Capture ideas as bits or atoms

by | Dec 25, 2012 | Blog | 0 comments

“I’m an extravert and I like to talk.”

“I’m a lousy secretary.”

“I have a knack for talking, not writing.” 

My recent colleagues gave these reasons for why they weren’t capturing anything in writing on our project—unless their backs were against the wall.

One of them did compose email messages…sometimes a dozen or more in an afternoon.

But meeting agendas, notes or summary documents? No, nada, nothing.

My recent (now former) colleagues—for whom I had agreed to provide a distinct, specialized task for their strategic initiative—said their reasons for talking instead of writing are legitimate.

To me, their reasons are excuses, which hurt our work group’s productivity.

How bad was it? Just consider our meetings.

We wasted time. The project manager scheduled phone meetings for 15 or 30 minutes. The calls often lasted 60 or 90 minutes. Without an agenda, we rambled, hashing things out that we should have decided before. I sometimes had to bail in mid-sentence because I had another call booked.

We lost good ideas. Many ideas evaporated into thin air because we didn’t consistently note them or remember all of them. (I suggested recording the calls but my team members didn’t like that idea.)

We played the blame game. We weren’t crystal clear about who was doing what. So we either did double work or no work on specific tasks for which no owner had been identified in writing. We spent more valuable phone time playing Monday morning quarterback to hash out these problems.

I volunteered to write up my portion of the project, but that was a small piece of it. (The project management site contains documents from the client and me.)

Our mismatch between talkers and writers not only decreased our meeting productivity, but also damaged our ability to collaborate.

We were working in different, parallel universes. To me, collaborating works best when team members first have access to the same information, and second, have shared understanding of it. This shared understanding is the foundation on which you create together.

Transparency becomes extremely important, especially if you want to be fast and effective. You also make a point to prove Benjamin Franklin correct in his observation about how people keep secrets: “Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.”

In reflecting on this situation, I should have known better. After all, I’m a big proponent of documenting ideas, plans, actions, etc., which are key elements of Lean Communications®. (See Write it down!)

Also, to me, meeting agendas are not a crutch or a time suck to prepare, but a helpful tool, to keep everyone focused. Without agendas, it’s too easy to let your mind wander. And when you drift off, you can start multi-tasking before you know it, doing at least two tasks poorly.

My big mistake though was assuming that my new team members appreciated documentation too. But as some say, assuming makes an ass out of you and me.

So I’m respecting their way of working, and moving on.

And now having written about this experience, I’ve gained greater clarity that I value capturing ideas in atoms or bits, or both.

What’s your preferred way of working?


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