Boost collaboration in between your “Most Important Meetings”

Part II: Moving the needle of collaboration in your organization

In the first part of this blog, I talked about the “Most Important Meeting” and how you can:

  1. Incrementally improve the meeting by taking small steps to collaborate better – some incremental things are foolproof and cost nothing
  2. Make a bigger change by adding something that you aren’t doing today.  Don’t be afraid of bigger steps – the benefits certainly outweigh the costs.
  3. Plan to learn from every step you take

Those activities were collectively the first step to better collaboration in your department or business.

If we dial back the time machine a little, the majority of “Most Important Meetings” which had remote participants were audio conference calls.

When conferencing tools like WebEx, and GoToMeeting came to market, meeting participants from different locations were able to share content parallel to the audio conference.  These conferencing tools have continued to evolve by adding voice (instead of a parallel call) as well as video and some interactive annotation. They have allowed the “Most Important Meeting” to evolve from a “voice only” conference, to a “voice + content + video + annotation” meeting.

The increased conferencing technologies capability leads to a richer meeting experience for all participants – see this blog for more on increasing the richness of experience.

But I also stated that, even though it is important to have better collaboration in your “Most Important Meeting,” you can increase collaboration much more significantly by injecting a higher level of collaboration into the team activities that happen in between the “Most Important Meetings”.

Step 2: Team activities between the most important meetings

A lot more time and work effort is spent in between “Most Important Meetings” than having “Most Important Meetings”.  So it stands to reason that if you can enable greater collaboration during the interaction between your team members for the work they do between meetings, you will be significantly accelerating collaboration in your organization.

Going from a collaborative crawl to a walk – remember the Crawl-Walk-Run (C-W-R) analogy from the last blog.

But, WebEx or GoToMeeting, as good as they are for meetings, are not the ideal tools for day-to-day collaboration between team members.

Why not?

Because they are tools that are designed for meetings. That is the strength of these tools – to facilitate meetings.  All different kinds of meetings in WebEx’s case.

Meeting tools are:

To move collaboration to the day-to-day interactions of your team members, you need to move from tools that are designed for meetings, to tools that are designed for ad hoc collaboration, i.e. Unified Communication (UC) tools.

GoToMeeting and WebEx don’t allow for ad hoc collaboration.  They don’t have Presence, IM (Instant Messaging – outside of the chat function they enable in a meeting) or ad hoc voice or video calling.   WebEx/GoToMeeting technology is designed for a meeting, not as a communication platform that supports day-to-day business.

A good UC platform like Jabber or Lync incorporates technology within it to facilitate meetings.  It is one platform for all the real-time collaboration done within the organization. UC is the central piece of any Corporate Communications Framework, but if you are trying to move from a collaborative Crawl to a Walk, then don’t let the architecting of a framework slow you down.  You are better off getting to a Walk by trying to walk versus planning on walking.

If you have a phone system already (a PBX), one way to move forward is to build on the phone system.  But this will typically mean an upgrade of some sort if your phone system is more than a couple years old and it will mean you have to get more people involved in the decision.  It is harder to start walking that way.  The other thing that is noteworthy about the PBX is that with all the other tools available for real-time communications, the PBX just isn’t as important anymore and you shouldn’t continue to invest in it unless it ties in with your overall communications framework.  See this blog by Marty Parker of UC Strategies – “How to Carve a PBX”.

Many people use Skype or other free consumer products for person-to-person interaction and they can work well – see this blog.  But sometimes Skype is not reliable enough or scalable enough for your organization.  Most people realize that when they start spending too much time managing the technology and not enough time focused on the business at hand, they aren’t saving anything by using free tools.  When that happens you have to move up to higher quality UC tools that can provide a richer collaborative experience, e.g. Cisco’s Jabber, Microsoft’s Lync or another commercial UC solution.

The key to person-to-person collaboration

Whether you are using Skype or a more robust UC solution, to accelerate person-to-person collaboration, the most important piece to get right is the personal technology that plugs into the call.

What do I mean by that?   Personal technology that enhances the audio and video experience by:

  1. Eliminating audio feedback / interference and provide good audio quality so people can hear and be heard.  How?
    1. Use your iPhone/iPad or other ear buds plugged into your PC, tablet or mobile
    2. Add a USB personal audio device if you are working from a quiet place and don’t want to be tethered to a device.  Cost ~ $100 to $150
  2. Enhancing the visual experience by making the video and content BIG
    1. All you need is a 2nd screen connected to your laptop or desktop which costs around $120
  3. Maintaining a good connection for quality and continuity of the call.  Although a good connection is not “personal technology”, nothing disrupts a call more than fading in or out, or dropping the call and having to reconnect.  You need a stable connection.  This one is harder to put a price tag on, but there are different ways to come at the issue:
    1. Make sure you have lots of bandwidth and that normal bandwidth use by others on the same network isn’t choking your connection
    2. Use technology that is bandwidth friendly, e.g. uses less or is adaptable to bandwidth fluctuations

A personal audio device and a 2nd screen are the best investments you can make to significantly enhance person-to-person communication in your organization.  Make the experience richer and people will be able to collaborate better.

If you can enable the person-to-person collaboration in between the “Most Important Meeting” you will have taken your organization from a collaborative crawl to a strong walk.  And that is significant progress!  I have experienced this in our own organization and seen it in others.

The next 2 steps to get to a Run are:

I’ll talk more about these in my next blog.

The Benefits of Collaboration Between Companies and Communities

ThinkstockPhotos-139970757Mayor Van Bynen, the Mayor of Newmarket, received a call one day from a business owner in his community. The business was in a break out stage having developed an innovative service for the global Gaming community and needed to grow their company – fast! Their challenge was they couldn’t find any space in Newmarket that could provide adequate bandwidth for their service. It just wasn’t available and they were looking to relocate to Toronto to access the bandwidth required. Their call for help to the Mayor was a last minute attempt to find a way to stay in Newmarket. Collaborative workspaces are key to business growth.

Community Collaboration’s Rapid Mobilization Response

The Mayor immediately put a call into his trusted team of community collaborators to see what could be done. Led by the Chamber, the team of senior leaders were able to mobilize a response that not only arranged for a 1Gb internet connection where none was previously available but also provided new space for the company which was quickly expanding to 50 people. Other advisors and assistance was offered to help this company capture their opportunity and move it forward. They became the first tenant in a new Business Accelerator for the Town and are now building out a global analytics service that will provide jobs in Newmarket.

This rapid mobilization response was only possible because there was a close, trusted relationship between multiple partners. Each brought different pieces of the puzzle together quickly and in a coordinated fashion to benefit the whole community.

As per my last blog, this type of response would not have been possible 10 years ago. At that time, the partners all operated as separate institutions with very little collaboration together.

Institutions Establish the Rules of Engagement and Membership

Institutions have traditionally served as the organizing framework for bringing people together towards a common goal or cause. Currently, we are all working within an organization of some sort: a school, an army, a company, a government, or perhaps a religion. These institutions establish the rules of engagement and membership that prescribes how its members will engage with each other and how they will add value to each other.

By definition however, these institutions are exclusionary in their makeup. If you are a member, you can share in the process, tools, resources and community. If you are not a member, a citizen, an employee – you will not have access to the resources and information available thereby limiting your ability to interact effectively with that community. As a member of an institution, should we wish to work more closely with people in other institutions, we quickly run into barriers because:

These institutional models are rapidly becoming limited models for the kinds of work and innovative solutions that are being demanded today.

There are ways of interacting between these large institutional organizations but these arrangements are fairly limited in the numbers of participants that can be included. Usually these take the form of partnership agreements or memorandums of understanding (MOUs), which limit the types and numbers of potential participants to a few at a time.

What happens when we want to include input from all potential stakeholders, even the ones we don’t know exist? What rules of engagement apply? What technology tools do we need to implement in order to find each other, communicate & collaborate together? Is it possible to build a Collaborative Ecosystem that provides for extensive inclusivity? Are there ways to capture the value offered by a diverse group of stakeholders no matter if they are institutional partners or individuals, if they are a small group of participants or virtually unlimited numbers?

Increasingly the answer is ‘yes’.

We require new models and new tools to manage collaboration between institutions.

Examples of Community Collaborative Ecosystems

Two examples of this type of Community Collaborative Ecosystem (CCE) that are developing can be found in Canada:

Saint John, NB

There are 5 municipalities who have come together over the past few years to establish a group of 130 partners, and growing. They include Municipalities, Chambers of Commerce, schools, businesses, other government entities, libraries, hospitals and more. All of these partners understand that they need to work together to achieve sustainable models for their economic, environmental and social environment. They have established a ‘True Growth’ model that is designed to allow all partners to add and realize value from the community in new ways, to their mutual benefit.

Newmarket, ON

As 1 of 9 municipalities in the Region of York, a small group of partners including the Town, Southlake Regional Hospital, the Chamber of Commerce and the library came together a few years ago to discuss how to better collaborate. This modest beginning has already yielded millions of dollars of benefit to the partners. More importantly however, it has established a group of community leaders that know and trust each other. They know how to collaborate in ways that were not happening previously. Where there is synergy now, there used to be distrust and suspicion. The group is now able to identify projects that will benefit the community and execute on those quickly and efficiently in ways that none of the individual partners can do on their own.

Looking at these two CCE examples as well as other similar examples, some principal requirements begin to emerge.

Building Collaborative Community Ecosystems (CCE)

Consider the CCE pyramid, at the base level, there is a requirement for a new governance model that provides for innovative flexibility between partners but also helps set the rules of engagement. We need to understand the vision and goals of the community so that it is understood what the community is working towards.

Secondly, there needs to be a technology platform that helps manage many of the organizational functions that are previously the domain of institutions and not available to individuals. Technology tools now open these capabilities to the world, crossing institutional, geographical and cultural barriers. That provides a platform for inclusivity rather than exclusivity.

Once these pieces are in place, the collaborative community can begin to execute projects that will accelerate them towards their vision and goals in ways that could not have been previously imagined. For more information on Collaborative CommunitiesContact us and stay tuned for my next blog about Technology Platforms for Collaborative Communities.

Building an Inclusive, Flexible and Innovative Community Collaboration Ecosystem

ThinkstockPhotos-167169717Ten years ago, when I first joined the Board of Directors for the local Chamber of Commerce, I was amazed at the lack of synergy between the Town and the Chamber. You would think it is natural for these two organizations to build efficiencies & work closely together for the community’s mutual benefit. But there was more talk about how to avoid working together than there was in finding ways to add value to each other.

Collaborative Relationships Pay Dividends.

We shifted the attitude of the Chamber to one of co-operation and collaboration. Fast forward ten years and this community now enjoys an extremely close working relationship between the Chamber and the Town, which has resulted in:

This group of trusted collaborators is now attracting the interest of other municipalities, schools and companies.  They all want to find ways to work together because you can accomplish more.

Our world is changing faster than ever, forcing people to figure out new ways to work more productively. As our existing organizational models are not as effective as they used to be, there is often a lack of innovation, siloing and generally slow progress on requirements that demand ever faster solutions.

While searching for new ways to be more productive, two basic principles arise, as we have discussed in previous blogs:

  1. We want to expand our network of partners to include new ideas and expertise
  2. We need better tools to make our collaborations seamless, flexible, quick and effective

Don Tapscott, a world leader on innovation and the economic and social impact of technology describes the need for collaborative networks of stakeholders to address global issues in Solving the World’s Problems Differently. This same approach can be applied to local and regional levels. In fact, it is at these levels that new Collaboration Ecosystems get started in communities, cities and provinces.

Building a Community Collaborative Ecosystem

A Community Collaborative Ecosystem (CCE) is an ecosystem of partners coming together to work toward a common vision and a set of common goals. Think of a city or town with many partner stakeholders including citizens, businesses, non-profit organizations and government entities.

It is inclusive to the point of being able to recognize and integrate the value of all stakeholders whether they are part of the institutions or from outside. It is flexible, agile and innovative. It is able to recognize value brought by partners in more ways than simply monetary, and it is able to facilitate the redistribution of that value back to the ecosystem partners in sustainable ways.

The ecosystem may be organized around geographies, areas of interest or common visions. They are loosely governed by general shared principles rather than rigid institutional structures. They rely heavily on technology to provide the organizational aspects required rather than institutional frameworks.

They are born out of the need to find new, innovative ways to answering the question, “How can we get this done now?”

Mapping Out a Community Collaborative Ecosystem

Think about what you are trying to accomplish and how you will measure success:

  1. Who will be your collaborative partners?
  2. How will your new partnerships be managed?
  3. How do you accommodate a growing number of new partners?
  4. How will you fund your efforts and how will the benefits of your work together be distributed?
  5. How will you manage these disparate efforts to realize maximum synergy without adding managerial roadblocks?
  6. How will you communicate to the community, between partners and with the rest of the world?
  7. What common tools will be used in order to make your collaborations easy, regardless of who or where the partners are located and their personal preference for technology?

Realizing your Ecosystem’s Vision

Once you have a good understanding of how everyone will work together, you can put in place a technology platform to facilitate collaboration. This allows you to identify projects that will realize your CCE goals. These projects will involve various ecosystem partners coming together in new and multiple combinations. As there can literally be an unlimited number of partners, the number of projects can be very large as well.

It is up to the collaboration ecosystem to manage the overall view of how to connect, maximize the value of projects so the vision of the ecosystem is realized.

In our upcoming blogs you’ll find Part II, Collaboration Between Institutions and Part III, Building Technology Platforms for a Collaborative Ecosystem where I will explore how to establish the various platforms on which to build your CCE as well as looking at some examples of communities working toward this new way of working. Please Contact Us if you would like to explore this concept in more detail.

Increasing the Velocity of Collaboration in Your Organization

138108046Using technology to bring people together over distance has become a commonplace activity but the number of options available to do this is mind-boggling. And most importantly, getting clarity on a solution can be difficult.

Collaboration is a powerful force. Organizations recognize this and use collaboration technologies in strategic ways.

There are strategic goals that can help your organization cut costs and drive revenues.

The Four Goals Are

  1. Enhance communication
  2. Speed problem solving
  3. Accelerate innovation
  4. Transform the way you do business

At a high level, organizations are looking to connect room systems and individuals together over distance with the following possible combinations:

In our last blog, we talked about the 4 different kinds of conferencing technologies:

Creating the Right Balance of Technologies

The idea is to create the right balance of technologies for individuals and for room systems that suit your organization. The capabilities and the costs of these conferencing technologies are different and each of these conferencing technologies brings a different dimension of richness to the collaborative experience. Think about this in terms of creating the right balance of the technologies. I like to use the analogy of a spinning top, which is made up of these four conferencing technologies.  Each of the four technologies has a different cost to implementing it and brings an associated benefit or richness of experience.

The Spinning Top Analogy

1)    You must have audio to effectively have any kind of real time conference. As audio is table stakes, it is the point of the top. Without audio the top will not spin. Without audio other conferencing technologies are simply ineffective.

2)    The portion of the top that each of the 4 modalities makes up relates to the richness of that conferencing modality. How robust does your Top need to be?

3)    There is also a related dollar cost to each of the conferencing modalities and those cost figure into the overall cost-benefit equation.

The Velocity of Collaboration Revisited

In my last blog, I adapted the four conferencing modalities described above from the Frost & Sullivan, Velocity of Collaboration model.  Your organization’s Velocity of Collaboration will be determined by two factors:

1)    The Richness of the conferencing capabilities that are deployed

2)    The Access your employees are given to these technologies (Access = Availability + Usability)

The “Richness”, combined with “Usability” and “Availability” of the technology will determine the Velocity of Collaboration that your organization can attain.

The Velocity of Collaboration Formula

An organization must decide which of the conferencing technologies are required for connecting over distance. With these benefits you can determine the level of collaboration that can be achieved.

This graphic below shows the relative richness of the conferencing modalities.  Richness, together with how you have deployed the technology, your Access (= Availability + Usability), determines how your collaborative capabilities will increase.

Create an Enabler to Greater Collaboration Within the Organization

Once user based collaboration capability requirements are determined, you can select the technologies for meeting rooms and for individuals connecting into conferences. This process is critical and avoids a lot of wasted effort. It also brings a cohesive approach to the technology roadmap your organization requires and helps turn the patchwork of technology found in most organizations into a tapestry.

Going back to the RFI discussion in Part I of this blog, the customer would like Teleconferencing and to layer in Webinars when an Internet connection is available. Teleconferencing, also known as audio conferencing is the most basic form of conferencing technology hence it provides the least “Rich” collaborative experience.  Note the customer’s interest in webinars made possible via web conferencing reflects a desire for a richer collaborative experience.

That is why I asked the questions:

I think the answer to each of these questions is “No”.

The ET Group has helped many organizations through this process. Please contact us if we can be of assistance to your organization.