The New Normal – Asynchronous Organizations

Years ago I was ‘invited’ to a weekly staff meeting at 8:00 AM Monday mornings. Eight people in a room for an hour – the equivalent of a person-day of time invested. Don’t get me wrong – the meeting had useful, even important content and we all heard it together (the donuts were fresh too). When done we could carry our coffee cups back to our office and begin the day.

Convenient since we were all in the same location, but unfortunately travel could not begin before 10AM Monday nor could client meetings – almost without regard to the urgency of the need.

As technology improved and costs decreased, the meeting changed a bit to include others not physically present – staff off-site for travel, client meetings, or in other offices (the 5:00 AM West Coaster meeting from home was a classic). However, it continued to occupy all participants simultaneously.

Now in my organization there are 5 key individuals, no staff meetings, and a greater degree of communications, planning, and coordination (volume of donuts, however, is sparse). This is an asynchronous organization – it has no central office, locations in three states, and each individual is strategically engaged and briefed on all projects.

Updates, output, project results, and other such results documents, are copied to all 5 key people when written. As needed a phone call between two of us will cover updates, problem solving, scheduling, idea exploration, and closure on pending items in under an hour. Before lunch notes from the from the meeting – and action items – are distilled and distributed.

The success of the communications is based on the receipt not scheduling, each individual can access and respond when best able to do so. An asynchronous approach.

How does it work in practice? Recently I was suddenly called away for a family emergency and had a presentation scheduled later the same day. With a two minute call on the run to my partner Dick, he could step in with all program resources and the presentation concluded to enthusiastic applause.

Cory Doctorow in his book Makers describes a future world with a much greater degree of coordinated independent activity – a truly asynch environment in which business can successfully operate and thrive. Individuals satisfying consumer needs and getting results individually or in concert with others adding value as well.

The New Normal is being built on this foundation in reality – not as fiction. Look around and you can see the growing evidence.

Do you see it too?

Check out Blah, Blah Blog at the Web Managers Roundtable, on August 9, and BlogLab, coming August 16.

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Avatar photo Bill Brantley

I am really surprised that government agencies don’t take advantage of the built-in collaboration features of the Microsoft Office suite and instant messaging (IM). Back in 2001, I worked at a technology consulting firm where we rarely held synchronous meetings. What we did instead is have IM clients on our desktops and laptops. Managers could hold impromptu staff meetings and team members could easily consult with each other without having to leave our desks.

We would also hold quick stand-up meetings around the supervisors cubicle with half of use physically there and the other half would call in. This was ten years ago but you are starting to see some agencies adopt these business practices today. I find it interesting that many agencies are looking for ways to cut costs and increase productivity but they haven’t considered the impact that poorly-managed meetings have on the organization.

Dick Davies

Just thinking, the only thing making synchronous management work is the leader’s previous expectations. When you let go, it shrivels!