The Formality Of Work
Formalities are great as they give people a common starting point from which to collaborate and build upon. Without formalities, everything would need to be understood and agreed upon every time a new relationship was made. This is possibly one of the reasons that international agreements are harder. They have more paperwork and complexities, but also cultures have their own formalities. Being non-native, you have to learn what these are before you are even at the formal starting point. To do this for every interaction clearly wouldn’t work.
It’s important though, to acknowledge people’s potential to drift towards the known, easy path, rather than to entertain a new path with an unknown outcome or cost. By formalising a set of routes, you may also indirectly raise barriers to other paths, even beneficial ones.
This is where formality can harm productivity and innovation. Often what you are after is the knowledge that there is a workable path rather than a plan with all the Is dotted and the Ts crossed. That will come later, when the efficiency of formalities can weight in and benefit.
The Art Of The Informal
Removing the subconscious dos and don’ts can be a very useful thing, leaving informal meeting attendees with all of their capabilities, but greater freedom to find the best path forwards. So often in this setting, they do.
Many of the most productive meetings I have had have been informal. The proportion of meetings I have where something is being initiated rather than maintained are higher than potentially most. Due partly because we are a start-up and partly because I don’t believe that meetings are the best mechanism for maintaining a project. (This will likely be its own post). So I appreciate that some informality won’t work for many, but for navigating problems, it’s second to none.
COVID-19’s impact was fast enough that it left people in need to remote work with little of the infrastructure to do it. This caused me to have many remote meetings with people who were in a random room of their house, had a noisy laptop fan or were battling with internet or microphone issues.
All of these meetings were less formal than they would normally be and all were more productive.
I have no doubt that people were a little uncomfortable at first with it being informal, but once that precedent had been set, it was quickly forgotten and the real reason for the meeting became the only focus.
I hope that when we all meet in person again, our meetings are improved. That after this shared learning experience they are more productive, engaging and purposeful. Formalities should be what take us forward, not simply what we’re used to and comfortable doing.