Don’t Sink to the Lowest Common Denominator

As companies struggle to figure out their optimal work environment, I’ve observed numerous “workplace pundits” (funny how many have never run an organization!) suggest that if one person is unwilling or unable to attend a face-to-face work event, then everyone should adopt a less-desirable option (e.g., Zoom or phone).

What?! This is not only dumb from a communication and collaboration perspective, but think about the mindset of playing to the level of least effectiveness to accommodate an individual, many who have chosen to remain out of the office. If you have to manage to the lowest common denominator, good luck! “Sorry kids but Christmas is going to be virtual next year because Uncle Bob doesn’t want to travel, and we don’t want him to feel bad.”

Zoom has been handy for the past couple of years, but most leaders I talk with, particularly CEOs, would much prefer to have everyone interact face to face. Are there exceptions? Sure. But why did all those folks work in a collaborative, face-to-face environment before COVID?

If you run a purely virtual organization, good for you. I wish you well and know that some of you will achieve great things. I’m talking to those who believe human interaction is best achieved without technology in the way. If that’s you, why would you make everyone turn down their effectiveness to accommodate someone who maybe shouldn’t be on the team? Yes, I understand accommodation during challenging times, but the folks I work with who asked their senior team to show up have gotten them to!

Years ago, I had a weekly meeting, typically a half day, that occurred in California. I live in Colorado. My boss and most of my peers were physically in California. I tried for several months to conference in (with what was at the time the best video equipment on the market) and realized that I wasn’t nearly as effective. I started to get my butt on an airplane every Thursday night. It was the best thing for the company, for my team. It never would’ve occurred to me to ask the CEO, “Would you mind having everyone call in from their office so that I won’t feel left out?”

I’m all for fun and engaging work environments. I believe people should live fulfilling lives. I also believe organizations that try to accommodate all points of view and fear making decisions for the company’s interest — lest they offend someone — aren’t helping most stakeholders ultimately. Is “balance” a tough thing to achieve? Damn right! I tell my coaching clients that if they have no stress in their lives about work vs. family, they’re doing either their family or work team a disservice. It’s supposed to be a bit hard!

Don’t miss my bigger point here even if you disagree with me on meeting structure. It is just an example of what I believe is very dangerous behavior for leaders. Don’t be afraid to require the team’s commitment or to lose a few folks who are unwilling to accommodate the team’s needs! If you’ve read my blogs over the years, you know how strongly I believe in a positive work environment. It is not only the right thing to create, but also produces the best results. That doesn’t mean however, that you slow down the game to the slowest player. You ask them to pick it up!

If your favorite football team decides this fall to play to the level of their weakest player, write me and let me know how that goes.

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