No “I” in Cyber-Teams (Either)?

These days with more people forced to learn how to use video conferencing for the first time, the old notion of teamwork has taken a severe hit.


Let me start with my new most hated cliché: “…during this trying/unique/challenging/uncertain time…” Have you seen the brilliant compilation of TV ads that all sound (cue dull piano music) and look eerily alike? If you have a moment, enjoy this:

Back to my point. So let’s just say: These days with more people forced to learn how to use video conferencing for the first time, the old notion of teamwork has taken a severe hit.

The old sports truism that there is no “I” in team supposedly was first recorded sometime during the 60s. No one really knows. This far-too-often-repeated concept intends, it seems, to rally the team and embarrass players who only think of their own personal glory or statistics. (Note this cliché doesn’t work well in golf or tennis; or myriad other individual sports for that matter.)

But from a leadership perspective, gathering work team members within some software version of a video-team conference meeting has become more challenging than when we all met in person.

Let me hasten to self-correct. If you regularly attended (or hosted) those hated “down-load” meetings — you know, the ones in which no one is truly allowed to speak but only listen to a pontificating leader/manager drone on with endless downloads — then nothing much has really changed.

But if yours was a more collaborative, engaged and invigorating meeting style, going online may have killed almost all of that.

And it’s now imperative to intentionally include all members in your sessions, not allowing any “I” focus to derail your efforts. In this case, “I” can stand for “me-and-no-one-else,” or “Island — I’m alone in the center of my own universe and don’t need my colleagues,” or even the introvert’s new mantra, “Isolation was what I always longed for and now have! Let’s not mess this up!”

Collaboration — Gone is the ease with which we talk to one another. Interrupting becomes a common problem which brings conversation to a dead-stop. It’s a technical and mechanical issue that seems nearly impossible to overcome. For techno novices who can’t find the MUTE button easily, even worse. And when that occurs, truly “co-laboring” is supremely difficult.

Engagement — Like every other interaction in the cyberworld/social media sphere, anonymity reigns supreme. In video meeting land, many participants feel free to — or are allowed to — turn off their camera. So who knows if they’re watching, listening, playing games, using the bathroom or getting coffee during the proceedings? And being present, focused and engaged? Fuhgeddaboudit!

Energy — If you are leading a cyber-meeting, you have the difficult task of energizing your team.

And how difficult is it to “read” the body language and the nonverbal communication messages from your members? Quick answer: nearly impossible.

So, is teamwork dead in these trying times? Here are ideas for leaders to enhance your NWO (New World Order) gatherings:

VISION — First job of a leader is to espouse a vision that can be shared by everyone. Very different than mission, vision provides a high-level raison d’être for your enterprise. And in cyberspace, it’s all the more important that everyone knows why you’re meeting (harken back to Simon Sinek’s Start with Why) and what you hope to accomplish.

- Provide an agenda ahead of time. Then stick to it.

- Ask everyone to prepare two/three ideas, solutions, etc., to present to the group.

ENGAGE HEARTS AND MINDS — Not just brains but hearts and souls need to be activated, stimulated and motivated for successful cyber-group meetings.

- Make sure everyone participates. Pay attention to those silent types and draw them into the conversation. Could be theirs are the best ideas and if left unspoken, no one benefits.

GET FEEDBACK — This cuts both ways: the leader first solicits input from participants during the meeting; equally important, after the meeting. Debrief the meeting:

- Was this helpful?

- Did the technology work, or get in our way? How can we improve?

- Was this a good use of your time, or a CWT (Colossal Waste of Time)?

Then, determine how to make your next meeting more meaningful and effective.

Don’t allow the restrictions of video-based meetings to slow down your organization’s momentum or efficacy. Work to make team meetings teem with purpose and results!

Norm Mintle