Project Practitioners > Talk To Me!

Talk To Me!

By Niel Nickolaisen

Sometimes there is no substitute for personal, face-to-face communications. With e-mail and instant messaging technology, it is pretty easy to limit our personal contact with people. I sometimes find myself sending an e-mail to a co-worker who sits 20 feet away from me—a distance that invariably seems a lot longer when I am comfortably seated at my desk on an "emailing roll"

Recently, I was reminded how relying on remote communications can slow down and even hinder progress. We were asked to change how our financial analysts access data. This was a fairly benign request that should have been relatively simple to implement. All we had to do was change the access rules so that the analysts could pull their data from tables that did not reside in the transactional production database. I assigned the task to a database administrator (via our help desk system) and went on with my life.

Two weeks later, one of the analysts forwarded me an email string that detailed the fits, starts and frustrations associated with implementing this request. As I read through the email chain, it looked as if all attempts to figure out a way to change the access rules were being done via email. It seemed as if my database administration group and the analysts were emailing past each other. Here it was, two weeks later, and nothing yet worked that allowed the analysts to do their jobs while changing their access to production data.

I, with some effort, got out of my chair, walked down the hall, and into the lead analyst's office. I asked him to follow me and we walked over to the database administration group. Together, we mapped out, on a whiteboard, what needed to be done. Ten minutes later, we had agreed on an approach. Fifteen minutes after that, we had tested the solution and everything worked just like we needed it to. Taking the effort to make a personal contact did the trick. By meeting face-to-face and collaborating together on a visual map, left no room for misunderstanding.

Please don't think that I am some type of luddite. I can email and instant message with the best of them. However, I am not sure that remote contact allows me to form the types of relationships that I need to be a successful IT leader.

In the book, "Leadership and Self Deception", the Arbinger Institute proposes that our jobs are much broader than what is listed in a job description. Our job is to delight (or, wow, or over-deliver, or whatever drives home the point) the following constituents:

  • Our IT customers. We do this by successfully delivering on our mission.
  • Our peers. We do this by helping them be successful.
  • Our IT team. We do this by supporting them and helping them grow.
  • Our bosses. We do this by holding ourselves accountable to the above responsibilities and how we communicate status and results.

I can't delight these people if I spend the bulk of my time in my office composing email and avoiding personal, human contact. I need to focus a pretty good portion of my attention on developing credible, effective relationships with my customers, peers, team, and boss. I have found that there is no substitute for face-to-face communications when it comes to relationship building. Of course, building these relationships will not compensate for lousy performance; yet, without effective relationships, I might not get the credit I deserve for good performance.

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