Collaboration is the new buzzword in business today. Everywhere you turn, someone is talking about a new way to connect people together. And why not? Collaboration features tremendous benefits including driving creativity and innovation. As a result, many organizations are trying to foster more collaborative environments through the development of a collaboration strategy.

Pixar, the animator of our favorite blockbuster hits, created a highly collaborative environment and has been reaping numerous benefits. Every single one of their films has been a hit from the early days of Toy Story and most recently Monsters U. Ed Catmull, President of Pixar, truly recognized the importance of collaboration in the creativity process.

In an HBR article he states “creativity involves a large number of people from different disciplines working effectively together to solve a great many problems.” While developing and then producing a film seems to require far more creativity, many enterprise organizations can benefit from this process. Creativity doesn’t just have to be in the form of art; it can come in the form of a new product that revolutionizes the market or a new, more efficient process that reduces costs.

Getting people to work together effectively can be tough though. Trust is a key component. As we previously mentioned, trust allows people to freely express their ideas because they’re not afraid of being judged. Therefore, Pixar promotes “an environment that nurtures trusting and respectful relationships and unleashing everyone’s creativity.”

A trusting environment is the foundation of any collaborative organization. If people are not free to express themselves and their ideas they will simply follow the status-quo instead of challenging the norm. Pixar encourages their employees to express their ideas in three ways. First, employees can approach members of any department to solve a problem without having to go through management. Second, animation work is shown daily and members from any discipline within the organization can note what they liked and didn’t like and why. Third, by encouraging new employees to speak their mind and challenge the way things are done.

“My intent is to persuade them that we haven’t gotten it all figured out and that we want everyone to question why we’re doing something that doesn’t seem to make sense to them. We do not want people to assume that because we are successful, everything we do is right.” – Ed Catmull

While the animation sessions are very industry specific, all organizations should encourage fresh perspectives and ensure that different departments can work together effectively. There are many technology solutions that can facilitate this; however, simply implementing technology is not enough. A clear collaboration strategy that focuses on strategic collaborations that deliver upon the organization’s goals must be in place.

A few weeks ago we discussed the characteristics of high performance teams; ranging from member diversity to conflict resolution skills. But how do you ensure the success of a team? Unfortunately, achieving the level of cohesion required to have a high performance team seems to depend more on luck than anything else.

Well, maybe not. A new study from Alex “Sandy” Pentland suggests that building great teams is more of a science than an art. In his HBR webinar, The New Science of Building Great Teams, he discusses several points; including how different communication patterns enhance team creativity and productivity. If you have an hour to invest, this video is well worth the time.

The key take away is how we communicate is more important that what we communicate.

Pentland states that communication patterns; or the manner in which teams communicate, are actually the most important predictor of a team’s success. The best teams produce a “buzz” that is noticeable but indefinable. So what constitutes as a “buzz-worthy” communication pattern?

Participants have high energy, they continually converse with each other and there is little to no dead space between conversations. Side bar conversations coincide with, but do not detract from, the main group discussion. All participants are actively engaged in discussions; this is shown through both verbal and nonverbal cues, such as nodding along or interjecting short thoughts like really or tell me more. There is an equal contribution rate from all members of the team. Every team member communicates with every other team member; there is not one or two people who dominate conversation.

Finally, team members have a high social intelligence. Essentially, they think about what other people are thinking and are able to successfully navigate complex social situations and environments. This also means that team members have high exploration tendencies; meaning they frequently interact with others outside of their immediate team or work group.

What does this mean for remote work teams?

According to Pentland, “The most valuable form of communication is face-to-face. E-mail and texting are the least valuable.” Therefore, organizations that rely heavily on remote work teams should invest in some type of visual collaboration or unified communications platform. Video helps remote teams establish the trust factor required for high energy, high engagement conversations. Communicating over email or virtual discussion boards can get complicated and frustrating for participants; thereby limiting their creativity and productivity.

What’s even better is that cloud solutions make visual collaboration even more attainable. Gone are the days where organizations have to invest heavily in hardware or software. UC solutions allow organizations to simply purchase a license and users can be up and running in a matter of minutes.

Building a great team can be incredibly challenging. However, when the right team does come together it can accomplish things far greater than ever imagined.

“You can have brilliant ideas, but if you can’t get them across, your ideas won’t get you anywhere.” - Lee Iacocca

The Overlooked Benefit of Video

As a manager in the marketing department I have the opportunity to oversee a team of people who are all dedicated to helping push the power of video and its advantages across several industries.

Part of the marketing process includes coordinating campaigns and messaging across multiple locations. Creative ideas also need to continuously flow back and forth.  As a result, I am on video with several of my remote team members multiple times during the day.

What struck me this week is that I don’t even realize that I am speaking to someone who is thousands of miles away.

The power of video has made it possible to bring the entire marketing team together (located across three time zones and four states) and brainstorm ideas as if they were all sitting right next to me.  I can’t count the number of times a light bulb has gone off for me or a member of the team and I’ve seen that “AH HA” moment right in front of me, in glorious HD video.

It is very easy to get lost in the technology and its practical use cases; such as capturing a remote deposition, monitoring a manufacturing line, or managing a sales team. But what we cannot forget is the power of video to unify people and ideas.  When a team is able to come together and share their ideas there comes a point when a great idea or thought can take on a life of its own.  The idea itself becomes something even more powerful when everyone “gets it.”

Calculating the financial ROI of a VC/UC investment is certainly important. But when thinking about what you currently get out of your video conferencing investment or what you could get out of the technology, do not forget to include the human factor. This technology can break down barriers for your remote teams and allow them to work as a collective unit, in a way you never thought possible.