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:
- Incrementally improve the meeting by taking small steps to collaborate better – some incremental things are foolproof and cost nothing
- 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.
- 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.
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:
- Oriented to a “One to Many” type meeting, where the owner of the meeting has most of the control of the meeting
- Are schedule driven events – book the meeting then hold the meeting
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:
- Eliminating audio feedback / interference and provide good audio quality so people can hear and be heard. How?
- Use your iPhone/iPad or other ear buds plugged into your PC, tablet or mobile
- 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
- Enhancing the visual experience by making the video and content BIG
- All you need is a 2nd screen connected to your laptop or desktop which costs around $120
- 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:
- Make sure you have lots of bandwidth and that normal bandwidth use by others on the same network isn’t choking your connection
- 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:
- Step 3: Extend Collaboration to Partners
- Step 4: Extend Collaboration to Customers
I’ll talk more about these in my next blog.
Moving the needle on collaboration in your organization
How to move from the 72% to the 28%
People understand from experience that when they collaborate, they can accomplish more. And the numbers underscore that companies who collaborate better outperform their peers by 2 to 6 times.
Yet most companies or departments are in the 72% of organizations whose collaboration maturity is either, “Unsupported” or “Non-integrated”.
Whether I talk to a small businesses or a department in a large corporation, one thing is common, they all want to collaborate better. They want to be able to do more from both an effective communication and collaboration point-of-view. Even though they are doing some collaborative things, they know they can do more. But they aren’t sure what they should be doing next to collaborate better. Even when we start talking about some of the things that they could be doing, they have a hard time imagining themselves using the new collaborative tools within their businesses or they can’t imagine spending any money on the tools they want to get better at collaboration.
There are many different things that you can do to build your organization’s collaborative muscle and accelerate your collaborative performance. Here is a chart from SMART Technologies “Inspired Collaboration” initiative, which shows many of the levers which can be adjusted within your organization.
These levers are really good for a “top down” approach to collaboration within your organization, but they don’t help much when your company doesn’t have the resources to conduct a “top down” analysis.
Most organizations take a Crawl, Walk, Run (C-W-R) approach, which is a sound strategy, however, many never make it past the Crawl stage – the 72%
So how can you take the C-W-R approach and make sure you progress?
Step 1: The most important meeting
No matter how big or small your company is, let’s take the discussion down to a departmental level, to make this applicable to every businessperson, Ask yourself – What is the most important meeting you attend that recurs at least once a month?
Chances are that whatever meeting you picked, it is some kind of an update or status meeting. A meeting whose objective is to synchronize the activities of a team updating each other on what has happened since the last time you met. This could be a weekly Sales meeting, Operations meeting, a Project meeting, etc. – you get the idea.
In the meeting, it is likely that the team is making adjustments to some kind of scorecard or project plan trying to monitor their progress since the last meeting and deciding where their attention needs to be directed too. Once you have identified that meeting, you should now answer these questions from a collaboration point-of-view:
Are the participants all local or are some remote? If there are remote participants, are they all individuals or is there another meeting room somewhere that has a number of people that are joining the meeting (or both)?
What technologies are you using? How are you using them?
What is missing? How do you want everyone more engaged, more involved?
Depending on the answers to these questions you can start to incrementally make your “Most Important Meeting” better. The first incremental improvements often don’t cost anything at all. Why? Because most people don’t know how to get the most out of the technology they are already using. I sometimes sit through a customer’s “Most Important Meeting” and after the meeting is over, I point out 2 or 3 things that they can do to make the experience better for everyone just by making a few adjustments.
The next part of the crawl is to add a couple of pieces of technology that will further enhance the meeting. These can be anywhere from a couple $100 to say $2,000. Adding these pieces builds the quality of the meeting experience, e.g. making it easier to hear and be heard.
The next step is where we start to progress from the crawl to the walk. Here is where we lay out how we can make the meeting better with technology, which makes collaboration easier for in-room participants, and for remote participants, makes them feel like they are in the room with the rest of the people.
This is where you have to spend more money on technology IF you want to get to this point. The types of technology you would add:
- In-room content sharing
- High quality audio
- Large format LED displays & Multiple displays
- Video conferencing
- Multi-function room capabilities
- Electronic Interactive Whiteboards
- And more
Depending on the size of the room these technologies can add up. Each one of them on their own can start at several thousand dollars and if you go big, 10s of thousands. But if you have budget constraints, you can prioritize and implement them one at a time until you get to the collaborative experience that is optimal for your “Most Important Meeting”.
The “Most Important Meeting” tends to drive the priority of having room technology to accelerate collaboration and enhance communication, but from my experience it plays a secondary, but important role in an organization’s collaborative development. You will get a much bigger payback if you can accelerate the collaboration of all the activities that take place between the “Most Important Meetings”. If you can inject greater collaboration into the activities between the team members as they do their day-to-day jobs, you will go to a full collaborative Walk.
But how do you do that?
Step 2: team activities between the most important meetings
Stay tuned to this blog for Steps 2 to 4 on moving collaboration forward in your business or department. But remember you can increase your collaborative muscle by:
- Taking small steps – some incremental things are foolproof and cost nothing
- Not being afraid of bigger steps
- Planning to learn from every step you take
And remember the goal, you can make your organization 2 to 6 times better by increasing your velocity of collaboration.