What do future leaders and perfect party hosts have in common?
So what made your New Year party great? Was it the spirit of excitement and hope, or the fine wine? The great food? The DJ? The cheese and pineapple on sticks? The fireworks?
Actually all of those things can be great, but without the perfect party host, the party can be a bit of a damp squib.
The perfect party host makes sure that the place is set and the glasses are full. They seem to know a little bit about everyone, and they make the appropriate introductions that really get the party started. Without them little tribes emerge – as the sofa party ignores the bunch in the kitchen, and the introverted ones sit with their phones for company in the corner.
What can businesses learn from the perfect party and the perfect party hosts?
In these days where we are all connected by communication technologies rather than necessarily by co-location, it is easy for us to form tribes who don’t talk or collaborate with each other. Even if we are co-located, the people on floor 4 (the equivalent of the sofa tribe at our party) may as well be in a different country to the people on floor 3 (the kitchen tribe), because we simply don’t have the time or inclination to connect with people that we don’t see and don’t know. This is the collaboration conundrum.
Because of this, collaboration is becoming an increasing focus for many large organisations. And yet it doesn’t happen by magic. It needs people to come together on some kind of ‘common ground’ (whether physical or virtual), with trust and purpose.
The key to success is connection, and perfect party hosts can span the boundaries between employees in different rooms, different countries, and different disciplines.
It seems that networking only comes naturally to about one in four of us (according to research). The natural networkers are the ones who broker introductions across silos, countries and offices. We probably all know them – because they make it their job to get to know you. They may not, however, be the people in charge because networking skills are not necessarily recognised as being important by many organisations. That means that they are not the first in line for promotions because promotion is often about individual contribution rather than the ability to connect.
Being the perfect party host is often an underestimated skill – until now, that is.
Leadership is becoming less about “command and control” and much more about connection and creating purpose for collaboration. New leadership requires a much more inclusive, trust oriented, co-operative, participative and open approach – rather than a more passive “I can see people at their desks, therefore they must be working” one.
In short, our future leaders may emerge from the dense connections between people and networks – because they are the people that are at the heart of those connections.
Research from MIT’s Sandy Pentland has thrown light on this – as his “social physics” uses a big data approach to exploring how people connect in the workplace. By analysing how people collaborate, his team have found that effective flow of conversation between team members account for almost half of the performance variations between high and low performing teams.
So talking to each other is vital – but the perfect party host knows that varying the mix makes for a more interesting outcome. If the kitchen tribe never come out of the kitchen, they may never have the chance encounter with the extremely clever introvert in the corner. Staying in the kitchen creates what Pentland calls an “echo chamber” – and not just because of the tiled wall surfaces. If no new or dissenting voices are heard, few innovative ideas are likely to emerge and productivity stagnates. This is a BIG problem in business – especially if it is the board who never emerge from the kitchen.
Our future leaders do need to be perfect party hosts – and recruitment and promotion should recognise people for their abilities, but it is also a scarce skill. The good news is, because it is a skill, it can be taught.
So, like any great party, the first thing that you need is a reason for people to get together (an agenda and a clear purpose). You need a physical or virtual “common ground” to gather them on (whether it’s over audio, video or in the office). They need the right wine, music, and nibbles (the tools to do the job) but, without the perfect party host, people are unlikely to talk, bond and collaborate. Watch them and learn.
Collaboration is a team sport. It would be difficult to collaborate by yourself – so the ability to collaborate clearly isn’t a pointless obsession amongst large corporates, as some futurists claim. It is good for employees and it’s good for the bottom line.
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Dr Nicola J. Millard is head of customer insight and futures in BT’s Global Innovation team. Despite working for a technology company, Nicola isn't actually a technologist and combines psychology with futurology to try and anticipate what might be lying around the corner for both customers and organisations.
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