Business leaders who don’t get a handle on this key statistic could end up wasting huge amounts of time.
By Roderic Yapp, Leadership Development Director, SH Leadership
Here’s a brief story about time wasting that you’ll probably recognise.
I was consulting on a transformation program within a very large and well-known organisation. They were changing their HR system. Naturally, such a complex system touched pretty much everything from expenses to performance management to onboarding to redundancy to payroll.
But I remember being in meetings where the program manager had invited everyone in the organisation whom the change might impact. You’d have 30 people in a meeting room, and most were on their laptops dealing with emails, not listening to what was going on. I remember being in those meetings and finding it very hard not to switch off myself, despite being there to answer any questions about the project. Needless to say, people were so tuned out that I didn’t ever get any questions.
A high interaction ratio leads to better communication
You’ve probably been in meetings like this. They are a classic example of what can happen when leaders don’t think about interaction ratios. Let me explain.
Picture a small startup company with around eight people. Because the number is small, you have a high interaction ratio, which basically means the number of interactions per person is relatively high. You can get to know seven people relatively easily and understand what drives them, their passions, their skills, their strengths and weaknesses.
Now say that startup is successful and it grows rapidly to 40 people. Now the number of people you actually know and have a direct relationship goes down as a proportion of the whole. There are several people you know only in passing, and quite a few you probably don’t know at all. The average number of interactions per person – the interaction ratio – has now plummeted.
A low interaction ratio can make it harder to get things done
A low interaction ratio is to be expected as a measure of success. But it can make it harder to get things done simply because you don’t know people as well. You don’t know their motivations, or their weaknesses. This creates the opportunity for confusion and misalignment as effective communication falters.
Large organisations face this challenge all the time. The larger an organisation is, the lower the interaction ratio and the more challenging it is to communicate effectively.
As a rule of thumb, the larger the group, the lower the level of engagement. The more people you’ve got in the room, the lower the interaction ratios and if the engagement is low you’re starting to waste people’s time.
This is why large meetings involving dozens of people often struggle to achieve anything. You tend to get one of two extremes. Either one person talks at a room full of people for an hour or two and they all switch off and disengage. Or you get multiple people all vying for attention, feeling the pressure to speak up and get their point across.
Focus on the quality of your relationships
For any leader, it’s important to work out what your interaction ratio is with your team. Then work out who your key stakeholders are. Who do you need to have closer relationships with in order to get things done? Make sure to prioritise those relationships.
When it comes to any large organisation, it’s important to try to structure management teams with interaction ratios in mind. Organisational design is always bespoke in any company, so keep interaction ratios in mind when building organisational structures and processes.
Oh, and make sure not to invite too many people to meetings!
In short, if having too many people in a team or a meeting ends up clogging up the works, try to work out the smallest possible number you need to get things done. Then focus on the depth and quality of those relationships. The interaction ratio with those key individuals will increase, and you’ll get much more done.
Or, at the very least, you’ll waste less time – whether yours or other people’s.