Are you a Leader of Collaboration?

In last week’s #Tchat, we discussed the different between collaboration and polarization and the ways it was used in the workplace. Many contributors gave great examples of situations they’ve come across, their understanding of the two, and the reasons why they feel that an organization promotes one or the other. So, as usual, I’ll spend today’s blog post sharing all the input that this great community had offered through the hour long chat.

First off, let’s discuss the difference between the two. Collaboration is often considered the “coming together” of people and ideas to achieve a specific goal or purpose. It can easily be described as teamwork. Polarization is when individuals work individually towards a goal and/or do not share in the teamwork.

With the world moving so quickly, it would seem as if though a collaborative approach would be best for business. Having diverse thinking and additional teamwork can ensure that projects and goals are efficiently completed. Additionally, this can avoid groupthink or stale ideas, among other benefits. But why does collaboration seem to be a struggle within the workplace? How can we create a culture of collaboration? Leaders: it’s time for you to step up and start encouraging it.

Some ideas:

  • Follow the leader: as a leader, all eyes seem to be on you. This would be a perfect time for you to encourage collaboration by actually participating in collaboration meetings and situations yourself. Be transparent about it. Show your team that much can be done if you take the time to work with others. At the end, give them the results and tell them that it was accomplished because each member of the group played a crucial part.
  • Participate: take the time to make your rounds and participate in some of the meetings and groups that your workers are involved in, even if it’s only for a few minutes once in a while. Ask questions; learn about which each member is contributing; and give feedback.
  • Create a connection: I know sometimes it can be hard for a leader to know everything about their employees and their unhidden talent/potential. However, if you can have their department managers take the time to learn these things; it can open up opportunities for collaboration. Additionally, have department heads meet with each other to discuss projects or needs going on within each department. Allow the managers to inform the other dept. heads about their employees that might have a skill that can be useful for their needs.
  • Welcome in the devil’s advocate: as mentioned earlier, it’s important to have diverse thinking within a group to ensure that there isn’t any groupthink. Having an alternative perspective or opinion can help others in the group consider additional options or review the situation from all angles. However, make sure your devil’s advocate presents these thoughts in a constructive way rather than a way that will put everyone on the defense.
  • Review your policies: technology has been a great tool to have within the organization but many companies have policies in place that make employees fear using it. Are your policies discouraging employees to utilize it to their best potential? If so, take time to review and revise the policies. If that’s not a feasible option, then take time to clarify any part of the policy so employees feel more comfortable using the technology for communication and collaboration.

Polarization may have occurred when the economy took a turn for the worst. People felt the need to keep their cards close to heart and protect their jobs by having an “every man for themselves” mentality. They may have felt that showing their employer that their sole efforts were directly correlated to an end result can give them a sense of job security. Also, with limited job openings in organizations, workers may have felt the competitive pressure to stand out against other employees for a promotion. All of these situations are understandable but it’s not doing your business any good if you allow that to be the norm. As a leader, make it your effort to create a collaborative culture.

If you enjoy topics like this, be sure to check out #tchat on Twitter- Wednesdays at 7pm EST.

More Links:

Smart Leaders Collaborate

Collaboration Mojo Meets Basic Instinct: #Tchat Recap

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Bitrix24: Social Workplace Collaboration Made Easy

 

Recently, an employee of Bitrix24 had reached out to me in regard to their social workplace collaboration platform. Of course, I was intrigued by this because I find these types of tools to be fascinating. Over the past couple years, I have been researching, testing, or using different SaaS to see how it can help organizations be more efficient. Naturally, I wanted to hear more about this and learn about the features it can offer an organization. Stephen Ankenman of Bitrix, Inc. was kind enough to speak with me in regard to their concept.

Ashley Perez (AP): What is the core concept of Bitrix24 and why did you decide to develop this idea?

Stephen Ankenman (SA): “Small businesses need classic intranet tools and social collaboration just like enterprises. Our driving philosophy is to unite the management of a company to a single platform that can handle all standard company operations: vertical and horizontal, internal and external.”

AP: What are some key features that help employees collaborate and coordinate more effectively?

SA: “Content can be shared instantly to any subset of users, whether it is a comment or file. Internal notifications, automatic reporting, and the activity stream replace a lot of email and greatly reduce the need to repeat information. For some companies, simply having anywhere, anytime access to files, tasks, and other data is a game-changer. There are also Business Processes available in the CRM and file library which can draw on other parts of the intranet, such as the company structure, instant notifications, and tasks to keep operations running smoothly.”

 AP: How does this SaaS help all levels of employees communicate and socialize?

SA: “The Activity Stream keeps users informed of everything that pertains to them and provides commenting and other methods of instant feedback (public or private). The social layer of Bitrix24 provides discussion threads directly attached to objects such as tasks and files, and spontaneous conversations can be started, shared, and enhanced with new files, pictures and videos.”

 AP: How has this helped project management?

SA: “Any number of project groups can be formed. Tasks inside groups can be viewed as a Gantt chart and are visible to all users.  With a group-only activity stream on the front page, it’s very easy to get a snapshot of what is going on.”

AP: What are the different features that help employees navigate to find relevant documents, knowledge-base, information, and resources?

SA: “ Search is very powerful in Bitrix24.  Search covers file content, comments, tasks, wiki entries, the CRM and other objects. It’s important to note that simply having all of these objects under one roof provides a distinct advantage for Bitrix24’s search.”

AP: Is Bitrix24 flexible and mobile? If so, please explain.

SA: “Bitrix24’s CRM is highly customizable to reflect products, sales stages, contact types, and all other nuances that are unique to each company’s sales process. In the intranet side, the access system lets you share what you want how you want and with whom you want.

“Business processes, available in the CRM and document library, allow highly specific workflows to be created according to the very specific needs of a company concerning approvals, conditions, and drawing in information at various stages of the workflow.”

Recently, I spoke with an individual, Jim Sweeney, who had started using Bitrix24 for his start-up company’s needs. As he had stated, “I’ve used other platforms before that seemed much more entailed and weren’t really necessary for smaller companies and start-ups like my own.  Bitrix24 helps with communication, organization, and project management. It’s simplified and user friendly so it’s very easy to find the information that you’re looking for. It helps organize each person in our group so we can clearly see what the next milestone is and what the next due date is. It helps us easily link our tasks to our process mapping.

“I can see it being really great for project management, and is especially good for inter-office communication. This is extremely helpful because all of the team members of my company is scattered throughout the country. The communication features are so clear and easy to use that we can get straight to the point rather than having to mess around with customization features.

“The selling point for this platform over larger platforms is the pricing (it makes it easy for small start-ups) and that its simple- I don’t need all the features that larger organizations need. It works for us. There is a very small learning-curve. For smaller companies, we don’t have time to waste on trying to learn every aspect of a platform. We’re more concerned about getting our product/service up and running. Bitrix24 takes away the hassle and allows us to get to what matters.”

After speaking with Stephen about Bitrix24 and also hearing some real, customer feedback, I’d have to say I’m impressed with this. Sometimes having too many customization features can be daunting, confusing, and can actually slow down productivity. I like the fact that Bitrix24 allows companies and users to get straight to the point and makes using the SaaS a lot easier.

If you’re interested in learning more about this company, please feel free to go to www.bitrix24.com

Life at a Startup

I’ve been networking with a lot of job seekers lately who have expressed their frustrations about finding good jobs in corporate America. Some of them have considered working for startups even though they know that sometimes working with a startup could be unstable. Others have even considered starting their own. Regardless, many of them were curious to know more about life at a startup to determine if it was the right choice for them. Luckily, I have recently connected with an individual who lives in Silicon Valley and has worked in different startup environments. She was happy to provide useful information about this.

Jocelyn Aucoin, who currently works at WorkSimple in San Francisco, has been kind enough to answer the following questions about startups. Here are some details to help give a realistic idea about it:

Ashley Perez (AP): How did you get involved with startups?

Jocelyn Aucoin (JA): “A good friend of mine originally approached me about helping him out with a startup he was working with, knowing I had a background of running my own business and knowing how key an autonomous work ethic is to working at a startup.  I was immediately hooked. Startup life really feeds my love of building and creating.”

AP: What are some of the most interesting lessons you’ve learned?

JA: “I’ve learned to be just as proud of my failures as I am my successes. If I’m not pushing myself, if I’m staying comfortable, then I’m probably pretty safe, right? But if I’m working to constantly do more with what I know, challenge the status quo, and think ‘sideways’, then I’m going to fail. It’s inevitable. And I’m totally fine with that. I’d rather try and fail then never try.”

AP: What are some examples of things that go against common belief in terms of starting a startup?

JA: “I think there’s a misconception that people ‘settle’ for working at startups. This is just not true. The brightest, bravest, most creative people I’ve met in my working career are the ones working for startups. If you want to be inspired – daily – it’s where you want to be.”

AP: What are some of the challenges that startup employees face?

JA: “The biggest challenge for me personally is the extreme ebb and flow. The work pace is unpredictable and things happen fast and without warning. That means you have to be on your toes at all times, ready to go. And whereas that’s difficult in terms of planning out a week or a month, it’s a catch-22 because it’s also what keeps me from getting bored.”

AP: What are some realistic situations that employees can deal with when accepting a position with a startup (i.e. lack of benefits, lack of stability?)

JA: “Well, there aren’t always a lack of benefits. That can be the case – but not always. It depends on the type of work you’re in and the level of the startup. But yeah – it’s realistic to expect a bit of instability. Again I’d say that’s what makes it exciting. It’s a bit like walking a tightrope. It’s not for the faint of heart.”

AP: What is the difference of a startup environment vs. an established company?

JA: “Established companies typically have ways that things have been done and they require things be done in this way. Startup culture is built around innovation – and that shakes down to every level. They will generally welcome new ways of thinking and new ideas which breeds energy and creativity. You notice the difference from the moment you step foot inside a startup. You can feel energy.”

AP: What is some advice you can give to job seekers who are considering working for a start up?

JA: “Practical advice? Identify the companies where you can see yourself and start connecting with the people who work there via in any way you can. Don’t send a blind resume. Instead, say you’d like to chat and share ideas. Remember, startup culture is about collaboration and ideation. And things move fast.  Also, these places don’t have big HR systems in place, so don’t expect process to move in an overly processed way. General advice? Buckle. your. seatbelt!”

I was thankful for connecting with Jocelyn because this seems to be a hot topic out in the working world. Her answers proved that startup life can be exciting. Also, working for a startup can have an equal share of failures mixed with successes. If your personality and work ethic match some of the things Jocelyn had mentioned, I’m sure you will find your experience rewarding no matter what the outcome may be.

 More about Jocelyn: Jocelyn Aucoin is the Community and Social Media Manager at San Francisco and Minneapolis – based startup, WorkSimple. Find her at Blue Bottle Coffee or on Twitter at @jocelynaucoin.

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Will Your Company Benefit from Social Media?

Recently I was involved in a discussion regarding social media in the workplace. Different individuals in this discussion had debated whether or not using social media would be beneficial or counter-productive. Although I do agree that some organizations wouldn’t find social media helpful, there are plenty of other companies that could use it as a useful tool. Today’s post will help educate companies on how social media can be functional.

The individuals debating that social media would be counter-productive mainly thought that it was only for personal use. They wondered how “gossip” or quirky status updates would help and believed that this would distract employees from doing their jobs. Although those are true points, there are also different social media sites that are geared towards business use. For example, Work Simple, Salesforce, and Yammer are three companies that come to mind.

If utilized properly, social media could be beneficial to companies for the following reasons:

Collaboration is easier. Technology is allowing businesses to be able to reach audiences on a global scale. To be able to keep up with this: employees are now available around the world; are working remotely while traveling; or are working different shifts to be accessible to all time zones. If all employees can’t participate in business meetings, it can be very hard for teams to effectively work together. Social media can allow employees to collaborate at any time and in any location so no one ends up missing out.

Employees get more exposure to executives and managers. Social media allows managers, HR, and executives to easily see which employees are influential. Many employees can have a hard time proving they are worthy of a promotion or raise. This tool will allow management to see employees’ documented efforts. It will display their progression and contributions in a way that validates their eligibility for promotion or rewards. It is a social recognition and performance management tool.

It can increase employee engagement. Social media can empower employees by giving them a voice. Additionally, having a tool that keeps a record of employees’ suggestions or ideas can make them become accountable for following through.

It can allow employees to communicate in a way that creates a solid community within the organization. Employees might work in different departments, locations, or time zones. Or, employees might work in a role that has them strapped to a desk or on the road. With those being realistic factors, employees can’t always converge in a way to get to know each other. Social media can allow employees to communicate throughout all levels of the business-spectrum. This is a team building tool that can create stronger cross-departmental teams and company community.

Employees will know who the correct point of contact is. I know I’ve wasted so much time trying to figure out who I need to contact for more information or assistance. This tool can allow employees know who does what in the business so they can get what they need faster. It can also help employees follow up easier by letting them to see who else was working on a project/task. This feature permits them to contact that person for clarification, status updates, or help. Pictures can also help employees put a name and job function to a face.

It can encourage learning and development. Employees can connect with others throughout the company and set up mentoring sessions. Additionally, this can be used as a knowledge base in which employees can find information faster so they can do their job more efficiently or help customers quicker. In addition to this, those using the tool can expose other users to helpful information by posting useful resources, invites to webinars, and so on.

It is a brainstorming tool. Great ideas don’t always get formulated right away. Discussion boards can be used as brainstorming meetings which will let employees provide thoughtful, innovative, and creative ideas when it comes to them. Having suggestions easily available can allow other members to jump in, build off of it, and develop it into something functional.

There are so many benefits to using business social media that I could go on and on about it. I feel that majority of companies could use it to their advantage if they utilize and customize it in a way that suits their industry, mission, and culture. Hopefully this information can open up minds to the endless possibilities that can come from using this tool.

If you want to read more about the benefits of business social media, please click on the following links:

Yammer-Business Benefits
Work Simple- Performance Management for Social Goals
Salesforce- The Social Enterprise Solution