Feb 23, 2024

Breaking the 'sync'

We’ve been duping ourselves, believing that packing a virtual room with faces on a screen every week fosters inclusivity, collaboration, and productivity. Yet, often, particularly in distributed teams, sync meetings devolve into grids of nodding heads, with only a few voices leading the conversation.

The problem is not the meeting itself; it’s the passive participation it encourages. The routine of weekly — or even worse, daily — sync calls, mechanically sifting through updates and arbitrary agendas, isn’t just unproductive; it’s intellectually numbing. We are buying into the myth that showing up on a screen equals meaningful contribution and constitutes a metric of engagement.

As meetings become part of the culture, we overlook their actual cost. A one-hour meeting for a team of eight is, in reality, an eight-hour meeting, without even accounting for the time everyone had to spend preparing, switching contexts, finding the invite, or rebooting to fix the camera and audio issues. While we tally the hours lost, the more subtle yet profound cost is often overlooked: The diminishing returns on collective creativity.

While well-intentioned, the format of recurrent meetings leaves little room for spontaneity and creative thought. The agenda reigns supreme, leaving scant room for the serendipitous moments where ideas typically surface. Once you put six or more people in a (virtual) room, ideas are diluted or averaged at best, and outcomes rarely — if ever — challenge the status quo.

In big recurrent meetings, you generally have two types of attendees: Those waiting for their time to speak or ask a question and those waiting for the meeting to end. Moreover, apart from the occasional question, most topics covered could be easily conveyed through email, chat, or post. You can engage with these formats on your own time, process them at your own pace, and respond to them thoughtfully. This is where asynchronous written communication comes in as an alternative and a viable solution

Moving to async communication isn’t just about shifting the medium; it’s about transforming your mindset. It means recognizing that true collaboration doesn’t need simultaneous presence. It’s about valuing depth over immediacy, reflection over reaction. In an async setup, every voice has a chance to be heard. The quiet thinkers, who need time to digest and formulate their thoughts, suddenly have an equal playing field.

When we post updates in a shared space, available for everyone to read at their leisure, everyone has time to think and understand what we say, but more importantly, time to craft a response that adds value. This approach isn’t just more inclusive; it’s more intelligent. It encourages a culture of thoughtfulness, where the quality of input trumps volume or loudness.

Yes, seeing your colleagues’ faces and hearing their voices is essential. But let’s not kid ourselves by dressing up a sync weekly meeting as a bonding session. There are better, more genuine ways to connect. One-on-ones, interest-based group chats, and even virtual coffee breaks can provide that human touch without the pretense (or pressure) of productivity.

It’s not just about being more efficient. The term ‘efficiency’ originated over a hundred years ago during the Industrial Revolution. Today is about being smarter, more inclusive, and more honest with ourselves. If we want to build a culture that respects our time, intellect, and need for genuine connection, it’s time to get rid of the ‘sync’ calls.