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.
Is True Collaboration a 2 Pizza Team Rule?
Thomas Edison, Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerburg have all had a common observation – smaller teams accomplish more. Far more, when it comes to creative or innovative work.
A recent book Midnight Lunch, by Sarah Miller Caldicott, the great-grandniece of Thomas Edison, talks about the approach that made him so successful. The subtitle of the book is “The 4 Phases of Team Collaboration Success from Thomas Edison’s Lab”, in which she details his approach to innovation.
Small Teams Were a Central Component of Edison’s Approach
Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com’s founder in a 2004 interview with Fast Company recalled an offsite retreat where people were saying that groups needed to communicate more. Bezos stood up and said, “No, communication is terrible!” shocking everyone in attendance. When it came to innovation, Bezos’ experience was that small groups could innovate and test their ideas without becoming entangled in a centralized corporate approach.
The “Two Pizza Team” Rule
Bezos came up with the “Two Pizza Team” rule. If you can’t feed a team with two pizzas the team is too large.
Edison had a similar approach at his Menlo Park operation. The “Midnight Lunch” was the small team coming together for a bite to eat while working together, informally in a collegial atmosphere through the evening.
Mark Zuckerburg also believed that small teams gave him a huge advantage over competitors like Yahoo! But for Facebook it was not just the size of the teams but also the focus of the team that made the difference. Caldicott cites an example from Michael Schrage, from the MIT Sloan School.
“Zuckerberg’s software design teams focused on higher-order functions such as robustness, scalability, ease of use, and maintainability – qualities that drive leading-edge performance in the Innovation Age” compared to Yahoo’s small teams who were focused on more traditional metrics like – lines of code written per day.
Additive Vs. Multiplicative Productivity
The result of this varied focus Schrage points out is “additive” vs “multiplicative” productivity. Two companies with 3 teams of 5 would have vastly different results.
Productivity of Additive Approach: 5 + 5 + 5 = 15
Productivity of the Multiplicative Approach: 5 x 5 x 5 = 125
That is more than 8 times more productive! Small teams + high-order focus – a ‘deadly’ one-two punch!
The “2 Pizza Rule” and “Higher-Order Functions Objectives” will accelerate your organization’s collaboration and innovation in today’s Innovation Era.
Technology Driving Small Teams
But what technology tools can turbo charge these small teams and higher-order focus objectives even more?
- Is suited to smaller teams
- Supports group work dynamics on higher-order productivity objectives
- Accelerates creativity and innovation
In one of my recent blogs I talked about the 4 different conferencing technologies that support real time collaboration and how you increase the velocity of collaboration in your meetings (both physical & virtual) by combining the 4 conferencing technologies to provide a collaborative richness, which supports your organizations objectives.
Collaboration Through Interactive Whiteboards
Interactive Whiteboards (IWBs) are one of the 4 conferencing technologies. And IWBs meet the three requirements listed above, which enable small teams with higher-order focus to increase the velocity of collaboration even more. This doesn’t mean the other 3 conferencing technologies should be ignored. The more you can effectively combine them, the richer the experience.
But IWBs are the ONLY category of conferencing technology that:
- Is just as useful without remote participants (the other 3 are not required if there are no remote participants). Also referred to as an “In-room only Meeting”.
- Is truly suited for brainstorming and idea flow
- Facilitates the capture of the output of the sessions
IWBs were once more of a novelty item and had far more traction in the K-12 education sector as they are the evolution of the blackboard. The IWB technology has had significant further development to serve the needs of businesses, but be careful of the IWB platform you invest in.
As demand goes up, new IWB solutions are popping up all the time. Don’t be fooled by IWB solutions that are focused primarily on annotating on top of images – most solutions. These solutions are good for emphasizing a point on a PowerPoint presentation in a WebEx type content sharing tool or making annotation on top of any image shown on the IWB display. They will not turbo charge your small teams to greater heights of collaboration and innovation.
Invest in an IWB platform that truly facilitates collaboration and innovation. The technology must be able to:
- Accelerate meeting flow
- Support remote connectivity to IWB sessions
Accelerating Meeting Flow Using Interactive Whiteboards
How do you tell if the IWB solution will accelerate meeting flow? Although the hardware component of the IWB is important, the architecture of the IWB software is the most critical factor.
What does a good IWB solution do to provide good meeting flow?
- It is easy to use
- Facilitates seamless and smooth navigation
- Between applications and the whiteboard
- Within the whiteboard pages
- Within the whiteboard canvas
- Is object oriented so that pictures, graphic images and annotated writing can be easily manipulated as desired, e.g. move, copy, paste, etc.
- Annotation “lives” or “persists” on the application vs on a layer “on top of” the application
- Is integrated directly into industry standard software solutions, e.g. Word, AutoCad, etc. Annotations are saved in the application files.
Technology should be an enabler, not a point of focus in and of itself.
An IWB solution that meets these design points will quickly blend into the background and enable greater innovation and collaboration in your organization.
To learn more about interactive whiteboard technology solutions or our new hybrid work experiences, and how they can be combined with other collaborative conferencing technologies to accelerate innovation and collaboration in your organization, contact us.
What Conferencing Technologies Should be Available in Our Meeting Rooms?
We recently received an honest attempt by an organization to better understand the conferencing technology solutions available in today’s marketplace via a Request For Information (RFI). Interestingly enough, it was a relatively blank canvas asking for:
- Inventive solutions to provide high quality teleconferencing abilities for meetings and
- The ability to offer interactive webinars as an educational tool.
This is a great opportunity for us to educate and share the collaborative solutions the organization has available to them. And in this case, the blank canvas allows us to provide a multitude of solutions.
The Organization and Their Business Problem
The organization currently has meeting rooms across the province that hold over 30 people. Each room is equipped with a poor quality audio solution and they are unable to effectively connect their internal and external stakeholders using these rooms via teleconference today. They would also like to be able to do remote training. Today that can only be done through self-study materials.
The Organization’s Requirements:
- To conduct training remotely using leading edge collaborative technologies
- The only room specification provided is that a round table seats up to 35 people
- They are interested in “teleconferencing,” “webinars” and it would be nice to have distance education
This approach could result in a wide variety of responses.
Will the solutions presented meet their needs? Do they really know what they want and do they know what technology is available?
I think the answer to each of these questions is “No”.
The focus will likely be low cost approaches to upgrade their audio phones in the rooms and offerings such as WebEx or GoToMeeting. But do these solutions really give the organization the high quality teleconferencing experience they are seeking?
The Risk of Using an RFI to Educate
This organization is trying to use a purchasing vehicle to educate themselves on the products available. This method is really a “hit and miss” approach because it depends on who in the marketplace takes the time to educate them on their choices by responding to their RFI. Typically, the best price wins in an RFI unless your proposal stands out for other reasons. To make your proposal stand out, you need to really understand your buyer’s needs.
You also need a buyer who is open to suggestions and has a good understanding of their needs.
But if the organization doesn’t know what they are looking for, how will they know when a really good solution is offered?
Finding a Solution for Connecting People
Using technology to connect people is a common-place activity however the sheer number of options available to do this is absolutely mind-boggling and getting clarity on a solution is difficult to achieve.
At a high level, organizations are looking to connect room systems and individuals together over distance for real-time communication.
3 possible combinations are:
- Room system to Room system(s)
- Room system to Individual(s)
- Individual to Individual(s)
Deciding which of these conferencing technologies are required for connecting over distance is critical in determining the level of collaboration that can be achieved.
The Velocity of Collaboration
Each of these different conferencing technologies brings a different dimension of richness to the collaborative experience. Frost & Sullivan wrote a very insightful whitepaper a few years ago about the “Velocity of Collaboration”. It was a sponsored whitepaper so it had some biases in it but the conceptual model was eye opening. They spoke about 6 different real-time conferencing modalities (if you boil it down there are really only the 4 above – unless you add in virtual world collaboration, which is only used at the fringes).
Never-the-less, the Velocity of Collaboration model is very useful and we have adapted it to consider the four conferencing modalities. Part II of this blog will detail this adapted Velocity of Collaboration model.
Once requirements for user based collaboration capability are determined, you can select the meeting room technologies and the individuals connecting into conferences. This process is critical. It avoids wasted effort and brings a cohesive approach to the technology roadmap your organization requires. By turning the patchwork of technology found in most organizations into a tapestry of technology, you’ve created an enabler to greater collaboration within the organization.
The ET Group has helped many organizations through this process. Please contact us if we can be of assistance to your organization.