The Proximity to Success Fallacy

Does the proximity of your team members to one another (i.e., how close they are, if they are remote) determine the success of your project?


Does our success change if we sit close to each other?


Does it have any impact on it?

Only in our heads.

If you were to go back as little as 5 – 7 years ago, many of us were working on projects with a team that we sat right beside.  It was akin to a college atmosphere where everything you needed was in elbow reach of your own desk and if you really wanted to get everyone’s attention, you’d raise your voice.  If you wanted to call a meeting, stand up and tell everyone to come over.

But things have changed, now teams are distributed, many of us work remotely from a variety of locations wearing the “I work in a coffee shop” badge with high esteem while others prefer the sanctity of their home and others still prefer the hustle, bustle and social interactions that come from working in an office.

Interacting with teams over IM, SLACK and ZOOM calls are no longer the minority of your interactions with people, they are the majority as we seek to find the best people to work with to deliver our projects.

With all that to say, the only barrier to working remotely with teams (and how they contribute to the successful completion of our project) resides in our heads and our ability to change.

And nothing more.

We all have the same tools, we all speak the same languages, we are all committed to the same outcome and we all want to be successful in our careers.

If you are currently working a team to break through the Proximity Fallacy to Success, there are few techniques that you can employ with your team to break down these internal barriers.

  1. Have them outline why they don’t think the project will be successful?  It could be there is another issue underlying the need for proximity that is being overlooked that needs to be addressed.
  2. Ask them what the difference would be if the exact same project team was beside them right now?  In some cases, the issue might not be the distributed environment but a specific team member that they are worried about.
  3. Ask them what they would change and why?  The onus is now on them.  If they had all the time and resources what would they do and why?

In all of these questions, but especially #3, I have to emphasize the Why because this forces your team to justify the reasons for making a change to how you operate and deliver projects.  Not only will this help you understand what they are experiencing but also allow them to speak the problem out loud so both of you can work through it.

Even though Proximity to Success is a fallacy, it is right now a concern to a member of your team that is sitting in front of you.  Your role is to recognize and work with them through this, helping them get past these barriers so they are able to continue delivering their projects successfully in the future.

And this is where you shine, in breaking down these fallacies.

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