I just read an interesting article published by eminent consulting firm McKinsey & Company entitled “Using technology to improve workforce collaboration” (authors James Manyika, Kara Sprague and Lareina Yee).

A new class of worker: the Collaboration Worker

The authors recast the workforce sector known as Knowledge Workers (a venerable term coined by Peter Drucker in the mid 20th century) in terms of what most non-production or transaction workers do: collaborate to solve problems, nurture ideas, serve customers and engage with partners. Their research reveals that “the performance gap between top and bottom companies in collaboration-intense sectors is nine times that of production- or transaction-intense sectors”. It follows then that productivity improvements in this sector of the workforce could have a significant impact on the bottom line. As we have a plethora of collaboration tools available to us today, we’ve got ourselves a real opportunity to nail this one. Right? Yes (the article describes how Cisco saved more than $100 million in travel and business expenses and increased productivity by 78 percent), and it’s not quite that simple.

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There is exciting research going on at universities across the globe focused on understanding the basic constructs that affect team productivity and well-being. I recently wrote about one such study that investigated the effect of positivity vs . negativity on team performance and determined the optimal ratio to help teams flourish. Very cool stuff.

It’s pretty clear why we should be interested in what this research is turning up…

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Up until a few years ago, those of us who are professional facilitators were considered to be a breed apart. People turned to us for special ways of extracting the best ideas from a group, weaving together a stimulating conversation (even when people had wildly different perspectives), or helping people reach consensus on difficult decisions. Fortunately for us, our clients still value our ability to plan and guide productive conversations when the outcomes matter most.
And yet—I see more and more employees and managers recognizing the need to act as facilitators themselves, especially among geographically dispersed groups. Why?

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Are your teams connected for productivity or wired for distraction?

This free webinar takes a slightly different twist in the ongoing exploration of how to design highly interactive webinars and virtual meetings that keep people engaged. One of the biggest challenges facilitators and trainers face is the effect of participants multi-tasking on the productivity and creativity of the group. The first reaction is to think about how to STOP participants from multi-tasking so that they will focus on OUR agenda. But in this age of 24/7 information access and communication, wouldn’t it make more sense to design in productive multi-tasking, for example contributing ideas or responding to questions at the same time as we listen to a presentation? We call this Multi-tasking On Task. Register now for Friday December 17, our last webinar of the year.

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This is an open letter to my colleague Nigel, who participated recently in one of our “Designing Interactive Webinars” events. In the pre-work reflection, Nigel asked:

Is engagement, all the time, the goal? How, as facilitators, and participants, can we be totally comfortable with nil, or minimal engagement? If we had little engagement, then can a webinar still be successful (from the organizer’s and the participant’s point of view)?

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Recently I responded to a question from one of my LinkedIn professional groups. Someone asked: “During web conferences involving several locations, I often find myself sending SMS’s to my boss at the same time so as to steer or modify the meeting/discussion on the fly – does anybody else do this? Yes, indeed I do.

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I was patrolling my corner of the blogosphere when I came upon a post that referenced research by psychologists Marcial Losada and Barbara Fredrickson about how positivity impacts team performance. Experiments have shown that positive affect (positive sentiments, attitudes and emotions) makes individuals, teams and organizations flourish – that is function optimally. People and teams who flourish are more flexible, resilient, creative and intuitive. On the opposite side, languishing teams exhibit narrow thinking, boredom, cynicism.

The Magic Number
Now, Losada and Fredrickson hypothesized that people or teams with a positivity ratio (ratio of pleasant feelings to unpleasant feelings) that meets or exceeds a specific threshold would be also characterized as flourishing. Losada studied a large group of business teams during their annual strategy meetings, tracking statements made in the meetings as positive, negative or neutral. He then measured the performance of these teams and determined that there is indeed a positivity ratio, and it’s (drum roll, please)…

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I recently came across this super example of a different type of presentation. The topic is “Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us.” Not only is the message clearly articulated, it is beautifully drawn so that we are captivated as we listen. Enjoy!

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The days of starting a meeting with “Please turn off and put away your cell phones” are over. Smart phones are common these days in the business world and they can do just about anything. Take this example: my iPhone allows me to scan optical bar codes and tells me whether there is a better deal online for an item I want to purchase.

Today, smart phones are front-line devices for collaborative work. With their growing sophistication we’re starting to see more interest in using them effectively to make meetings more productive.

I’m currently working with a company that is organizing a large conference for their customers. They’d like to use smart phones to conduct simple voting, brainstorming and soliciting feedback on presentations. They did a quick poll to find out which were the top 5 smart phones in use by their clients and came up with the following:

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Several blogs and news portals have picked up on a Forbes Insight Study conducted in June ‘09 that found 84% of the 760 business execs surveyed preferred face-to-face meetings over virtual contact, even though the economic downturn had obliged many of them to reduce travel and adopt technology solutions for virtual meetings. Executives identified the following benefits from face-to-face meetings: building stronger, more meaningful relationships (85%), the ability to “read” another person (77%), and greater social interaction (75%). 80% felt that face-to-face interaction with co-workers is necessary for effective teamwork and complex decision making.

As I read, I frequently felt like chiming in with “yes, AND….” (as a consultant, I rarely if ever say “yes, but…”). In my opinion, the paradigm of either/or – virtual or face to face – is a limiting context in which to evaluate business collaboration. Thanks to collaborative technology, it’s simply no longer an all or nothing proposition.

We at Facilitate.com are great proponents of “blended facilitation”.

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