I had to work from home yesterday because the baby-sitter called in sick and my wife had an important meeting. I figured it was no big deal because the kids could just play with their toys and then during my back-to-back meetings I could put a movie in to keep them settled.

First meeting of the day was a weekly status with my sales manager. We were discussing how to proceed with an important account when my cat Ziggy jumped up and knocked into my camera. I put Ziggy back on the floor, fixed the camera and continued my meeting; but, Ziggy jumped right back up and started hissing and clawing at my computer screen.

He really isn’t a fan of new people, I’m not sure why but he gets defensive. My friends told me I should apply to get on some cat whisperer show but that seems a bit excessive. At any rate, I grabbed Ziggy, put him outside the room and then closed the door so he couldn’t get back in and the rest of the meeting went smoothly.

Note to self: make sure Ziggy is secured before my next meeting because I’d really like to keep the door cracked in case the kids need me.

Later that day I had a call with two of our engineers about a client’s project and. I made sure Ziggy was secured and things seemed to be going well except every now and then I kept seeing them smile a little. I didn’t think much of it; maybe someone in the office just said something funny. About fifteen minutes later, Anne starts laughing. Now I know something is going on so I finally asked what was so funny.

Apparently my children had infiltrated the room and were making funny faces behind me. Fish faces, crazy eyes, the whole works. Wonderful.

As I turned around I could hear them scampering off. I apologized for the distraction and both Jason and Anne laughed it off saying how adorable my kids were. It worked out okay but thank goodness this was just an internal call. I can’t even imagine the level of embarrassment if I had been on a call with an important client or, even worse, a potential new client.

That’s when I learned the importance of self-view. It’s always a good idea to keep an eye on what’s going on behind you. Perhaps it’s your children having fun, an errant pet or an angry co-worker thrashing around. You just never know.

I stumbled across an old HBR article the other day called Introducing the Collaboration Curve. Despite the World of Warcraft analogies, it raised a few very interesting points that not only relate to video conferencing but to the value of collaboration itself.

The first point the authors discuss is the “network effect” which states the value of a node in a network rises exponentially as more nodes are added to it. Essentially, “the more participants –and interactions between those participants – you add to a carefully designed and nurtured environment, the more the rate of performance improvement goes up.”

This makes sense for video conferencing solutions. What value does video really have if you can’t connect to anyone of relevance? Twenty years ago only executives of large corporations had video conferencing solutions and the technology was generally only used for high-level strategy meetings. Even if a business partner had video, differences in platforms, firewalls and network exchanges most likely prevented a successful connection.

However, new trends in interoperability and cloud video services are allowing participants to connect via video anytime, anywhere, on any device. As a result, more and more organizations are adopting video solutions and the value of video communications has been increasing exponentially. Almost every call I have with a colleague or partner is over video nowadays, granted I work at a video company, but it’s just as easy, if not easier than picking up the telephone. All I have to do is type in a name and click a button; there’s no hassle of looking up and then dialing a phone number.

But how does the network effect relate to collaboration?

This is the true insight of the article. The collaboration curve, or the network effect on collaboration, holds “the potential to mobilize larger and more diverse groups of participants to innovate and create new value.”

But what exactly does that mean?

If an organization gives one person the opportunity and tools to collaborate, the likelihood of a breakthrough idea is minimal because this person doesn’t have anyone else to connect to. However, give two people the opportunity and tools to collaborate; they can connect with each other, brainstorm, and the likelihood of a breakthrough idea increases. As more and more people within an organization are given the opportunity and tools to collaborate, a larger and more diverse group of participants is created and the likelihood of a breakthrough idea has increased exponentially.

This is social collaboration at its core – casual interactions among colleagues, business partners and even customers that enable creativity and drive innovation. Unified communications and video conferencing solutions connect geographically disperse employees; expanding the reach of collaboration beyond a single location.

The perpetual wondering of what your colleague looks like no longer crosses your mind because you are able to see them over video. A relationship develops from the casual face-to-face chat at the beginning of a meeting because it’s kind of hard to hide behind the mute button and finish up an email while waiting for everyone to join the call.

The value of the collaboration curve lies here; when colleagues and business partners with different backgrounds or areas of expertise are connected effortlessly. Ideas are bounced back and forth for a second opinion from an impartial third-party and value is created through new products or processes that can revolutionize a company or even develop a new market.

Video conferencing solutions are quickly replacing the frequent high-level meetings that are standard in most organizations. Executive teams typically meet with the managers of different business units or locations to discuss business strategy, profitability and other key deliverables. However, many times these managers are scattered across the globe making frequent in-person meetings costly and time consuming. While video is great for meetings with two to three sites it can be difficult to hold a group meeting with several worldwide sites over a video bridge.

In many instances, the active speaker view limits the continuous presence of the remote sites. When the CEO speaks he cannot gauge the reaction of the site he is addressing until they speak and the view shifts. Even more frustrating is when a member of the Executive team is speaking but the view keeps shifting between sites where participants are rustling papers or murmuring agreements. Despite all of the audio visual components, these meetings just don’t provide the same experience of having the meeting in-person at headquarters.

A global Real Estate firm faced similar challenges and wanted a solution that simulated their quarterly management meetings; from eye contact to speaker priority. They wanted the ability to customize the way remote sites were displayed in continuous presence views plus a concurrent view of the active speaker. Additionally, they wanted to give the CEO and other Executives speaker priority; whenever they spoke the active speaker would switch to them regardless of whichever site may be speaking.

Since a standard video bridge did not provide the flexible windowing capabilities, the ability to place sites in a specific location on screen, our engineering team created a bridgeless video bridge.

With the help of three displays, three Cisco C90s, an array of audio visual equipment and a lot of programming; a new Executive Boardroom was created. The left and right displays featured continuous presence of each site, unless content was being displayed, while the center display switched with the active speaker. Additional programming gave headquarters speaker priority; anytime the CEO spoke the active speaker would automatically revert back to him.

Since most of the remote sites did not have three displays, the continuous and active presence capabilities needed to be condensed into one video feed. A little extra programming created the layout below. This allowed remote sites to continuously and easily view the headquarters location while still having a larger view of the active speaker and the presence of all sites.

Watch the video below for a quick demonstration on how this amazing technology works!

Conflict is a part of everyday life; whether it’s someone cutting you in line at Starbucks, an argument with your spouse about what to eat for dinner, or a disagreement with a co-worker about how to prepare for a zombie attack. In these instances, the conflict isn’t really that big of problem. But, what about disagreements over pricing for a new product or departmental funding? These situations can have major ramifications among team members and some organizations will try to avoid conflict at all costs. But is that healthy? Should conflict be eliminated?

In many cases the answer is no, opposing opinions and ideas are crucial to the success of an organization. Continually questioning what is right allows organizations to stay ahead of trends and adapt to market changes. In fact, in his recent HBR blog article Mark de Rond states that “rivalry within a team helps weed out inefficiencies and – however uncomfortable it may feel at times – also keeps people at the top of their game.”

If Isaac Newton had not questioned gravity or Steve Jobs not questioned the use for a personal computer where would we be today? The highest performing teams are usually composed of a diverse group of people; different backgrounds, different specialties, different ways of thinking. With so many differences, conflict is bound to happen. The difference between a high-performance team and a low-performance team is how the conflict is handled.

According to Donald Brown in An Experiential Approach to Organizational Development there are five different ways to deal with conflict. These are based on two dimensions; the desire to satisfy others and the desire to satisfy self.

  • Avoiding: people who have a low desire to satisfy themselves and others and are passive aggressive or draw away from conflict.
  • Obliging: people who like to satisfy others and smooth over conflict despite their opposing views.
  • Dominating: people who care more about their personal objectives and ignore the needs of others.
  • Compromising: people who seek out a compromise between all parties leaving everyone only partially satisfied.
  • Integrating: people who seek to examine differences in opinion by sharing information to reach a consensus or win-win situation.

Teams that consist of mainly avoiding, obliging or dominating members will typically have a lower performance because one or two people will dominate the ideas within a group. Important points may be overlooked because members who like to avoid conflict or smooth things over are afraid to upset the harmony of the group.

On the other hand, teams that consist of members who approach conflict with an open mind are more likely to come up with a well-rounded and sustainable solution. Potential holes or flaws are openly discussed and the solution is adapted to address many of these points.

Constantly challenging one another forces everyone to stay at the top of their game. Team members will research and educate themselves more before putting forth an idea in order to answer the team’s constructive criticism. More importantly, if everyone is working towards a common goal, that zombie attack will be a lot easier to fend off at the end of the day. For example, Kim’s idea of commandeering an Army tank sounds great, but when you run out of ammunition and the gas tank is empty, you will be glad that Barry insisted on also bringing a samurai sword.

Video Conferencing in Hollywood

The power of video conferencing to enable true collaboration is something that is understood by everyone who uses the technology. When thinking about industries and occupations that rely on collaboration one has to look no further than film and television production. These are incredibly collaborative mediums that require the deep cooperation and team work of writers, producers, directors, editors, and many others.

Some of today’s biggest blockbusters have crews that number in the thousands. Coordinating that effort can be incredibly daunting, especially with many remote filming locations and production experts spread throughout the world. It’s no wonder that Hollywood has adopted video conferencing as key member of the production team. There are many different applications for video within a film and television production environment including:

Post Production
The editing and post production (sound, special effects, etc) of a film can take more than a year to complete, sometimes longer. Coordinating the director’s schedule with the editor to get a cut of the film completed can be challenging (in many cases the director has moved onto shooting their next film, while the current film is still being worked). Many production companies make use of video conferencing to connect the editor, the director, and other post production team members.

Perhaps what is most amazing about this is how long Hollywood has been utilizing this method. Back in the early 90s, Steven Spielberg had finished filming Jurassic Park in Hawaii and had moved on to shooting Schindler’s List in the middle of a harsh European winter. He would be out shooting the difficult subject matter of the Holocaust during the day and then during his down time he would be reviewing edits and special effects shots from Jurassic Park via video conferencing. This is now status quo in many productions and has allowed creative teams to hit their deadlines despite their location and demands of new projects.

On the television side I can provide a first-hand experience. In 2001 I worked as an intern on the NBC television series, Third Watch. We were shooting throughout New York City on location and in a small studio in Brooklyn. The post production of the show was handled back in Los Angeles. Many times throughout my internship I was able to participate in editing sessions with the director (in NY) and the editors and producers back in Los Angeles.

Production
A new trend has emerged with video and Hollywood and that is video conferencing to help direct during production. Steven Spielberg (our model example again!) and Peter Jackson worked very closely on the recently released Adventures of Tin Tin. This film was not shot in a traditional sense; it was actually actors on a motion capture stage. Cameras captured their movements and this was translated into 3D imagery that could then be manipulated. Spielberg and Jackson were able to “co-direct” several scenes over video and determine the best camera angle, movement, etc.

Casting
Casting for a film can take months or even years. The same challenges exist in getting producers, directors, casting agents, and talent in the same location. Using video, potential stars can do their auditions and readings via video, to be viewed by anyone on the production team anywhere in the world. This certainly doesn’t replace the face to face interaction needed between actor and director, but it provides a good first introduction to new talent.

With film budgets well over $200 million in some cases and schedules that can carry-on for years, video has provided a way to keep everyone connected and on schedule throughout the long process of producing a movie or television series.

Additional Resources:

Bad Robot Case Study from Polycom