Let’s Play Telephone

If Alex Trebek said, “the 1:1”, what would the correct question be?

“What is the downfall of corporate communications?”


While you may feel engaged by using 1:1s to meet with all your main contacts, and managers spend hours having weekly check-ins with each of those contacts, now that you feel informed….what about everybody else?  Workers at all levels have come to rely on those 1:1 conversations as the main or only method to cascade information outward and upward and downward, but how many of us have played Telephone (the game, not the thing and not the games on the thing)?  How many of us know that what you tell me goes through an inherent translation between the time it leaves your mouth, goes in one ear, bounces around the brain and exits a different mouth?  By the time a simple sentence twists its spidery route through the organization, you end up with something that may no longer resemble its original form.

Years ago, I once calculated a boss’s one-on-one schedule when she complained that she couldn’t get any work done because she was always stuck in meetings.  Weekly, she had over 8 hours of half-hour check-ins which used a full 20% of her availability every week, checking in with the same people.  Just how much changes from one week to the next ad infinitum?

The culprit is that we all feel like we need to have information at the tips of our fingers…god forbid that someone else has more recent update than we do, or that we aren’t revered as the ultimate arbiter of all things in our purview.  Our finger on the pulse. Our finger as the pulse.

We middle-aged workers in America have come to the realization that corporate America is just not as productive as it used to be.  We blame it on the millennials, and that is partly true.

But I believe it’s also because we have to spend so much time meeting with other individuals one-at-a-time to discuss what each of us are doing.sow a field

I may be old-school (definitely, you say) but I still think they best way to disseminate information is to disseminate.  You don’t sow a field one seed at a time.

When I hear companies tout they are trying to eliminate email, I think they’re doomed.

When you don’t get anything written from your manager in say ever, you’re doomed.

When you ask a question in writing, and it is ignored…you’re doomed.

When someone says, “oh…you didn’t hear about that?”, we’re doomed.

I once had a CFO say that he didn’t open emails that weren’t important.  I asked, “How do you know it isn’t important if you didn’t open it?”  I can’t remember whether he answered me or just stared at me and then walked away.

At yet another company, the employee handbook actually said ‘if you don’t think a meeting might be useful, you have every right not to go’ and ‘if you go, you can get up and leave’.    I wager that, if you’re invited to a meeting, someone either thought you needed to know something or they needed to convey something to you or you need to provide expertise on the subject.

While the game Telephone used to be played when drunk or in the interest of getting drunk rapidly or in team-building situations where you’re supposed to explore the likelihood of mis-hearing or misunderstanding, why does this method of one-to-one persist?

While I’m glad we’ve removed mandatory written statuses, which I agree only exacerbates someone’s carpel tunnel, because no one goes back and reads stale information which was only relevant until the next week anyway.

head in handsWhile that is really not helping my argument that 1:1’s are the main culprit of mis-communication, I can probably conclude that people are the main culprit of mis-communication.  And I’m not sure there’s a cure.



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