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Examining the impact of casual conversations on workplace performance in India

Updated on: 12 February,2024 08:43 PM IST  |  Mumbai
Devashish Kamble |

As the England cricket team ditches traditional meetings for casual conversations in pursuit of more organic interactions, corporate trainers and senior managers discuss how to make the idea perform well in an Indian workplace

Examining the impact of casual conversations on workplace performance in India

(Left) Ben Stokes and (right) Brendon McCullum discuss strategies at a practice session in England in 2022. File pic

Meetings have long been a dreaded part of every corporate employee’s day. From repetitive slideshows to complex jargon being thrown around day in, day out, there’s seemingly nothing fun about one. Senior team member and former skipper Joe Root recently revealed in an interview that keeping with coach Brendon McCullum’s Bazball strategy on and off the field, the English team has ditched the meeting room for natural and free-flowing discussions over a coffee or dinner to facilitate genuine, yet productive discussions.

Worth a shot

Praveen Singh, corporate counsellor, is in support of implementing the Bazball approach to corporate environments right off the bat. “The setting of a meeting directly reflects its supposed hierarchy. The moment you walk into a meeting room, individuals assume their positions and determine how much, and what to say. An informal setting like a walk, or a sit down for brunch, blurs these lines and makes everyone feel like an equal contributor,” he shares.

Praveen Singh
Praveen Singh

Singh believes such an atmosphere can help leaders bring out opinions from members who might otherwise be shy or reserved in office. He adds, “We often notice that some members don’t vocalise unless they are spoken to directly. In a formal environment, such employees may simply agree to avoid confrontation. Problems that run deep in an office’s work culture can also sometimes reveal themselves in free-flowing conversations.” Punam Agarwal, business leadership coach echoes this sentiment. “There is quicker back-and-forth in informal settings. Over a meal, conversations become way more interactive, making them perfect for group brainstorming sessions.”

Remote workers can catch up over coffee. REPRESENTATION PICS
Remote workers can catch up over coffee. Representation Pics

Reading the room

While the experts acknowledge the benefits one can reap from ditching the boardroom setting, they unanimously suggest understanding the purpose of the meeting before jumping the gun. Singh suggests leaders categorise meetings into sell, tell, and solve. “If the end goal of the meeting is to sell an idea to your team or inform them of important developments, it is best to stick to traditional environments where minutes of the meeting can be officially noted down.” Sanjay Shroff, chartered accountant and chief business officer, Rent Alpha, who has previously led teams at Ernst & Young, GE Capital and Edelweiss, shares, “While we regularly sit down at casual roundtables for broader discussions about ideas to approach a new venture, discussions involving numbers, data and performance statistics are always carried out in a professional, controlled environment. Heading out for drinks is reserved for days where the team needs to unwind and celebrate a milestone. Ditching the conference table completely is not advisable.”

Follow the two-pizza rule to ensure meetings are short and productive
Follow the two-pizza rule to ensure meetings are short and productive

Drawing boundaries

Unconventional approaches to meetings can be a slippery slope, the experts say. “Employees are human, at the end of the day. A free, casual environment may sometimes cause discussions to stray from the subject matter and become personal,” Shroff notes. Singh recommends a basic protocol to be conceptualised and communicated with the team beforehand to nip this concern in the bud, “As a leader, it becomes your prerogative to maintain a position of authority while leaving room for free discourse. Crack jokes, have a bit of fun, but make sure everyone is on the same page when it comes to the objective. A short orientation before sitting down takes on added importance here.” For Agarwal, conducting an unofficial meeting is an acquired skill. “Learn to dismiss trivial conversations that do not contribute to the agenda at the right time. Outdoor meetings have no time constraints, but that does not mean you extend it to a point of futility,” she adds.

Punam Agarwal and Sanjay Shroff
Punam Agarwal and Sanjay Shroff

Employee’s checklist

Rhea Punjabi, corporate trainer, warns employees of the cons of seemingly fun and casual meetings, “When the mood is set, and you see everyone opening up, you might get carried away and let out personal information and controversial opinions that will definitely come back to bite you.” For teams shifting to informal meetings, she recommends that the members always remain mindful and understand that the repercussions and responsibilities remain the same as in a formal boardroom meeting. “Corporate employees often can’t find the time to interact with co-workers. These meetings must be used to build deeper relationships and view your teammates as humans with their own struggles and emotions. This reflects directly on how efficiently you perform as a team during work hours” she adds.

Keep it cool

>> Two-pizza rule: Order two pizzas for the table during team meetings. The meeting must not exceed the time taken for the pizzas to be finished. This ensures a productive, yet relaxed discussion

>> Say it with coffee: Teams working from home can catch up over coffee on a Zoom call at a stipulated time; a quick way to blow off some steam between work

>> Take a stand: Gather your team in a circle and have a standing meeting inside office before the work day begins

>> Walkie talkie: Take your team on a stroll through your campus and catch some fresh air while discussing official work. It’s a win-win for everyone

- Rhea Punjabi

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