Going synchronous

I was driving home from DU today, where Ben Casnocha and I did a tag-team guest lecture (also known as “winging it”) in a class on entrepreneurship.

Right afterward, I had a “quick” board call to discuss one issue that ended up taking 20 minutes. This issue was really just approval of a major decision and everyone just wanted to hear each other say “ok” out loud. It had taken us a while to arrive at a short notice time that we could all sync up on the phone, and we made one poor assistants life difficult trying to sort it out.

There were 4 or 5 people on the call, many coming and going with dropped calls. I was driving, so I had to mute often to keep everyone from hearing the roar of my car. People came back on the call to address the last statement that was made, which the conversation had already moved away from. At one point I laughed out loud as a key word in a very key statement in the conversation was “dinged” out by a rejoining caller, almost as if it were a curse word.

At the end of the call, Ben asked “Do you really find that to be more effective than email?” I thought about that for a minute and I think that it was certainly just as effective (the end result was the same), but nowhere near as efficient as say, email.

Ben recently said that email is not a collaboration medium (or at least it shouldn’t be). I would tend to agree. So I think it should be up to the meeting organizer to make sure there is a need for collaboration before going to a synchronous solution. In this case, there was no debate that couldn’t have easily occurred just as easily by email, and no “yes” vote that couldn’t have been cast that way.

I did a conservative estimate, and I think what could have occurred in 10 minutes of combined effort asynchronously instead occurred with about 100 minutes of combined effort synchronously. So in this case, email would have been an order of magnitude more effective, not to mention convenient. Sure, the end result might have been that we really needed to have a call, and figure some stuff out. But in this case, it really wasn’t one of those situations.

TIP: Aside from the Police album, synchronicity usually sucks. With a known nomadic group and existing strong relationships, reserve it for truly collaborative efforts.

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