It doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to understand why; under any circumstances, a team of 40 would be difficult to manage. The standard calculation for number of communication channels in a team is n times n-1 divided by 2, meaning that there are potentially 780 ways the people on Hieronymus’ team can communicate with each other. 780 possibilities for confusion. 780 opportunities for things to be misinterpreted.
Add to this equation, then, multiple locations, and then add again multiple cultures and multiple languages. Add the fact that, even if they could get everyone on the line, our current videoconferencing technology doesn’t allow that many people to actively participate. Consider that the vast majority of our communication is nonverbal, especially in times of conflict.
The boy deserves a medal.
And, while I have total faith in his ability to deliver the conference, it is patently obvious that these structural challenges make it much harder for him to do his job -- and that, potentially, the end result will not be everything it could be if the team were more close-knit.
Earlier today, as he was telling me about the project, I found myself reflecting on the organizing team for TEDxChristchurch. In the six months leading up to the event, we hold meetings every week. Sometimes it seems like overkill, since we don’t have too much to report. But we don’t do it because we expect a return on every single meeting. We do it because the discipline creates a culture of continual communication, because the consistency of conversation means nothing has a chance to build up. We do it because face-to-face meetings allow for an element of spontaneous idea generation that wouldn’t exist if we were merely reporting updates via email.
We often forget, as we extol the virtues of technology and dive ever deeper into our screens, that human relationships are key, and that ideas, possibilities, and directions arise in an entirely unforeseen fashion as a direct result of the complex interactions among people. We forget that these previously unimagined ideas, possibilities and directions can -- and in fact, often do -- make the difference whether a project is good, great, or outstanding. We forget that life is not merely about accomplishing the tasks that we have pre-identified, but also about elegantly adapting to dynamic circumstances.
Like Hieronymus, I work with people all over the world, and most of my family is distant to me. I love Skype. I love Google Hangout. I love the opportunities afforded to me by these technologies.
But as wonderful as they are, they still fall a long ways short of a face-to-face connection. Give me the casual comment on the walk into the meeting, the throwaway remark at its end. Give me the ability to notice who is engaged, who is happy, who is preoccupied, who is withdrawing. Give me the chance to hug someone who needs a hug. Technology connects us, but on either side of the cable we remain simple, fragile humans. We have evolved to exist in relationship with each other. Let’s remember that.