This past week people from all over the world attended the Cisco Collaboration Summit for a variety of updates on Cisco’s strategy and product offerings. This year’s theme was Empower, Engage, Innovate. Empower people to make the best use of their workspaces and engage in today’s virtual work environment through mobility, cloud and video. The result is to innovate by discovering new relationships and ideas. Watch the powerful keynote speech along with a case study from Virgin Media here.

The highlight of the keynote speech was a demonstration of the major enhancements to WebEx resulting in a full-scale unified communications solution.

WebEx Meetings, the online meeting application we’ve used for years, still provides an interactive forum for groups to meet and exchange ideas. The major addition to the offering is WebEx Meetings Server. For the first time, an organization can choose to deploy the same WebEx Meetings functionality within their data center on a dedicated server. This allows for greater control and a private cloud implementation.

WebEx Telepresence (formerly Callway) enhances traditional WebEx Meetings with video capabilities. Features include point-to-point video chat or up to nine-way video calling, as well as, a private company directory.

WebEx Messenger provides instant messaging and presence capabilities which includes recommended methods of communications. For example, if a user is on a video call, it will suggest sending an email or leaving a voicemail.

WebEx Social (formerly Quad) provides a social hub within an organization and facilitates collaboration and knowledge sharing. For example, users can type in a project or a question and obtain a list of results. Furthermore, users can seamlessly connect to others within the application from a click of a button.

In a compelling case study, Virgin Media discussed how a combination of these solutions helped enhance both vertical and horizontal collaboration within their organization. Vertical collaboration is enhancing collaboration with the same people users already collaborate with. Horizontal collaboration, on the other hand, creates new opportunities for people to collaborate by expanding the network of people available to collaborate with.

Room based telepresence systems, along with WebEx UC solutions, create a more efficient means of collaboration by connecting a larger and more diverse group of people. The results include increased collaboration along with faster and more agile business decisions.

Additional Resources
Cisco Announces New Cloud Collaboration Capabilities

IBM conducts a biannual study of global CEOs to determine the latest trends in global organizations.  In a HBR chat, Saul Berman and Stephen Hasselmann discuss some of the findings from their recent study. If you have an hour to invest, the recording is well worth the time; otherwise the highlights are available here.

The key takeaway from both the study and the chat is the value of connecting employees, partners and customers. Technology is changing rapidly and the advances that result are changing the business and economic landscape for most companies. We are more connected than ever and the most effective CEOs not only understand this but embrace it.

The study highlights three main beliefs of exceptional CEOs which are:

  • Organizational openness and collaboration
  • Engaging customers as individuals
  • Amplifying innovation with partnerships

Essentially, these CEOs understand that collaboration drives innovation and a shared purpose drives motivation. Providing quarterly updates on company performance, the mission and future goals helps drive an open culture where employees understand and support the company’s vision.  As a result, employees can become more empowered by making task related decisions; such as scheduling collaboration sessions or determining procedures. This results in job enrichment which can increase motivation.

Additionally, these CEOs understand the power of social media and tailoring products and services to individual needs. Engaging with customers allows organizations to improve response and accuracy to market needs. Nilofer Merchant wrote a great series on the Social Era stating that organization need to have conversations with customers; they should be sharing experiences, not telling customer what to think and how to act.

Finally, these CEOs understand that partnerships can push collaboration beyond traditional boundaries. Every organization has a set of core competencies, specific skills that they excel at, and the best CEOs form partnerships around these core competencies. Instead of trying to do everything in-house, they work with other organizations to generate new revenues sources or even create new industries.

However, understanding and embracing the value of connections is useless if an organization does not invest in the tools and resources needed to connect employees to colleagues, customers and business partners. Video conferencing and UC solutions are a critical component of any savvy organization’s IT strategy. These solutions allow people to connect effortlessly, as well as, develop trust and strengthen relationships through face-to-face communication and casual interactions.

We’ve all been there, in that meeting that just seems to drag. You can’t help but look at your phone and think of all the better things you could be doing with your time. The longer you sit, the most frustrated you become as people get off topic and nothing actually seems to get accomplished. Instead of getting annoyed, stop and think, is this dreadful meeting actually your fault?

While your initial response might be absolutely not, the more you think about it there’s a slight possibility. Here’s how:

You Assume All Meetings Are a Waste of Time
If you go into a meeting assuming it will be a waste of time, it most likely will be. Negativity can not only affect your attitude but the attitudes of everyone else around you. Drumming your fingers, fidgeting, sighing and constantly checking your phone or tablet can make even the most patient participant anxious. Before you go into a meeting, take a deep breath and clear out any preconceived notions of a dreadful meeting. The power of positive can have a dramatic effect on productivity.

You Accept Every Meeting Invite
Part of the reason people think all meetings are a waste of time is because they accept every meeting invite regardless of whether or not they can provide value. As a result, the meeting fails to keep their interest and their mind starts wandering to everything else they could be doing. This leads to the negative and anxious attitude that can poison even the best meeting. Prior to accepting a meeting invite, think about whether or not you can provide valuable insight on the topic being discussed. If not, politely recuse yourself.

You Have Video But Don’t Use It
It’s so easy, and tempting, to put yourself on mute and start multitasking on an audio call. However, full engagement is critical to meeting success as it allows you to provide valuable thoughts and insights. Following along on the sidelines may lead you to miss key opportunities to contribute. Video conferencing forces you to focus on the matters at hand which can lead to enhanced creativity and quicker decisions.

You Don’t Create an Agenda
Meetings are notorious for getting off track. One thing leads to another and the next think you know the meeting is over and not a single item got accomplished. If you are leading a meeting, take fifteen minutes to put together an agenda of what needs to be discussed and what decisions need to be made. Then, if the meeting starts to get off track you can direct discussion back to the matters at hand.

You Get Meeting Crazy
Contrary to popular belief; a meeting does not need to be scheduled for every single decision or update. Save meetings for when discussion is absolutely critical; such as brainstorming or training sessions. If you simply need a quick vote on option A or option B; or want to send/receive a status update, email works just as well.

So the next time you’re bored to tears in a meeting, think about all the things you could have done differently to make the meeting more successful.

If collaboration was so easy, everyone would be doing it and great ideas would grow like flowers on a sunny spring day. Unfortunately, it’s just not that simple and great ideas are not guaranteed; no matter how collaboration tools an organization has in place. In an HBR article, Nilofer Merchant lists “Eight Dangers of Collaboration” which are really roadblocks that need to be overcome.

This leads to two truths that must be accepted in order to successfully collaborate. 

  1. Ambiguity is inherent
  2. Conflict is inevitable. 

In most instances where collaboration is needed there is no right answer; multiple plausible options and a few great options will exist. The challenge is combining different characteristics of these options to create a solution.  As a result, there is an inherent ambiguity that is associated with collaboration that must be accepted. 

Collaboration involves “complex problems that are beyond the function of one domain or expertise;” meaning team members must be comfortable not having all the answers. This can be difficult for driven individual who like black and white answer, enjoy being the “expert” and vehemently argue their point of view in order to garner support. However, accepting the fact that ideas from a variety of participants will contribute to a comprehensive solution allows team members to open their minds. As a result, they are able to see different sides to the project they would not have distinguished on their own.   

On the other hand, team members should not be afraid to be the expert from time to time. A high-performance team will consist of members with multiple background and areas of expertise; therefore, each individual must be an expert or a leader at one point during the collaboration. Otherwise, why are they even on the team? Successful collaboration hinges on different leaders and experts stepping up to offer ideas; but, relinquishing control to another expert when the time comes.

The inherent ambiguity and multitude of options are going to lead to conflicting opinions. Debate among opposing idea and possible solutions is what makes collaboration successful; if everyone just agreed, important aspects could be missed.  It is important to note, however, that debate and argue are two very separate things. Arguing is closed-minded and based on an “I’m right, you’re wrong” mentality while debating is open-minded and based on a “devil’s advocate” mentality. One is productive, the other is destructive.

Constantly challenging assumptions is what drives innovation and debating different points of view is necessary for multi-faceted problems. However, there is a balance between challenging assumptions and going down the wrong path. Opposing views for the sake of opposing views can quickly become unproductive. Teams must be able to recognize when a consensus has been reached and leaders must be able to redirect the topic if collaboration has run awry.

Accepting ambiguity and conflict allows for the limitless collaboration that sparks innovation and creates competitive advantages. Resisting ambiguity and conflict leads to stagnant collaboration that can leave an organization vulnerable.

With the Olympics taking place in London this year, many local businesses throughout the city braced themselves for the increase in tourists and potential disruption of daily operations. While the actual totals are still being calculated, the total population of London was expected to expand by a third, with approximately an additional million people using the “Tube” or subway each day. What was normally a 10-15 minute commute to work could take 30- 45 minutes; placing a significant burden on employees and corporations alike.

Advanced planning and preparation were needed prior to the Olympic Games to keep corporations and other organizations running smoothly and avoid lost revenue or extended downtime. The Cabinet Office released a guide which addressed many potential obstacles companies might face in areas affected by the Games. Preparing Your Business for the Games suggested continuity plans that could be implemented to minimize the impact of increased traffic, technology failures and supply chain interruptions.

A significant concern was employee availability, as staff wanted to take time off to attend or volunteer at the games, or simply because they did not want to deal with the increased congestion traveling to work. As a result, many organizations allowed more flexible work options; such as working from home or at a different office, or altering work times to off-peak hours. Unified communications (UC) and video conferencing solutions provided an optimal platform for staff to stay engaged at work while avoiding congestion from the Games.

Karen Bond, a Director at the London office of an international consulting firm, said she encouraged most of her employees to work from home during the Olympic Games. “It was just easier than dealing with the traffic and the Tube. We kept in touch using email, phone calls and instant messaging but I did miss the face-to-face interaction with my staff.” says Ms. Bond.

Another concern was a technology failure; according to the Cabinet Office “it is possible that internet services may be slower during the Games or in very severe cases there may be drop outs due to an increased number of people accessing the internet.” Some businesses turned to cloud services to support the collaboration solutions in place by addressing network dysfunction. These services ensure video calls and other systems run over the network go smoothly no matter how much or how little traffic exists at a given time.

As the Olympic Torch has been extinguished and employees return to business as usual; companies can still use the Olympics as a learning experience. Doing things a little differently for a short period of time can offer unexpected rewards. Maybe the increased use of a video conferencing has reacquainted companies with all of the benefits video offers; from reduced travel time and expenses to a highly functional remote workforce. Or, perhaps implementing a business continuity plan prepared organizations for an unexpected power outage, snow storm or other natural disaster.