The Virtual Cocktail Party is Not Culture

By Mark Adams, VP of Client Success, Lighthouse Technologies

On October 6, 2020 I was a virtual attendee for the ComSpark event that featured 90+ CIO level speakers and 30 breakout events attended by 1500 participants. I attended all keynotes and six breakout sessions and had an agenda to explore, “How has the move to more remote employees affected culture?”

I listened and found myself wondering if we were talking about culture or just team building social events.

Here is a sampling of some of the responses:

  • One panelist mentioned “virtual happy hours”. 
  • Another sees employees becoming more transactional and the culture frays. 
  • I also heard about the value of Microsoft Teams where you can have “a space with history of discussions.”
  • A panelist mentioned their company has also embraced Microsoft Teams and then shared, “People are missing people dropping by their desks to say hello. How can we use technology to make us continue to connect in this digital environment?”
  • Another IT leader found it took longer to close on issues due to long streams of emails. “It has forced people to become better written communicators,” he shared.
  • My favorite answer from one panelist was short and concise, “Online baby showers.”

I love babies and happy hours and especially if you can combine both😊. Every tech leader had their heart in the right place, and it is hard to describe and define culture on a panel discussion, however the responses seemed to lack depth. We all talk a good game in the tech space around, ‘PEOPLE, PROCESS, TOOLS’. Today, are we as tech leaders getting those historic priorities in the wrong order? 

Now more than ever, top technology leaders/coaches must model the right behaviors. Team members are fatigued, and their emotional/mental state needs to be front and center. We must be more empathetic leaders while stepping up and reaching out to our team members and other company leaders to maintain and build stronger team relationships. 

I see a ton of Zoom calls, but how many one-on-ones are we executing during the week just to connect with our team members and other team leaders? How might we set up a regular cadence for personal discussions around everyday challenges? How might we avoid taking our valuable team members for granted? How might we build a culture, when it seems like all of the rules have changed?

The Coach and The Geek have been on a several-month-long journey interviewing and surveying over 100 competitive college and high school coaches, including Jay Wright of the 2x NCAA Champion Villanova Wildcats. We learned that building their culture is the #1 concern of these respected team builders, especially during these times of inconsistent in-person connections versus remote interactions. 

We are working with these coaches to develop innovative ways to connect with their players on a more consistent and deeper personal level. We are exploring ways to leverage our book, THE COACH AND THE GEEK: Building a Kick Butt Culture, as a way to drive better accountability and communication while building a ‘Culture of We’.

At Lighthouse Technologies we have leveraged what we’ve learned from these competitive coaches, and we have built a ‘Culture of WE’. We take time to connect one on one every week. We encourage all leaders/coaches to take the time to connect now more than ever. Culture is built on relationships, one person at a time. 

Happy hours and baby showers are great, and we encourage both, but there is no substitute for a leader who goes beyond a social gathering and explores ways to build a real team with a well-thought-out strategy. Culture is what team members do and say when the boss is not there. So, what are you doing to bring out the best in your team’s culture? 

If you have questions on how to build, manage and execute a ‘Culture of We’, please reach out. Also, if you have suggestions for other leaders/coaches to help them build a better culture during these remote working times, we are excited to get your feedback below this article!

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