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Technology Is Great, but Get Medieval Where It Counts

Wednesday, January 4, 2017
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As a human capital specialist in the 21st century, you may think you need to find a tech solution to every problem. Solutions to problems with employee engagement, coaching and mentoring, and leadership development are often touted as a click away—you just have to find the right platform or tool.

But are you still investing in face-to-face opportunities? According to the Harvard Business Review, “Face-to-face communication contact is the broadest bandwidth communication you can have in professional life . . . interactions are information-rich; we pick up how to take what someone says to us not just from their tone of voice and facial expression, but also their body language, pacing, as well as their synchronization with what we do and say.”

Don’t you miss the good old days? You know, like the 13th century, when all you needed to do was locate a round table and ask the knights in question to gather for some old-fashioned coffee and conversation? Wait. When was coffee invented? No matter. You get the idea.

Well, in a world where history can repeat itself, resist the urge to Google your every problem. Instead, I encourage you to consider the power and simplicity of a face-to-face chat.

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While technology often lends itself to quicker and swifter results, it’s still no substitute for human interaction. Repeat studies by the Learning Network at the New York Times have found that technology makes us more isolated. This conclusion matters, because human capital is people-centric. As reported by Hubspot, “75 percent of employees say they prefer in-person [experiences] because they lead to more social interactions and the ability to bond with co-workers.”

So how can you do this? A table, a topic, and some coffee. No, really. I wasn’t kidding. 

  • A table: When was the last time you got people together to talk about something? (Formal meetings don’t count.) It’s probably been a while. One of the best things you can do is secure space for people to gather and just converse on a topic of interest, allowing them to organically interact in group settings. But it’s about setting the stage, finding a room with a table, chairs, and a window if possible. Who doesn’t love seeing the outdoors during a meeting? Crazy people, maybe.  
  • A topic: Where are you looking to create impact? What are some topics that will not only get people to gather, but also get them talking? Peer-to-peer mentoring and employee volunteerism are just a few hot topics that might encourage people to meet in a nice, window-filled room to share their insights. 
  • Some coffee: Okay, this could also be soda or donuts or cookies. But provide something to snack on. It’s a simple gesture that says not only “welcome,” but also “stick around for a while.”

You have the room, the topic, and the treats. What now? How can you make sure this gathering doesn’t feel like yet another meeting or market research? Easy: You don’t attend. Find the table, help set the topic, put out a few nibbles, and get out of the way.

Instead, invite participants to give you feedback through a brief survey or email. Ask participants:

  • if they’d like a standing bi-weekly or monthly room for a discussion 
  • to rank the value of talking openly about topics with co-workers 
  • if they see value in peer-to-peer mentoring or finding peer mentors or others with similar goals and experiences. 
  • what additional topics they would like to explore.

Trust in this centuries-old method of gathering and engaging. In this day and age, inviting people to gather and discuss topics of interest over some coffee actually helps you look fresh and modern.

About the Author

Ben Bisbee is a dreamer, a doer, a madman with focus; the good kind of dangerous. A multi-sector professional with more than 20 years of experience building successful and award-winning community and development programs for organizations of all shapes and sizes, Ben is currently the CVO at Rhinocorn, a design house for nonprofit innovation and advancement projects. Considering himself a social technologist, Ben is quickly becoming known for his work in virtual technology and methodologies, helping to build strengthened relationships between humans and the technology they use to work, play, and engage. Ben lives in northeast Ohio with his husband, Joe, and their 10 cats.

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