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4/24/2006
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Stowe Boyd
Stowe Boyd
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Jessica Lipnack on The Architecture of Collaboration

I spoke with Jessica Lipnack yesterday, the CEO of Net Age, a consultancy that advises companies on how to remain connected and to collaborate in the new networked organization. Her husband, Jeff Stamp, is the Chief Scientist, and they have been helping companies understand the networked organization for a considerable time. We were both surprised that we hadn't already met, considering we have many common friends, like David Wienberger and Rob Cross. Jessica is giving several talks at the upcoming Collaboration Technology Conference 2006, where I am serving on the program committee, including "Collaboration in the Networked Organization," exploring themes from their best-selling Virtual Teams book. They reported on some of their more interesting findings in their research into virtual teams in a well-known Harvard Business Review article in 2002, called "Can Absence Make a Team Grow Stronger?"  Here's what they found.

Jlipnack100[from the Net Age website] We found that "far-flung" teams are more productive than their face-to-face counterparts if they keep three practices: They exploit diversity The team can't just be diverse; it has to make the most of it. Our teams credit their creative breakthroughs to challenging people from different disciplines, cultures, and the like to come up with something better together. They did. They use pretty simple technology to simulate reality By today's standards, what they use is not very complicated. More than 80% of the teams use teleconference calls and shared websites. More than half used IM even when their companies prohibited it. Only a third used video conferencing. Some banned email. They hold the team together It takes a lot of communication. Some leaders spent as much as a third of their time just on the phone with team members. The article is based on a sample of 54 teams in 26 companies who rarely if ever met as a whole face-to-face.

In our conversation, she used the term "The Architecture of Collaboration" -- another talk that she will be presenting at CTC2006 -- and stressed the need for a blancing act between technologies for collaboration and the behaviors that people have to learn to use those technologies appropriately. She believes that American companies are less likely to consider the behavioral side of the equation as important, basically throwing technology at people and leaving them on their own devices (so to speak). European companies are much more likely to invest in programs that will help people adapt to the new virtual workplace. Net Age has developed a tool for helping companies to reenvision the old hierarchical org chart as a network model. This tool, the Net Age OrgScope, can help to shed light on the inner workings of the organization.

Jessica made one point that really clicked with me, talking about 50ish senior execs in today's globally distributed management teams who grew up in an era when instant messaging hadn't been invented, and who are having a hard time adopting the protocols of the always-on world. I remembered a former CEO that I worked for, who in 1992 still had not learned to "do" email. He had his secretary print it out, and put it into his inbox every morning, and he responded in longhand on legal pads. That lasted about two weeks once I arrived. I bought him a laptop, barged in one morning, and taught him how to type email, because he was slowing everything in the organization down with a one-day turnaround on email. Unless these companies are led by the hand and shown the behaviors -- individual and collective -- that are needed to accomodate new technologies like instant messaging, the two sides of the necessary architecture for collaboration won't come together.

[Crossposted here.]

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