We are some of the most connected people on the planet. We talk, IM, email, voice mail, blog, WiKi and communicate in hundreds of short and long face to face conversations every day. It seems that all we do is communicate with each other. But I have to believe we talk a lot but we learn little, mostly due to two factors: we listen with filters and we don't even explore or ask some questions.
A great example happened yesterday. In our staff meeting we were catching each other up on new tasks and ideas for new software projects. One of our support sites needs to be updated, and I suggested a few changes to the site. Now, I'm a marketing guy - not technical. One of the technical guys in attendance at the meeting noted that the support site had been built in ASP some time ago and should really be updated to catch up with our other sites and software in PHP or Java. Well, I didn't know: 1) the site was built in ASP 2) that it was the last vestige of ASP software in our shop 3) that the tech team wanted to rewrite it. What was obvious to them was completely lost on me. But what really sparked my interest was that the technical person who brought up the concern was someone I had been working with designing some other product support sites. He and I had actually discussed the site in question earlier in the day, and he had not mentioned these concerns at that time.
Did I neglect to ask these questions of him? Did he think I did not care? We had exchanged information about this site and others via face to face meetings, email, voicemail and a support forum. Yet I had failed to get information about this site that he considered critical.
More communication paths and tools are not necessarily better for us. In fact, I am going to try to make it a habit to ask everyone I communicate with what is important to them about the topics we are discussing. I think I have missed information by assuming I knew what was important and by using filters - consciously or not - to get just the information I was concerned about.
In a situation where only my opinion matters, that approach might be fine. But in a situation where we can all learn and improve, learning only the information that I think is important really is like the blind men describing the elephant.
What can we do now? First, don't assume because you are connected to many people with many different communication channels that you have all the information. We receive a lot of DATA but we don't have much INFORMATION. Second, consider your filters. What do you hear? What do you want to hear? What do you ignore? Third, consider the people you communicate with. Do you know what's important to them? Usually there is information in any conversation that is missed, or dropped, or not even raised at all.
Being more productive as a group means understanding all sides of the argument and making the best decision possible in the light of all information.