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Fascination with Devices Hamstrings Team Performance

Image of man throwing crumpled paper in an office

© Violetstar /

Back in the late ’90s I worked for a company that developed the first app to deliver email to your mobile phone or pager. Naturally, every employee got a company phone. While we needed these devices for product testing, we also wanted to geek out a little. The love of cool technology brought us all together.

One of my strongest memories is when a big group of us would go out for lunch.  We’d sit down, pull out our matching phones, and set them on the table. It felt a bit ridiculous to have 10 phones lined up next to our sushi rolls, but we did it anyway. Meetings were much the same, with phones lined up all along the conference table. Someone would get a text and they’d look at the phone. Little did we know how significantly these devices would change team dynamics.

We eagerly envisioned mobile advertising and location-based services. We knew that people would walk down the street and get special offers from Starbucks some day in the future. In fact, we dreamed about most of the changes mobile technologies have brought to bear.

While there’s no question that phones, tablets, apps, and Web services have improved the way we interact with data, that improvement doesn’t necessarily translate to how well we relate to one another. Sure, we can easily connect with people around the globe using audio, video, and texting technologies. Virtual teams and teleworking have gained traction. Some companies have even figured out how to use multimedia and mobile technologies to deliver exceptional support. These examples demonstrate powerful, positive transformation.

And yet, perhaps we’re a little too fascinated with our devices. Instant availability may seem like a professional courtesy. And it is… to those people on the other end of the device. In the process of becoming more available we have lost the ability to connect with people sitting across the table. Those people who play with their iPads, Androids, or laptops in meetings signal that their time and priorities are more important than anything (or anyone) else in the room.

The common use of devices in meetings weakens group cohesiveness. You marginalize every other person in the room each time your eyes stray to a personal monitor. The simple act of banning devices in meetings can change cultural dynamics in a very powerful way. You’ll experience shorter, more focused meetings from groups of people that have a shot at becoming high performing teams.

© 2012. All rights reserved.

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. This is a great point about a problem that is only going to get worse. It was good to meet you on Friday. Keep saving up for that car! – nathan.

    July 3, 2012
    • Nathan,

      It was nice meeting you as well. Thanks for the comment. Let’s stay in touch! Perhaps I’ll have saved enough by the time they release a 2-seater again.


      July 3, 2012

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