Microsoft Teams: a self contained virtual collab-lab


Why do we even need another new technology when employees are happy and comfortable, using emails”

The question (and the preceding discussion) was about Microsoft Teams and came from one of our customers during a recent customer engagement conversation. It’s a valid question, one that we hear practically every day – not only from our customers but also from our internal teams.

Why shift from something, when it really works? 

Technically there are several reasons that underscore the merits of this transition – collaboration, aggregation of all productivity capabilities in one application, security, quality of interface, creating more time etc. Yet, as I stood there thinking on how to respond, my mind was racing to find a simpler narrative to make this argument plausible.

As I looked around the plush Executive Business Center room, I had this epiphany. Here’s how the narrative went,

Our world today: email as the primary medium of communication (fig 1):

Our emails are like meeting rooms (A).

  • If we must send an email to this group, its like getting into a room (A) and sharing some information (along with some files or additional content – that stays in that room). Now, if anyone responds as “reply all”, they create another room where they share another set of information. So, every time we communicate using an email its like going into a conference room, every reply is an adjacent room and every attachment is a bunch of reference material that we use and leave behind in the respective room
  •  When there are any off shoots or side conversations, generating additional emails within a smaller group within the larger group, these create additional rooms (B)
  •  Over time information, notes, insights, files, content etc. reside in these rooms (mails) or in separate rooms/vaults (C) (our own computers or externally in shared storage spaces – SharePoint, OneDrive, OneNote etc.). Similarly, our chats and calls are independent activities, and insights or decisions created in those either do not get saved or stored as above.

Our organization today is all about multiple project teams, workgroups, cohorts etc., who need to operate within a closed inner loop. Within this loop, to search for information, notes or files (that were shared), entails searching through all these multiple rooms and vaults (either by physically opening each of them or by using some sort of search command), which either results in higher email time or repetitive efforts to reshare information.

Imagine physically running through each of the rooms and rummaging through all the stuff kept in each of them to figure out the right stuff that we need for use. It’s pretty much like that experience.

Also, if a new member has to be inducted into the project midway, imagine the complexity involved – one has to find all the relevant material from respective rooms or vaults or calendars or notes to share with them as individual files or links for them to get up to speed.

Needless to say, security across can be a complex subject when the project is sensitive.

 Future: Microsoft Teams (fig 2):

Now, imagine as a project team or workgroup or functional cohort, being in one big (secure) room – a virtual Collab-Lab (instead of multiple rooms or vaults or video conferencing centers etc.,) with the ability to:

  • converse and communicate (using different medium like chat, video, meetings) across one big table (A)
  • share and store all the content, that gets shared within the team in a central vault right within the room (B)
  • record notes, plan our schedules, track our progress, share fun sentiments, and do much (much) more (C)
  • have smaller side conversations with a sub group, on a sub topic, in a corner of this big room (channels) (D)
  • induct a new team member quickly with immediate access to historical conversations, notes, files, and other important information (E)

So, now searching for anything is to just a search within this one big room – simpler, easier, cleaner and less time consuming.

The idea of this virtual all-inclusive Collab-Lab that empowered teams with more productivity and time, seem to resonate deeply with the customer team.

The modern workplace or “new world of work” as we have come to know it as, is all about creating time for doing more with our lives. The real power of technology will be measured with how much it helps us do with our time.

Microsoft Teams is right up there in empowering us to achieve more.          

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The article was first published on LinkedIn

5 things the new age leaders must do to stay relevant


 

The present day workplace is changing at a rapid pace. The traditional set up of a few years back that comprised of a set of organized and structured physical work area routines along with the well laid out organization interaction and process norms, have become archaic. In some cases, even ceased to exist.

In its place, is rapidly emerging a workplace structure that is everything but structure. With bombardment of information and ideas from all directions, an external marketplace that is evolving at an unthinkable pace and most importantly a workforce that is energized with chaos and clutter, the key values that are revered today are agility, nimbleness, adaptability, multi-dimensional etc.

How does Leadership operate in these times? After all many leaders (at least majority), belong to an structured era of the past – that was structured, organized, hierarchical, orderly and are desperately trying to cope up with the new era. How do they stay relevant?

As I think of it more & more, I figure there are these 5 must do’s (IMHO), that leaders can do, for starters:

  1. Not judge the new era from a distance. Dive in. Seek help and internalize: The way of this new era is that of being continuously alive to multiple dimensions at any point of time. The millennials (the key players of this era) like more energy, conversations, ideas, collaborative environment, doing more. When all of this happen at the same time, it may look immensely disorganized and disoriented to leaders (or anyone who likes a bit of planning and order). While the urge to bring in a more organized way of doing things would be high, the advisable approach would be to learn the new way. Understand how the new flock do things. Roll up their sleeves and participate in conversations (as much as possible). Listen and observe intently to figure out what’s going on. Appoint mentors from the new generation to help decipher their thinking and ideologies.
  2. Embrace Technology: This is oxygen. The world is driven by technology (Devices, apps etc.). More and more technology seeping in at an unthinkable pace into our workplace to make our lives more connected, collaborative and portable. Apathy for technology will only affect one’s personal brand adversely, as that will carry the risk of the leader being perceived as a derailer or roadblock to the Future of the Workplace. With the world moving towards the cloud & mobility, it’s imperative for leaders to be proactive in understanding and learning how their worlds will change. While being tech savvy wasn’t a “must have” till some years back, it is so now.
  3. Being Social: Let’s face it. Social ecosystem is here to stay. While it was just another place to showcase oneself till sometime back, now it’s the space to create global communities to accelerate learning, business, collective intelligence and collaborative thinking. For today’s workforce, it as mandatory to be on top of what’s happening around the word in their domain, real time. These ideas and information, seamlessly flow into conversations and aid the collective intelligence Leaders who aren’t aligned to this world, find it (or may find it), difficult (and intimidating, at times) to comprehend the energy and context. On the contrary, a more socially active leader, has the advantage of not only being aligned to this world, but also being a proponent to the new age thinking. It does create an inspired climate.
  4. Being patient and tolerant: In my experience, I find a lot of leaders being restless trying to cope with the pace, the multi-dimensional thinking, the seemingly disorganized way of operations, the constant buzz of conversations, the seemingly lack of focus and deep thinking moments. It is and will be challenging. It’s a transformation – more of an adaptive one, where leaders have to almost discard their existing core and build another one. While the primary accountability of the leadership still remains the same – making critical strategic decisions, the environment surrounding it has changed. It will require a lot of patience and tolerance, to adapt to this changed world that may not align to one’s personal beliefs. For example: Simple transformative instances of adjusting to modern open and flexible workplaces, or getting used to people doing multiple things during meetings over multiple devices (responding to mails, tweeting, etc.), or warming up to meeting conversations with a flurry of energetic and fast paced ideas being thrown,… can be demanding for leaders who are used to having an agenda and an organized routine to their meetings. Instead of thrusting order, the key will be to embrace the chaos – with patience and tolerance.
  5. Ask & Listen: This is an era of conversations. Leaders need to be conversation creators, providing opportunities for the energetic minds buzzing with ideas to constantly express their thoughts. This isn’t a generation that will warm up to the “one-way tell and direct” style. This is an era where hacking is the way to do things – pose a question, let the minds around storm and hack a solution. A leader’s role is to Ask the most relevant and pertinent question (or pose the most burning problem), and allow the system to work on it. It will be critical for the leaders to push themselves into suspending their POV’s and ideas, and patiently listen to the multitudes of thoughts and solutions. It will be critical to divorce the “it doesn’t work that way” mindset. This will be the single biggest trait of a leader that can energize, inspire and galvanize a modern organization to do unthinkable stuff.

The modern day workplace or as T.A.McCann, founder of gist.com puts it in this short video, the Future of the Workplace is a fascinating evolving landscape. Concepts like multiple jobs across a working lifetime, having fun @ work, work life balance no longer there, retirement would no longer exist, do your best effort at all times, connecting and reaching out to others who share a common passion on a particular topic / goal with you, learning as a key driver of working together effectively, etc. etc. would be helping redefine how we view AND live our workplace(s). And all of that thanks to the emergence of culture, tools and technologies within the enterprise and beyond!

Leaders must be at the forefront to enable this change. As McCann puts it – the future of work is Learning and doing something for someone else and not for oneself alone. Onus lies with the leaders to role model that. Cheers!

Feedback is always positive


Recently I was speaking to a leader and discussing her feedback style. She was highly self-critical as she reflected on the same. Off late, she had been getting into too many conflict situations amounting to her feedback being rejected. As we spoke, we went over a few instances and she replayed the mental video tapes of those.

While listening I noted that she used expressions like “you were rude”, “what’s wrong with you”, “you need be show more technical depth”, “you never talk on calls”, “You have been a poor role model of being punctual to meetings” etc.… to surface all that was wrong. What followed these expressions were a bunch of refutations or negations, from the other end, as the recipients expressed their vehement disagreements. Majority of these conversations weren’t leading to any constructive result and ended adding to the increasingly deteriorating team dynamics and diminishing leadership credibility woes.

Present state:

As we sat reflecting over this situation at hand, I scribbled a diagram (being the visual person I am) on the board to depict the visual depiction of the conversation.

Feedback From

The diagram showed that the information flow was between A (feedback giver) to B (recipient), with A identifying B as the issue – the overt use of the term “you” in the above statements. While from A’s Point of view, she has expressed her displeasure clearly, from B’s point of view, what’s coming is a barrage of personal attacks. And true to human psyche when there’s an attack there needs to be a defense. Thus, the refutations and negations.

Couple of things happen here:

  1. This mental model, certainly doesn’t create a safe climate of reflecting over a developmental opportunity and operates one the foundation of A trying let their steam off on B (B is the issue).
  2. Backward focused, almost with the objective of putting the blame on the table and circling around that

Proposed Future state:

As we discussed more on how we can approach it differently and make the environment safe, I made a slight change to the above diagram by adding a third circle C.

Feedbact to

The diagram shows a third circle – the Issue. So in this state both A and B stand together on one side of the table and look at the issue with the same lens. So instead of a statement like “You have been a poor role model of being punctual…” it may sound like “last 4 meetings/calls there was a delay in your joining in. How can we ensure you are there on time?”.

Couple of things happen:

  1. This mental model clearly operates on the principle of a safe environment and respect – nothing wrong with B, however there is a situation at hand which needs attention (Issue)
  2. Forward looking – putting the issue on the table and figuring out a solution to overcome the same
  3. The high respect allows both individuals to listen more, thereby resulting in a constructive confrontation

Majority of the feedback that happens, isn’t one as there isn’t anything being fed. Most of the time the “giver” ends up expressing their dissatisfaction or anger (thinking they are delivering a feedback). A slight shift in the mental model and preparing the right language that separates issue from the person, can go a long way in boosting an inspiring culture of learning, listening and being respectful.