Creating High Performing Teams

Jan. 31, 2012
Video collaboration can make it much easier for teams to access knowledge from different areas and participate in richly connected social networks while making it much easier to test different ideas more quickly.

Companies that have embedded collaboration into key business processes have outperformed competitors in significant ways:

  • A European auto manufacturer has experienced a 300% improvement in complex repair cycle time through real-time video collaboration with their dealerships.
  • An airframe manufacturer has taken two days of wait time out of production by linking suppliers onto the production floor with real-time video.
  • One of the largest off shore oil & gas exploration corporations has saved $400 million directly attributable to their video network reducing downtime and speeding decision making.
  • An office equipment manufacturer in the U.S. has solved problems at their Chinese manufacturer in 2 hours that previously took 2 weeks to solve reducing time to market by 20%.

These high performing teams had several characteristics in common; they are energetic, global in representation, empowered, highly connected and possess a deep respect and trust for all its members. They do not start out that way the question for executive leadership is how to lay the foundation for this kind of out sized performance.

Learning and innovation are deeply related human activities. Having the right method to learn is critical but not critical enough to create high performing teams. The culture and environment is also essential. An example of this is when a large pump went down on an oil rig in the North Sea. The rig was equipped with mobile video enabling the technician on the rig to talk with the pump manufacturer in the U.S. to help diagnose the problem. The problem was isolated and the engineer in the U.S. coached the technician on the rig to replace the defective part that had been helicoptered onto the rig. The process to replace the defective part took a little over an hour to complete. The engineer watching this repair process realized that design for serviceability will be essential in the future. The next version of the pump was designed for much faster access to key parts and this same service now takes less than a minute. The transformational learning for the pump design engineer came from seeing his product perform in the customer's context. This was enabled by the real-time access to both visual information and data in a single environment that greatly accelerated the problem resolution.

Some common elements have come to light from this example and studies of high performing teams are:

  • Creative discontent with current situation
  • Cross fertilization of ideas from different fields of knowledge
  • Participation in richly connected social networks
  • Questioning accepted knowledge; testing and searching for true cause and effect
  • Culture of learning

Video collaboration can make it much easier for these teams to access knowledge from different areas and participate in richly connected social networks while making it much easier to test different ideas more quickly. Research has shown that during product development a video enabled team can review 3 times as many ideas during the same time period than teams that are not video enabled, (see chart below).

In the future, hiring the right people will not be enough; getting them to think about the right things in the right context will be paramount. Video is fast becoming the primary knowledge transfer mechanism of this era. The reason for this is that the information density of video is orders of magnitude higher than the written page because it provides context and values, through body language and facial expressions, and environmental content as in the case of video directly on the production floor, lab, or building site.

The paradox is that the most common knowledge transfer mechanism is the written page.

To illustrate how video communication can help create high-performance teams and speed the decision-making process, consider a typical event management process.

Event Management Process

A typical Event Management or problem analysis process is depicted figure 1. In many situations each step is accomplished very quickly or takes days depending on the complexity of the situation and the resources at risk.

The process can be simplified into the three major steps that follow:

  1. Problem Characterization or data collection phase - steps 1-4
  2. Learning or Analysis - steps 5-7
  3. Decision Process - steps 8-10

When we talk about faster decisions we don't always think about the whole process that is involved. Effective decisions are the end result of a more complex process. When the problem is characterized as the three-step process in figure 1, the quality of the data and analysis greatly affects the quality or affectivity of the decisions. The "speed" comes into play is when it becomes much easier to get the right information and have the right people analyze that information or data.

So the key is not so much how fast you can make a decision, anyone can make a snap decision, but how fast you can get relevant data, sort through and understand it, and then make a decision that truly has the buy-in and cooperation of the whole team-this is what generates real organizational change.

This process is often seen in High Performing Teams. It is a well-known fact that if there is little buy-in to a decision, implementation has a greatly reduced probability of success. Therefore the other key value proposition for these analytical environments that foster high performance is bridging the gap between decision(s) and real implementation.

The Aberdeen Group completed a study of 140 companies in 2009 that implemented video collaboration. The study wanted to understand the business impact of this technology on the product development process. From the data in figure 2, video's beneficial impact for all classes of users is easily recognizable, but best-in-class companies enjoy a significantly reduced time to market. This is especially true for the time needed to evaluate new ideas.

If this data is viewed with the Event Management process described above, it can be easily understood how impactful this technology can be on both the number of ideas accessed and the number reviewed to screen out the best. This 3X advantage over industry average performers will build significant competitive advantage over time. One characteristic of best-in-class teams is that they access expertise outside their enterprise twice as often as industry average users. Video greatly simplifies access to a greater knowledge pool in suppliers, customers, and domain experts.

Domain Expertise

Often the most valuable knowledge that can determine the frequency of innovation comes from both tacit or experiential learning as well as formal learning. Taken together, this forms domain expertise.

In the 21st century, the domain expertise for complex product development can be daunting. The technology and core competence for each element of the system might come from many different suppliers. Companies have countered this increasingly complex design challenge by creating Collaborative Work Environments (CWE). These rooms employ several technologies simultaneously including high definition data displays real-time video, collaboration boards so participants can view and markup and document their decisions. These teams are spread around the world but can collaborate as if they are in the same room. They can reach critical colleagues that have the domain expertise that is needed wherever they may be in the world.

Immersive Collaboration

Immersive Collaborative Work Environment (CWE) solutions help to develop high-performing teams; extending the real-time reach for relevant data, access to experts worldwide to support in-depth analysis which further leads to high-quality decisions that have the buy-in of all the stakeholders. This, in turn, leads to rapid implementation of improvements, cost reductions, and greater competitive advantage. In short, Collaborative Work Environments become your Innovation Engine.

These new environments allow global teams to meet frequently in collaboration settings that support simultaneous data viewing. Members can markup and brainstorm changes on a large display that is viewed by all the others in real-time. They can see each other's reactions or spontaneously share data on their own devices that could add greater insight regarding the task at hand. If a contributing factor is the process on the production floor mobile video allows a real-time video participation directly from the production site so that all members and literally "go see" the context where the issue was uncovered. One unique evolving characteristic of these Collaboration Work Environments is that these are not conference rooms where teams go to have an hour meeting then leave. They assemble in these rooms and work out issues or development problems for several hours or days.

This is becoming the new way people actually work now in these highly connected multimedia work spaces that grow high performing teams. These meetings can be recorded as well as the data streams and the interactions over the data streams as well. This captures Intellectual Property (IP) that typically is seldom if ever captured.

John Paul Williams is director of Enterprise Solutions at Polycom, which is a standards-based unified communications) solutions for telepresence, video and voice.

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