Month: November 2009

When minds meet

Collaboration, at its best, is a meeting of minds. When two or more people come together, share a vision, and give each other “gifts” of insight, information, effort, value toward making that vision real, it is an exhilarating feeling.

Collaborative teams create a sense of urgency, and a feeling that they can’t be stopped in reaching that goal. Their members are fully engaged. They keep each other energized and focused.

Any business aspires to having this description of their teams. But having these teams sometimes seems more like luck than something that can be purposefully built. By understanding the characteristics of excellent teams, we can look for and encourage these traits, and assist these teams in forming.

1. Ensure a clear mission.
The very best people, with the greatest talent and passion, can’t converge into a team without a mission to serve. That mission needs to feel important and unique. For the marketing team, it can’t be “generate leads” but more like something that says “let the market know what’s special about us”. It needs to be both aspirational and concrete – a heady goal that engages both creativity and execution skills.

A poorly defined mission will fail to engage people, leading to lots of business without generating real value.

2. Respect.
The team members need to appear credible to one another. They should be introduced to one another as worthy peers, and excellent leadership will constantly reinforce the value and credibility of each member to the others. When you approach a table full of people that you respect, you approach differently. The tenor of debate is higher, the interest in one another’s ideas and contributions is sincere.

3. Trust
If you trust your teammates, you can discuss challenges and problems. You can look out for one another. You can offer more ideas, reach more deeply, and feel as though you don’t want to let each other down. Intimacy develops, ensuring that this meeting of the minds deepens.

4. Commitment to continual improvement
Trouble is out there. Find it, embrace it, and it becomes your source of power to constantly innovate and move forward. Associate blame with it, or pretend it doesn’t exist, and it will always be suppressed. It will be your undoing. An excellent leader will address trouble head on. They will give voice to problems so that they can be addressed – not always solved, perhaps, but acknowledged, considered. An excellent leader will not be intimidated or afraid of facing issues, and will encourage the same in their team.

The purpose of collaborative technology is to encourage and enable teams to pursue their goals, meld minds and do more than any individual could ever do. Social Collaboration tools are particularly useful in doing this. But no tool can make a team form – they can only support existing teams.

There are people who believe that collaboration replaces leadership. Not true. Leaders shepherd the mission and goals, orchestrate activity, reveal talents, encourage connection, create urgency, and leave people alone to get their jobs done. In the ideal team, leadership is reflected in every team member, so that they can act as leaders as well.

I’m looking for more documentary evidence of great teams, and great examples. If you’ve ever been on a team like this, you know what I’m talking about, and you probably don’t want to settle for anything else. Please share your story with me.

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Social Media is not a strategy

Last week I had the opportunity to speak at the Web 2.0 Conference. The conference, like the Enterprise 2.0 show in Boston this past summer,  is atypical in that most of the good stuff was happening in the talks and workshops. People were there to learn and see what the thought leaders were thinking. And there were some fabulous thinkers there. Jeff Dachis and David Armano gave a fantastic discussion of social business, Gentry Underwood artfully presented is very useful insights into adoption of Enterprise 2.0. Really, the list of luminaries and their beautiful and insightful presentations are well worth a look here.

In this context, my talk was very nervously executed (I was speaking on topics I don’t normally cover, I’m more of a culture and collab gal), but the quality of the audience was fantastic. The basic idea was this. You don’t start with a social media strategy. You start with a marketing strategy, a customer relationship strategy and a collaborative objectives strategy.

Insightful and important questions ranging from budgeting to competitive differentiators, and importantly, how to convince people of the worth of what you’re doing came up, and I believe the Q&A lasted longer than the talk itself.

More than 100 people came to my session, and I was grateful for the engaged audience, and have a lot of new twitter buds as a result. Hopefully I also created some interest in the excellent range of technologies, products and expertise that Open Text has to enable Enterprise social media.

My slides from the talk are here. If you attended the session, or if you didn’t, I’d appreciate your thoughts and a continuation of the Q&A.

A Means to an End: Aligning Social Media and Business Strategy.

Social media is many things with many definitions. Ultimately, however, it is a collection of tools that enable us to get some things done that were difficult, impossible or just less satisfying than before.

This is a discussion is about what types of business objectives are better achieved with social media. I will look at social media as a tool for market engagement, customer service (in the broadest sense), lead generation, as well as a productivity tool, and a tool for creating high-performance corporate cultures. As with any good tool, the real value is in how its wielded – and the applications of it are limited only by the insight, imagination and ambition of the craftsmen who use it.

Lets begin with an overview of business objectives:

Market Engagement

Businesses want to engage their markets for several reasons:

– To understand market needs, wants, goals and desires so as to craft products, services, messaging and pricing to suit.

– To create awareness of their brand or offerings.

– To get new customers

– To improve their reputation Mainstream Social media has proven to be remarkably useful in each of these regards.

Enabling brand and product managers to listen to their markets, engage and discuss their needs and their offerings in a way that was nearly impossible before. Key tools: Mainstream social media sites and aggregators: Facebook, twitter, youtube, myspace, niche social networks that cater to your target market. Connections back to your own web properties is essential.

Customer engagement

Customer service in the form of providing information, support, service, updates and more for the purposes of increasing satisfaction, optimizing revenue opportunities, creating loyalty and customer advocates.

Social media has made customer engagement far less expensive while making it far more effective and satisfying for both customer and company. Key tools: Some mainstream social networking and media aggregation sites, but your own web properties play more of a starring role here. Custom Social networking sites for customer service, account management, customer communications are the primary tools, external social media tools are a place to reach out in order to bring your customers into your communities.

Employee engagement

Corporate intranets are intended to share corporate information, policies and processes with employees. In general, they are poorly designed, and disrespected as having only the most banal information. Adding a social dimension here can help increase relevance, share leadership thinking more deeply and in a fashion that garners greater buy in by employees. Employees can also be encouraged to share ideas, find answers to policy and process questions, make suggestions and generally get more benefit from the core corporate support services such as HR, facilities, finance and procurement.

Key tools: discussion forums, ratings, Q&A, idea management, blogs, microblogging.

Employee productivity

While social media is frequently thought of as a social, extra-curricular activity that may have some benefit in the brand reputation and PR realm, the same tools that allow this form of communication can also be leveraged to create super-effective, next generation productivity tools.

These tools are not toys, but leverage the new communications paradigms offered by these tools to quickly get good work done. Most organizations, particularly those that deal primarily in information and ideas – that is any company that has a significant creative, analytic or R&D arm – needs to optimize and leverage that work and those work processes to the greatest extent.

Social media tools, because of their ability to improve communications, as well as create and maintain weak ties, make it easier to support the three most important forms of collaboration and productivity:

Creative – a team can use shared workspaces and other social media constructs, such as feeds and wikis to organize work, collect individual contributions, review, edit, and iterate vastly more efficiently than only through the use of in person meetings, email and conference calls.

Connective – knowledge workers can tap the collective intelligence of the organization by finding and friend-ing knowledgeable people within the organization, spotting trends and activity that may be relevant, and contributing their own value where its relevant and valued. This type of activity can save thousands of hours in the “who knows x about y” department and research has shown that tapping a diverse set of skills and perspectives leads to higher quality outcomes in less time.

Compounding – Here’s the fundamental idea: all work should leverage, to the greatest extent possible, leverage work that has already been done. Most companies currently have the basic capability to let employees search on documents and find things of relevance (this is rarely perfect, but even so). Social media tools, however, capture not just work product, such as documents, but work processes and resources as well, making it possible to find not only a document, but how it was created, how it evolved, who contributed, and what resources were used. The ability to find and follow this type of information is vastly more valuable than having just the end product to an employee who must accomplish a similar task or bring it to the next level.

Key tools: shared workspaces, communities, friending, profiles, wikis, feeds, instant messaging, planning tools, and other technologies that promote information aggregation, communication and networking.

 

Challenges

The Challenge of acting human: As I’ve said before – acting human is an unnatural act for most corporations. They’ve been trying for so long to be perfect and distance themselves from the warmth and fallibility of humanity so as to project flawless, rock-like solidity. The problem is that in this post-commerical era, where consumers are jaded, the corporate façade is not trusted – its considered more of a sham than deserving confidence above and beyond people. People now trust people more than brands. So how do you act human without being inconsistent? Warm without looking incompetent? Sympathetic, interesting and engaging without looking unprofessional?

Well, it takes a leap of faith. Savvy employees will understand that they are aiming to reflect well on the company as well as engender excitement and loyalty from the market. Mistakes will be made. Respect will be given to those companies who admit their mistakes immediately, and offer thoughtful, meaningful responses to them. Plan for success and plan for the mistakes

The Payoff: Trust, credibility, loyalty.

The challenge of the collaborative culture: collaborative cultures are different. They are mission focused, ego-swallowing machines where every problem and challenge is quickly surfaced, discussed and dealt with. Individuals, and the team as a whole learn quickly, act decisively, and efficiently  by quickly engaging people, harvesting their work, and letting the entire team polish and hone it to perfection.

We aren’t used to working this way, however. It takes a tremendous leap of faith that I can show my vulnerabilities and still be respected. information sharing is valued over information hording, and leadership is distilled into its purest form of setting direction, orchestrating activity, inviting and responding to new information from any part of the organization.

Management by fear and blame is left behind along with its tendency to breed mediocrity from people who either don’t want to take risks, or who have lost faith that their best contributions can be valuable in the organization.

The payoff: agile, smart, streamlined efficiency that can shine like a laser beam on any challenge. Fierce productivity.