Leadership Is Face To Face

Google founder Larry Page will reclaim his role as CEO on April 4th. Page wants to cut through the bureaucracy that has developed as Google has grown to 24,000 employees. Some steps taken by Page according to a Wall Street Journal article include:

  • Persuading top executives to sit and work together every day in a public area of the company’s headquarters so employees can directly approach them on matters;
  • Recently mandated a “bullpen” session every afternoon, in which he and the company’s executive officers sit and work on small couches outside a board room at Google’s headquarters.
  • Has met with managers of Google divisions and asked what steps could be taken to move more quickly and improve performance, and to identify the barriers that prevent innovation.

Jack Welch as the head of General Electric (GE) was also fixated on eliminating bureaucracy and engaging the ideas of employees to make GE better. Welch developed a process at GE called Work Out, where department heads were required to meet with and hear ideas from employees.

Michael Bloomberg as Mayor of New York City, also understands the importance of face to face communication. Bloomberg works in an office set up like a “bullpen”, where he and top staff can see and communicate with each other in an open setting free of cubicle and office walls (see picture at the top of this post). Most if not all elected officials isolate their thin skinned paranoid selves away from their staff and the public, except for press conferences and ribbon cuttings. True leaders are open and not afraid to engage staff and the public about their vision for a better future.

Budget cuts are a perfect opportunity to reinvent government. I don’t see public sector leaders with the same passion for eliminating bureaucracy as private sector leaders. Front-line employees who have to suffer with bureaucratic rules and procedures have ideas on how to do things differently, but rarely do they get to speak to decision makers in government. Google, GE and Bloomberg understand the importance of being accessible and having face to face contact for new ideas to surface.

What do you think about the approach utilized by Larry Page, Jack Welch and Michael Bloomberg?

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Love how this approach is getting popular…I’ve been to Bloomberg’s office in NYC and it’s exactly as they say.

Peg Hosky

Paul, that’s why management off-site conferences like the Federal Senior Management Conference on 4/10-13 at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay, about an hour and a half drive from Washington, DC, are important tools to permit government managers to work through important topics both during sessions as well as after hours and over meals. Face to face can seem like an anachronism when we consider how much communication takes place through forums like GovLoop, Twitter or other social media channels. There is no substitute for the nuance, expression and genuine one on one exchange that takes place in person. (Hope the weather in Buffalo warms up soon!)

Best wishes,


Patricia Paul

I’ve worked in a bullpen environment and at first it can be overwhelming but it is quite effective. Senior managers and owners were not in the bullpen but were close by and always available to get into day to day workings. I found the bullpen scenario really great for driving me to work harder, not get frustrated easily by little details and bad phone calls (I’m in sales and it was refreshing to have my team around me to drive me and I could hear what they were dealing with as well). The environment really forces you to focus on your work due to the short walls and amount of “noise” but I liked it and miss it sometimes sitting in my office now.

Carol Davison

I see leadership as me taking care of my employees so they can take care of the customers. I need to listen to them so we can tailor programs around our customers’ needs. I had a regularly scheduled appointment with each employee every week, and prefered that they brought all of their business to me at that time so I could spend the rest of my time work on strategic and systemic priorities. .

As for the bullpen, I would HATE HATE HATE it. I am very auditory and distrubed by noise. Also it forces introverts to interact more than they would choose to if they had their druthers. You can always walk over to someones office. OH-and some things must be done in private like coaching an employee to full performance.

Michelle (Koenig) Kosmicki

I like the idea of a more open leadership. The concept of a bullpen doesn’t phase me at all…but I can understand that this can be a poor working environment for many; for example, my husband needs a quiet place without distractions.

That said, there is a time and place for the bullpen, putting the execs in with the worker bees, etc. However, just becasue the execs are sitting with us, doesn’t mean they will implement our suggestions and innovations though. It really depends upon the culture of the organization and the nature of the work.

Deb Green

So I’m a social creature and an extrovert – and have worked in bullpens in cross-functional teams and they’re awesome. I learned much more about what other folks’ skill sets and strengths by sitting in close proximity to them without barriers (unless you count computer monitors 🙂 We worked better during a crisis because we already knew who could do what best and what they brought to the table.

I think physical set up of space dictates a lot of expectations, and you don’t “need” a bullpen. For example, our “meeting area” is made up of club-like seats with a small writing desk attached to foster teamwork and collaboration. A low coffee table replaced the conference table in the planning phase. It’s easier to collaborate when you don’t have physical barriers between people.

Mark Dwyer

I was in a bullpen setting and then moved to an office. I miss the bullpen. It is an excellent setting for work and conforms well to the open government model.You just need to shed your shyness. If a person is an introvert, that person needs to be drawn out of their shell anyway. If you need privacy, you go to an open conference room.

Carol Davison

We introverts like people just fine, but not for as long a time as extroverts do. Because we lose energy to people, we limit our exposure to them. We work best in an office where we can close the door for a while and then come back out after we are re-energized. We aren’t shy, don’t need to be drawn out of our shell, any more than extroverts need to be made to spend time alone. Forcing us to behave as extroverts undermines our productivity. If employees expert their staff to work in bull pens they need to let them know during the interview process so introverts can seek employment elsewhere.