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Encourage Collaboration, Discourage Groupthink
No Jitter has posted several blogs lately on the idea of workstream communications and collaboration, including last week's piece, Overcoming UC Limitations, from TalkingPointz analyst Dave Michels. In case you've missed the coverage, the upshot is that workstream communications and collaboration (or WCC for short) sits at the intersection of collaboration, conferencing, messaging, telephony, and social networking -- pulling in all sorts of productivity tools, too -- to create a shared workspace for teams. Mobility is a given, and cloud delivery is the default.
You might quibble about the necessity of a new category name, objecting with the belief that WCC is but the next stage in the evolution of unified communications and collaboration. Why muddy the waters with a new label? Or, you might buy into the concept of a new category, but prefer a different catchphrase. Team collaboration, covered in this soon-to-be-updated No Jitter slideshow, is a popular descriptor for the same multimodal, mobility-enabled, cloud-fueled offerings -- doesn't that suffice?
Go ahead, dispute away -- but don't lose the forest through the trees, as the saying goes. The convergence of communications, collaboration, and productivity management in one app served from the cloud and accessible via Web browsers and on mobile devices may well turn into a game-changer within the enterprise. But not necessarily, or at least not exclusively, in the positive ways touted by these tool vendors.
Ask any one of the various vendors providing this next-generation tool type about the benefits of its application, and you're sure to hear buzzy terms like "enhanced employee productivity" and "improved business agility." Those sound great on paper -- just what every company should aspire toward -- but before latching on to the WCC concept you need to take some time to think about how, or whether, it jibes with your company culture.
I first began thinking about this after reading a comment posted on the No Jitter message board in response to another of Dave's pieces, 'WCC' Makes Communications Strategic Again. In his comment, Chris Vitek, a former WebRTC evangelist at Genband and now CTO at Total Health Care Excellence, called out a potential downside of these sorts of apps: "... they empower mid-tier employees to exercise their ambition in predictable, self-serving ways." The inference is that such employees might litter group workstreams with contentious ideas or content that are less about achieving the project goal and more about playing a game of one-upmanship. An unwitting team member might step on such a "landmine" and find himself "subject to the wrath of the community. Every smartphone, tablet or PC that you own lights up with flames."
While some managers might like this, as Vitek pointed out -- considering it healthy competition, I suppose -- most employees would prefer not to operate under such conditions.
That's harsh, I think, but harsher still is his next suggestion. The work products created within such environments don't reflect the focused thought of experienced, smart employees. Rather, he wrote, they are "dumbed down" so that everybody on a team can understand them.
Conceptually, this concern aligns with the dangers of groupthink, the phenomenon occurring when team members are more interested in keeping the peace than reaching the best decisions. If you know that groupthink is a problem within your organization or fear that it might be, then you likely take issue with the idea of bringing in tools that make such easy work of widespread collaboration. Could WCC tools and others of their ilk be more detrimental than impactful?
Again, don't get me wrong -- I'm not suggesting that these tools don't have a potentially vital role to play in modern business, nor am I saying that they can't help boost productivity, enhance business agility, spur innovation, or improve decision making. I've played around with a few, and absolutely understand the positives. I am saying, however, that unleashing them without proper training and oversight could have negative consequences.
So, take this as a reminder: Don't just ride the wave of collaborative coolness here. Think about this type of technology in context of your corporate culture and how the business operates.