Archive for the 'collaboration' Category

So what makes an awesome team?

10 September, 2010

For the past 2 years I have been lucky enough to work in a most excellent team. Unfortunately all good things must come to an end, and as it happens Helen, Zaana and Alex have all recently had opportunities to move on to bigger and better things.

While super cool and exciting for them, it has lead me spend quite a bit of time wondering what exactly made our team such a great group to work in, and what can I do to make sure it continues? After having this stuff floating around in my head for a week or so there are the key qualities I have identified that have helped our team to work so well.

Shared big picture objectives

One of the most common barriers to effective team work that I have observed is diverging objectives within the team. When one team member believes option A is the best direction and another  believes option B is best conflict can quickly bubble to the surface. Even when an agreement on the direction is reached lingering animosty or personal agendas can remain. If they do these will gradually undermine the achievement of the objectives the team is working towards.

Fortunately in our team each of us had a very similar long term vision, which meant each time we sat down to solve a problem, we were all working in the same direction. Of course we often disagreed on the best way to approach the problem, but agreeing on the long term objective enabled us to look at each solution on its merits rather than getting bogged down debating how the problem fits in with conflicting objectives.

Complimentary skill sets and interests.

Part good fortune, part good design. We each came from different backgrounds and  had a different set of skills.  While all four of us had similar interests we  tended to favour a slightly different aspect of our work. This was great for brainstorming and problem solving as we each came at a situation from a different perspective.

This really was the ideal situation, not only did we all agree on where we were headed, but we thought about each situation differently, which meant in any given scenario, we would be able to come up with several approaches, to the situation, discuss the pros and cons and agree on the best solution or take a combination of each of our ideas.

Openness

If there is one thing I struggle to deal with it is secret squirrel types. You know the ones, they know what is going on but like to keep it under their hat, or the manager who works away with their boss on the 3 year strategy meanwhile treating their staff like the proverbial mushrooms (kept in the dark and fed nothing but bullsh… you get it). Fortunately this was not a problem in our team, twice we had a manager’s role open in the team. During the recruitment process we talked amongst ourselves about it, were open about if we wanted to apply, and kept everyone in the loop. It was great as it meant these situations did not descend into some sort of competitive mess and it ensured that if one of us did decide to apply for the role, that everyone was supportive and on side.

Mutual Respect

This has to underpin all of the above, each of the other three ingredients lead to sharing of ideas, debate and discussion but none will matter if the team members do not respect each other.

So there we go four ingredients for an excellent team. Now to the question of how do I keep these ingredients alive in whatever version of our team continues, I’m, not sure how it will pan out, but it is sure to be interesting!

Bashing your head against a wall doesn’t always leave a bruise

3 March, 2010

I spent much of the second half of last year seemingly bashing my head against the proverbial brick wall. My objective was to get two online communities off the ground, I started from scratch, with nothing more than a general direction and a list of some people inside and outside of the business to talk to.  It frequently felt like I was on a fool’s errand, off on a wild goose chase, seeking a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow… ok enough of the clichés, it felt like it wasn’t going to work.

I spent an enormous amount of time and energy telling people about these communities, inviting them, showing them around and being super excited about them even though in most cases the members themselves didn’t seem to particularly care.

By the end of year I had started to make  progress, both were beginning to show the first signs of life…. then came Christmas and all of those signs vanished. Both were dead, or so I thought.

An amazing thing has happened in the last few weeks, momentum has returned, leaders have been identified and they are running with it!

The point that really brought it home to me, came up in a community leaders meeting this morning. Two of the members had been talking since the last meeting and decided that the community really needed a community charter!! My first instinct was to say “where the hell were you 6 months ago!!!!!?!” (see this post for what I was trying to do), but on reflection it occured to me that the community wasn’t ready for the structure of a charter, it needed time to grow  and to create it’s own identity, now after several months that is beginning to happen.

We’re only seeing the green shoots of life, but it is happening and that makes me smile. So to all of you community builders, persist, keep talking to your members and as long as you have laid the foundations you will see the rewards.

Oi You Lot! Collaborate Now!!

30 October, 2009

If only community building were so simple! I’ve spent the last couple of months working on the first two of what will hopefully be many online communities for our members. This has proven to be a bit of a  challenge for a few different reasons,  the one I want to talk about now is the concept of collaboration. For me and the other guys in the team at work, collaboration is what we do. We encounter a problem and we either turn around and say “hey waddaya reckon about this” or if we’re not in the same location, we jump onto the wiki or instant messenger (or lately google wave) and throw ideas around. If no one in the team is free we jump on twitter and say “hey tweeps waddaya reckon?”. Collaborating to get stuff done is intrinsic to what we do. Sure if we are on twitter we might not be quite as specific as we would be in the office but we still talk about what is going on with the twitterverse.

The thing is not everyone does it and (amazingly) not everyone wants to do it. For many people they don’t want to collaborate, they don’t want to participate they just want to be fed the info they need. I guess most people fall into this category but I admit to being caught off guard at how disinterested some people are at jumping on the collaboration bandwagon. So what the hell do you do about it? These are my thoughts… time will tell how effective they are.

Find people who ARE collaborators!

Well duh! I know this one is stating the bleeding obvious, but I reckon the best way to help people to learn how to be collaborators is to watch it happening around them. If the group we have at the moment is not loaded up with collaborative types then we should find some to help get the ball rolling.

Start with easy opportunities for collaboration

In one of the communities, my idea was that the community would collectively write a community charter. It didn’t happen. So I re-jigged the approach and organised a few phone hookups to discuss what they thought should go into the charter. During each session we also used a webinar to record notes, which helped to fuel the discussion. These sessions gave me with heaps of insight into the needs and wants of the community. I’ll take that away and turn it in to a draft of a charter, then ask the community to provide feedback. By adopting this approach the community members are commenting on something they have already contributed to which means it isn’t as scary, as hard or as time consuming as starting with a blank page.

Change the environment

This is kinda the same as the last point, if the members are not really jumping onto the online environment to collaborate, give them a chance to chat somewhere else. It could be like that example: a phone hook up, or even better if it is possible, organise an f2f meet up. Something as simple as catching up for a coffee can be enormously beneficial to encouraging collaboration.

Ok so that’s my thoughts. They are all pretty much following the conventional wisdom. So waddaya reckon?

 

Businesses on Twitter

14 August, 2009

I was asked this question in relation to our corporate twitter account on LinkedIn today

Mick – Great idea but do you have any examples of this being used in a business context before and the value it could bring?

My response got kinda long so I decided to post it here 🙂 Enjoy!

There are hundreds of examples of businesses using twitter to achieve a whole range of objectives. The two most common objectives businesses set out to achieve via twitter are to raise their brand’s profile or provide proactive customer service. Proactive customer service, where an organisation ‘listens’ to the conversations happening on twitter for mentions of their brand and steps into help is becoming more and more common.

The best local example of proactive customer service using twitter is Telstra BigPond (twitter.com/bigpondteam). The team at BigPond search twitter for people talking about Telstra and BigPond products and offer to help.

Sometimes this is as simple as answering a question, other times they will ask the person with the problem to send their contact details via direct message (a private message between two twitter users) so it can be investigated further.

In many cases a twitter user will simply complain about a problem with their Telstra service to their friends and a BigPond representative will contact them directly and offer to help them solve it. In the US, Comcast (twitter.com/comcastcares) have been very successful with a similar system.

Many organisations are using twitter to distribute news and information to their customers; many AFL football teams are doing this very effectively. I particularly like twitter.com/northkangaroos… but I might be biased!! Other examples include twitter.com/SouthwestAir, twitter.com/jetblue, dell.com/twitter, twitter.com/gimmecoffee and twitter.com/5senses

Others conduct competitions to raise the profile of their brand. Two weeks ago I won an LCD TV after participating in a promotion run by Kogan Technologies (twitter.com/KoganTech), as a result I told my 460 followers all about my new Kogan TV.

These are all great examples of how businesses are using twitter for their brands, but there are infinitely more examples of individuals using twitter to find, share and discuss information relating to their work on twitter.

One example occurred this morning. I read your comment and thought to myself ‘hmm I can think of a couple of good examples I wonder what else is out there.’ I asked the question on twitter and was alerted to Southwest Air, Jet Blue, Gimme Coffee, Dell and Comcast.

Another example came up a couple of weeks ago during the Knowledge Management Australia conference. I was not able to get to Sydney to attend the conference but much of the content is directly relevant to my work at CPA Australia. Traditionally I would have just missed out, however using twitter I was able to search for the tag #KMAus09 and follow the key points that were being made at the conference. A tag is simply a word that users tweeting about a common topic include in their tweets. You can view the search results for #KMAus09 here: http://search.twitter.com/search?q=%23KMaus09.

Following the conference on twitter was not as good as being there but it was better than not being there at all and provided a useful insight into the issues discussed.

Getting an online community off the ground

15 June, 2009

It has been very quiet here around here for the few couple of months, but I am back from a very nice break honeymooning with my lovely wife and am looking forward to getting some more thoughts written down!

This year  I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and writing and talking about what we can do to encourage the development of great online communities. I thought I would kick things off again with some of my thoughts, these are the ideas that I’m in the process of trying to implement, I will blog about how they actually pan out over the next few months.

I have read about a bazillion articles and blog posts recently (my favourites have been, this great video from Patrick Lambe,  this article from Keith De La Rue, lots of bits and pieces from Richard Millington’s blog and some stuff from the Ant’s Eye View team)  the collective wisdom (mixed in with my own experiences) seems to suggest that there are a few ingredients that any community will need to succeed:

  • Common Purpose
  • People
  • Content
  • Events

Today I’ll chat about Common Purpose.

The first thing that needs to be considered when creating an online community, is why you  are doing it. No doubt there is a general objective that goes along the lines of ‘get people talking about our product’ or ‘reduce calls to our help desk’ or in my case, ‘help people to get better connected to other professionals to help them be more effective at their jobs.’

These are a great starting point but we need to drill deeper if we’re going to be successful. From what I have experienced and read in order for a community to really take off, we need to either tap into a person’s passion or provide a real tangible benefit.

If the community is designed to promote discussion around a product, for example running shoes, then there is a good chance the community will be driven by passion, it will be a place for runners to share their experiences of something they really care about. If the community is aiming to become a professional network, to improve effectiveness and increase access to information, it is quite possible if not likely that your audience are not going to be passionate about the topic but are simply looking to make their job easier.

This changes how we go about attracting people, the community must not just provide community members with a space to talk about something they love, it must prove to be invaluable. It must provide information and people that community members can not easily get to anywhere else. It must be so full of smart people sharing insight and resources that it becomes a central work tool. If it is anything less it will be relegated to the ‘I should get around to looking at that’ pile, otherwise known as a ‘nice to have’.

That is a big ask, particularly if you are looking to build a community around a very broad topic.  I’ll use the example of a community for Taxation professionals to talk about how broad is not necessarily good. Our objective could be:

“To help Taxation professionals get better connected to other professionals to provide easier access to the knowledge and experience of others”

This seems pretty clear, lets get people who work in tax to talk to each other. There are loads of people who work in tax so it should be easy to attract enough of them to create interesting discussion that results in valuable insight being shared…right?

If we look a little deeper the water becomes quite muddied. Tax is a very broad area, even at a high level personal tax and business tax are very different areas, if we delve into either of those we’ll will see many more disparate topics. This presents a challenge for community builders as what is interesting and valuable to a personal tax professional is probably of little interest to a business tax professional.

The lesson here, is take the topic area and drill down. Choose a specific niche and identify a need that the community will address. Aim to have an objective that is as specific as possible:

“To help personal income tax professionals, connect and discuss recent changes to federal tax legislation” – (I don’t know anything about tax so that might not make any sense, but you get the drift!)

This level of detail will set the expectations from the beginning, it will help with recruitment of the right people and will help to ensure that discussions do in fact prove to be useful and valuable.

Next  – Recruiting the right people.

Generalists or Specialists?

14 October, 2008

Over the past twelve months we have kicked off quite a few initiatives to dip our toes in the murky waters of web2.0. As these have all been largely experiments we’ve gone with WordPress for blogs, Ning for our community and SocialText for our wiki. Each were selected as they had the best price, feature set and fit for our purpose. Now as we hurtle toward the end of the year we begin to think about what our suite of social products will look like in 2009.

One of the many questions we need to answer when figuring this out is what technology platform will out products sit on, and to get to the point of this post do we continue with individual products that are good at a particular task but not connected to other items or do we go with someone who can give us the whole box and dice.

Certainly a generalist platform is appealing when thinking about user management and data security, it also could enhance the usability of our offer if all applications function in kinda the same way. On the specialist product side you can argue that by selecting a product for a specific need you can find the right product for your project and avoid hitting square pegs into round holes.

If we’re thinking whole box and dice there are a couple of options that I can think of. SocialText recently launched version 3 of their wiki platform and on paper it’s a pretty nice set up. Their well established wiki/blog tools, combined with an iGoogle style dashboard and social networking capabilities, integrates the majority of your social software offer into one box. Throw in their recently announced signals module and SocialCalc and as far as enterprise social software goes it is a pretty compelling case. On the downside their wiki has a few quirks that sometimes make it a little difficult for new users to come to grips with, the blogging tools are not as good as WordPress or Typepad and I’m not sure if it has discussion forum capabilities.

The other box and dice platform I know of is Sharepoint. yes it is from the evil empire (not google, the other evil empire) and yes it can become ungainly and difficult to manage but from what I have been told it can do most of your social stuff if you make it. I must admit I really don’t know much about share point other than it seems to have started many ‘is Sharepoint social’ discussions on the interwebs.

So to you good folk who have been kind enough to stop by this tram, do you know of any other box and dice type platforms out there? Or is it better to stick with distributed specialist platforms?

A step into the unknown…

19 September, 2008

A little while a go I hit the publish button on the Conference social network we have been working on for the last 6 months. Exciting yet scary stuff!

To be honest I have no idea how this is going to pan out. We’ve got a pretty good promotional plan, we have  engagement with the conference program and we have several presenters lined up to participate in the network. Still I wonder if it will work. Our audience is pretty conservative mostly accounting and finance types, I get the feeling that will mean they will come in and have a look but probably won’t participate very much. Our corporate blogs are a classic example, while the traffic on this blog is approximately 10% of the average traffic of our two main corporate blogs, I average a comment about every second or third post, where our corporate blogs average a comment  about every 5 – 6 posts.

I would put that down to the fact that most of the comments here tend to come from people who I either know or have interacted with via their own blogs or twitter, but I think there may also be something in the demographic, most of the people who read this at least have an interest in social media. That would seem to make them more likely to fill the ‘critic’ role, than an accountant or finance manager that is in their mid 30’s to mid 50’s (the bulk of our customer base).

It will be very interesting indeed to see if they embrace the concept. I’ll keep posting regularly about how it is going and what we are learning.

Building Social Networks and Growing Communities

14 August, 2008

I attended a great 1 day workshop last month run by Laural Papworth (with a special guest appearance from Peter Styles from Red Bubble), which was all about building and managing online communities. Given this is exactly what my colleagues and I are in the process of doing, I was really looking forward to it.

Today I finally got around to giving the team here at work an overview of the session, so I trawled through my notes from the day and chopped them down to a few key points. I figured they’d make a nice blog post.

If you are starting out in the community building process, I would strongly recommend you attend this session if it runs again. It really was a very good day.

Notes by Community Phase

Planning

If creating a community always ask, why are you being social? And what are our objectives?
What are we going to provide to a community?  – Why will they join?
What will encourage members to click on a link on your page? What will they get?

Promoting

Word of Mouth will be the key marketing tool. – Our product needs to be good enough to make users tell other users
Competitions can help to generate interest. They will bring people in the door, content will bring them back
Make network visible, but read only to non-members. People will come back up to 10 – 15 times before they decide to join.

Management

Clear rules of engagement, keep them simple and explain why they are there.

Fires will happen – let them burn out if possible.
Offer to help resolve an issue
Provide a deadline for fire to be resolved – “You have 36 hours to resolve this issue”

Moderators need to be connected to the community and lead by example, this will allow them to understand the context of discussions and block stuff that is truly inappropriate.

Don’t let members dictate how a community is run, that can lead them to think they can manipulate the system to suit their needs

Provide a pathway to make new members feel welcome – show them that it is ok to ask basic questions.

Make it very clear what profile information is visible to the public and what is private

If the community only talks about the purpose you have defined it is not really a community

Why will they come?

4 July, 2008

In thinking about my question from Tuesday I found myself thinking about two words: value and barriers.

Value is a word I have blogged about quite a lot over the past few months, I have a tendency to talk about the need to articulate a clear value proposition. We have conducted a lot of research that tells us that our audience are interested, they want to connect, they want to be able to learn from each other. But will they truly value this ability? Will access to a pool of people working in a similar industry, facing similar problems be enough to distract someone from the work they are doing and go online? Will their employers allow them time to get online to connect?

I believe we need to figure out how will users extract value from these applications. They say they want it, but how are they going to use it, and what impact will it have on the way they work? If we can figure these things out at least in fairly general terms, we go a long way to achieving that goal of articulating a clear value proposition.

In order to figure this out I’ll go back to some market research that was done early this year (it seems a long time ago now) and refresh myself with what our customers said to us.

Second I’ll put a survey out to those already participating in our existing social media initiatives. I’m not sure how many responses we’ll get but it seems to have worked for Jeremiah Owyang so we might as well give it a try.

Third I’ll get out and speak to the audience face o face. When I spend so much time communicating online it is very easy to forget how valuable a discussion with a real person can be.

With all of that hopefully I come up with a few clear points that our customers can relate to, or is this an impossible task? Do I just have to put it out there and see what happens?

Next up -thoughts on barriers to adoption….

Early Adopters and the ‘Second Wave’

1 July, 2008

I’ve had a bunch of thoughts to do with encouraging social media adoption and community building swirling around in my head of late. Mostly they have been driven by my current work situation. As I mentioned a week or so ago, we secured our wiki agreement and are moving into the content / community phase. We’re also moving into this phase on the conference social network project I have been working on. This means I’m hitting a rather scary time, I’m moving out of the familiarity (and boringness – I know it isn’t a word but I am going with it!) of IT system evaluation and selection and charging into the neverland that is online community building.

I’ve got a few ideas about how to go about it, but these are based off experience building a sense of team in a training room; I get the feeling online will be a very different beast. Interestingly ( I love it when the web does this) @NathanealB posted recently on the importance of early adopters. This post has stayed with me as the early adopters are the people I need to engage with right now!

Following that post I discovered Michelle Martin’s post on ‘the second wave’. I really like this phrase as it sums up the people we will be trying to engage with very soon. If we get the second wave of users involved we start to be able to offer real value. The early adopters are great but we want to build a financial knowledge sharing community, the pool of early adopters in our very specific niche just isn’t big enough! We need the next wave to get involved to make our community viable in the long term.

Michelle finishes her post by asking how we engage with these people, I might have a think about this and put some thoughts up tomorrow.

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