as anyone) negotiating is a win / lose proposition, either. When we can read the room, feel the room — we can honor the room…and that requires being IN the room!

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