Making assumptions is a necessary part of our workday. But in order to avoid being shortchanged by these assumptions, we must be aware of the assumptions we make. By making assumptions about people and their capabilities based on any number of visual cues – age, gender, even how they dress – we may be missing out on an opportunity to tap into some amazing talent. As the CEO of Intelivideo, Matt Given, wrote about in this Inc. story, making assumptions often unfairly places people into stereotypes that shortchange their potential.
Given has made a habit of bringing someone from his team to networking events. And he made some assumptions about one person he recently chose to bring along. “Twenty-something, flannels, a stocking cap, a fuzzy face, and low-hanging jeans are his uniform of choice.” Given initially panicked when this engineer started to talk about their business with a C-level.
He soon realized his assumption was a gross underestimation of his potential. “I sat back and witnessed a conversation between a group of high-on-themselves executives and a lone wolf. In the end, they all would have signed up for our thing on the spot. Dan, as it turns out, was also a closer.”
With Gallup reporting that 43% of American said they spent at least some time working remotely and that percentage expected to rise, you might think that the visual-based assumptions will decline. And remote workers have escaped these pigeon-holes for a while. It’s the professional version of The Voice – you gain credibility through the what you deliver, not what you wear. The trust built with remote workers is action-based, not relationship-based and not subject to the same biases as their in-office peers. But the growing ubiquity of video collaboration is renewing the need for smart managers to make the conscious decision to question their assumptions.
Fortunately, video conferencing also helps organizations implement the strategies that the Given describes: “I think it’s good to push our less seasoned folks outside the comfort zone.”
Here are three ways to effectively leverage video conferencing to strategically push people outside their comfort zones.
Encourage Engineering and Marketing & Sales Collaboration
It is inherently difficult for engineers and marketers to understand one another. The former looks to solve problems and find the right answer, while the latter must be willing to embrace the creativity and messiness that is the constantly evolving world of changing buyer behavior.It would be easy to use the stereotypes of these two departments to maintain a communication chasm. But consider, for instance, a key customer has an application for your product, but in order to accomplish the customer’s goal, the product will require some modifications. Rather than sending an email describing the situation (and possibly missing out on a great opportunity), communicating face-to-face allows sales to show engineering what is required. This allows the engineer to gain immediate insight and ask questions in real time.
It would be easy to use the stereotypes of these two departments to maintain a communication chasm. But consider, for instance, a key customer has an application for your product, but in order to accomplish the customer’s goal, the product will require some modifications. Rather than sending an email describing the situation (and possibly missing out on a great opportunity), communicating face-to-face allows sales to show engineering what is required. This allows the engineer to gain immediate insight and ask questions in real time.
The more engineering mingles with sales and marketing, the more productive these collaborative engagements will become. And video conferencing makes that possible regardless of where these teams are located.
Break Down Departmental Silos
As this Forbes article discusses, “cross functional teams, enable faster communication, which brings faster decision making. By working through teams as opposed to large departmental silos, you not only cross-pollinate perspectives and experiences (which help shape creativity and innovation) but also align daily behaviors with business strategies.”
For engineers this means faster problem-solving and developing features and functionality into the solution that are being clamored for in the market. For a diverse team to thrive there needs to be an understanding and appreciation between members, which is why visual communication is so important.
When you’re building career advancement plans, look outside engineering (e.g. job shadow someone in product marketing). With cross functional job shadowing it’s possible to increase empathy, develop skills, even open career advancement opportunities that may not have been considered otherwise. And video conferencing makes it feasible to shadow individuals who don’t work in the same building or even in the same time zone.
Engage the Introverts
Projects are most likely to reach peak performance when everyone’s voice is heard. Unfortunately, when projects require a cross functional team, it is easy for the introverts (and aren’t we all introverts, to some extent, in new/unfamiliar territory?) to fall silent.
When you bring remote participants into the discussion, it’s easy to forget the introverts on the audio bridge. And, because engineers often wait until they have the right answer before blurting out any answer, the use of visual cues allows a project leader to draw them out when it appears they have something they would like to add to the discussion. Video conferencing is crucial here when team members are spread across different locations – after all, you can’t hear a furrowed brow on audio or even in a Slack chat room.
As the Inc, author summarizes, we need to get to the point of “becoming comfortable with being surprised. And learning new things. The sometimes-painful sessions where I force tech folks out of their comfort zone? They’re worth it.”
Assumptions are the brain’s shorthand for getting through the day. If we didn’t assume we’d get the resources we’d need or that we wouldn’t be fired without reason, we might not even fire up our computers each workday. But understanding that we make assumptions, and then challenging the ones that are less productive is the key to unlocking the hidden potential of your engineering teams.