Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Kill the Boardrooms!

They say networking is good for you.  I guess it must be else there would not be a Chamber of Commerce in every town.  That is where a non-profit promotes profit, in a friendly environment.  (That is so funny – sounds like a slogan for a political party!).  I have never been to one of those meetings but it must be heavy stuff because those meetings are attended by editors and journalist of newspapers.  I always thought it was for old people having snacks, drinking wine, and having an excuse not to go home early.  All wrong, I was.  I guess.  Maybe the editors and journalist are also trying to find an excuse not go home early (I think they are part of the conspiracy).

Many years ago, in the chambers and dungeons of Anglo American and De Beers, I found that the most productive meetings I ever attended were not the ones in the board rooms, but the ones where we were chatting away in the kitchen in front of the coffee dispensing units.  Ideas were created, problems solved, and then the solutions were implemented.  All without the need of a boardroom (I have horrific memories of those boardrooms, anyway).  If it was not in the kitchen, it was in someone’s office, after a stroll from the kitchen.

Unfortunately the kitchens where I work now are too small for meetings and too busy with all the coffeeholics frequenting the always occupied space.  Offices are for the privileged few.  Open plan areas are the most counterproductive office system ever if you ask me.  Boardrooms have to be booked.  So, a colleague (from another branch) and I had our very productive “meeting” in the corridor yesterday.  That was the best place we could find for privacy – or at least as much as we needed.  We were frequently interrupted by sarcastic people making comments about how long we’ve been there (I wonder why they were walking up and down the corridor, don’t they have real work to do?), and the plenty ladies we politely opened the close-by door for.  The nice thing is that I learned about some critical IT networking (that stuff that makes your google work) in that time from him, more than I ever learned in any formal meeting.  No need for a boardroom or formal meeting.

I have a funny feeling (I always have funny feelings when I’m right!) that networking via social media may lessen the impact of traditional forms of networking but I doubt it will ever replace face-to-face interacting, or even be as strong as face-to-face interacting.  However, I know of one dude who really uses social media to his benefit.  Sir Richard Branson.  What I find very interesting is how he appears in almost every photo or FB entry.  In almost every FB photo or entry, or reference in an article, will you find him interacting with his staff.  He even writes articles about the staff taking care of his pets at home.  This is business networking and management like I have never seen.  That is his style of management.  On the floor, in the trenches.

Unknowingly, I actually have been practicing that style of management for a while.  About two years ago one of my customers mentioned that I was frequently “wandering about”.  Now I must make it clear that wandering does not take place when there is lots of work to do, but sometimes you will actually see my walking around, chatting to my customers, learn about their problems, and then we try to fix the broken stuff we did not know about before, collecting a magazine here & showing it off there.  OK, I’m only kidding about the latter– that has nothing to do with any management!  I learned that there actually is a name for this style of networking.  It is called Management By Wandering About (MBWA).  You can learn more about MBWA at http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTMM_72.htm and http://www.economist.com/node/12075015.

Now, besides the professional networking in the Chamber of Commerce meetings, the formal networking in the boardrooms, the informal networking by wandering about and the meetings in corridors, the IT networking used to make your google appear different every day, there also is another very important type of networking.

It is called the non-existent network.  You end up with this type of networking when you do not plug your network cable into your laptop and then scramble down to the IT office in a panic, and very cross, because all you see are red crosses.  Like yesterday.

Oops, just remembered I promised not to tell.  Please skip the previous paragraph.