Category Archives: Cross Functional Teambuilding

Ten Lessons Aspiring Social Businesses Should Learn from a Spider Web (Part 2)

We often consider spider webs a nuisance … something annoying, but we often dismiss the very skillful show of one of our planet’s state-of-the-art technologies.  In Part One, we reviewed five remarkable characteristics on how an aspiring Enterprise 2.0 could learn from spider silk properties.  Let’s look at five more lessons a discerning observer should be willing to consider:
6. Spider Silk combines both tensile strength and ductility (stretchability)
Scientists at Arizona State University (ASU) have decoded the secret of spider silk’s strength and what makes the fiber at least five times as tough as piano wire. “Spider silk has a unique combination of mechanical strength and elasticity that make it one of the toughest materials we know of,” said Professor Jeffery Yarger of ASU’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. The tensile strength of spider silk combined with its ductile i.e. elastic properties (stretching and retracting) is well worth appreciating. For any of us, it would be hard to imagine grabbing a man-made bar of steel and stretching it to an extra forty per cent to its original length. The fact that this exceptional biological polymer (related to collagen) perfectly combines tensile strength and ductility is mind-boggling to say the least.
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How do we set up company structures that are more flexible? Businesses that can “stretch” (such as a spiderweb capturing prey) when customer demand grows, but also businesses that can “retract” when its demand decreases?  How should these businesses embrace structural changes and seamlessly rebound when disruptive trends kick in?  Such theoretical questions are difficult to answer and ratify. An adaptive (stretchable and retractable) enterprise roadmap would be even more complex.
7.  The Spiderweb silk has stickiness properties
Spiders produce five main categories of silk.  One of them is the capture-spiral silk, used for the capturing lines of the web.  This sort of silk is sticky, extremely stretchy and tough, which should make us wonder how a spider can avoid entangling itself in its own web.  To this day, scientists are still not sure how it is possible for them not to get caught in their own trap.
What is the level of cultural stick-to-itiveness that companies have to offer? How does the Human Resource department attract, motivate and retain talent while minimizing personnel turnover?
8.  Spiders create exceptional spider web architectures
In Science Daily’s column “New Light Shed On the Mysteries of Spider Silk”, Dr. Kristie Koski and her colleagues from the University of Stanford report: “There has never been anything quite like spider silk.  Stretch it.  Bend it.  Soak it.  Dry it out.  Spider silk holds up … it can expand nearly a third greater than its original length and snap right back like new.  Ounce-for-ounce spider silk is even stronger than Kevlar, the human-made fiber used in bulletproof vests.”  Koski goes on to write: “The complete elastic response of spider silk is described by five elastic constants that define how the web reacts to any possible combination of forces –stretching, bending, soaking, pulling or twisting.”
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How about our business structures? How far can we stretch them, bend them, pull them or even twist them without destroying them?  Have we ever considered the wisdom of a spider web and all its hidden attributes?  Have we ever tried to apply some of those principles to the form-functions of our schools, universities, government and businesses?
9.  Spider webs can capture water from the air
In the journal Nature, Chinese scientists have reported that silk is not only renowned for its strength, but also outstanding at collecting water from the air: “Sparing the creatures the hunt for a drink”.  We are here witnessing the awe-inspiring beauty of one of the most incredible sights God’s engineering hand has ever created.  “A tapestry of bright pearl-like water drops hanging on thin spider silk in the morning after fog” says Lei Jiang, the scientist from the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing.  He goes on to say: “The spider silk can be several tens of micrometers in diameter, whereas the water drops can be thousands of micrometers wide.  The silk properties change as it contacts water, which causes the bumpy silk fibers to smooth out and drives the water towards the bumpy knots in the spindle, where it gathers into large droplets.”
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Do we conceive products with compelling beauty and majesty while promoting safety, health and sustainability?  When considering some of the shoddy architecture I’ve personally seen in Paris, London, Los Angeles, Manila, Osaka, Beijing, Moscow, Barcelona and New York, I do not think they contribute to the beauty and enhancement of our environment. Do we boost technology by making it sustainable, durable and of compelling beauty such as the pearl-like water drops hanging on thin spider silk? Or does our industry prefer to plan the breakdown of specific parts for purpose of future gain and enrichment?  
10. Spider silk has antibacterial properties
In their research article: “Evidence for antimicrobial activity associated with common house spider silk”, Simon Wright and Sara Goodacre, from the school of Biology at the University of Nottingham, researched and proved the antimicrobial quality of some spider silk when confronted with micro organisms.  In Heimer, S. (1988). Wunderbare Welt der Spinnen. Urania. p.14, we read that the peasants in the southern Carpathian Mountains used to cut up tubes built by Atypus and cover wounds with the inner lining.  It reportedly facilitated healing, and even connected with the skin.  This is believed to be due to antiseptic properties of spider silk and because the silk is rich in vitamin K, which can be effective in clotting blood.
Do our company products and services sustain our livelihood?  Do our business protocols provide our workforce with physical and emotional assets in form of education, personal growth and vision?  Does middle management nourish the strength and potential of its workforce by facilitating information taxonomy and its distribution?  Or do most structures suffer from a command-and-control mentality going back to the enlightenment age and war room strategies?  
Much more could be written about spiders, but I hope that we all could gain a better appreciation for the sustainable world which is just around us.  May we strive to contribute and make our work and world a better place where more sustainable values become the drivers of our business endeavors.  In the meanwhile, we continue to deplete our earth from the very resources that sustain our physical lives.  One thing is certain:  the air we breathe, the food we eat, the sleep we need and the love we cherish, none of these components will ever be digitalized.
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2 Final Reasons Why Human Resources Must Become the Control Center for any Social Business Enterprise 2.0 Transformation (Part 3)

As we already covered in Part 1 and Part 2 of this series, management, at the highest level, needs to seriously review the role and responsibilities of Human Resources.  Both shareholders and company leaders must demand HR to thoroughly scrutinize personnel policies built on “19th century learning styles, coupled by 20th century leadership models fused with 21st century technology” – Dan Pontefract, and to thoroughly revolutionize the entire organizational approach of their company.  This has to be done if a company is to digitally survive, humanly thrive and finally bring the coveted ROI (return on investment).  Sir Ken Robinson’s insightful presentation: “Changing Education Paradigms” can also apply to the   “baby-boomer” HR leaders who received an education designed, conceived and structured for an intellectual culture of “enlightenment”.  Today HR still operates in a societal system, born during the industrial revolution, which is modeled on the capitalistic foundation of gain only, regardless of how people are treated to acquire it.  Think of the term GDP as irrefutable evidence!

1. HR to foster Divergent Thinking in order to promote creativity

Divergent thinking is a thought process or method used to generate creative ideas by exploring a variety of possible solutions.  Sir Ken Robinson defines divergent thinking as: “The process of having original ideas that have value… divergent thinking is not a synonym but an essential capacity for creativity.”  It gives a person the ability to search out different answers when faced with a challenging assignment. Lateral or divergent thinking requires an “out-of-the-box” sort of reasoning which is not immediately obvious.  It involves ideas that are not obtainable by using traditional step-by-step logic. For example: an average person will find 10 ways to use a paper clip but a top “divergent thinker” will come up with 200 or more!

Now let’s apply this divergent thinking approach to our 21st century business model and start identifying company “divergent thinkers”.  Give them the space and freedom they require, and watch them come up with different ways, for example, on how to solve the boredom of repetitive tasks.  Make the challenge accessible via the Enterprise Social Network (ESN) and not only involve employees, but also partners and clients.  How about posting all suggestions and recommendations on a visible company Wikipage?  Don’t all companies wish they had more employees thriving with engagement and creativity?  Has your HR department ever taken the time to find out from its employees what would be the best environment for them to work in?  Under what working conditions would they feel their creative juice flow again?

Our society is plagued with the carryover of the industrial revolution way of manufacturing, thinking and educating, and it is easily to be found around us.  Let us look at a couple of examples:
– The traditional office hours are still from 9am to 5pm to this very day.
– Our schools have remained “educational manufacturing plants”, whereby knowledge and education have been standardized. Children of a “same manufacturing date” i.e. birth-year are “assembled” together and all taught the same thing regardless of their proclivities, talents, interests but also dislikes and even hatred at times!
Patagonia is based in Ventura California and employs roughly 1,500 people.  It is known for its flexi-time policies and also its “let my people go surfing” policy! During any work day employees are encouraged to leave their duties and get their creative juice flowing!  This policy must be good for CEO Yvon Chouinard since his company finished 2011 with a US$ 400 million turnover compared to US$ 333 million the previous year!

2. HR to improve customer service and loyalty by directly impacting employee engagement

Many companies do not have the position of a Chief Cultural Officer. Those businesses have not taken the time to formalize their company culture. They indirectly leave it up to their workforce to improvise, regardless of the positive or negative consequences this might have on their business.

A lecturer in an education program on leadership once told the following joke: “A CEO was asked how many people work in his company: ‘About half of them,’ he replied”.  This, for so many enterprises, is unfortunately very close to reality.  All businesses want to achieve the best possible operative results but often forget the financial loss encountered due to lack of employee engagement.  Watch out HR!  A company meticulously empowering its employees is automatically investing in its brand and consequently reaping the rewards of superior customer service.  Remember Zappos? 70-80% of their turnover is repeat business because of the outstanding service all Zaponians are proudly providing!

The attitude of too many employees shows a high level of disengagement caused by submission to avoid “rocking the boat”, and also by a lack of trust towards company leadership.  Deference to the authority of a recognized superior doesn’t really foster creativity does it? A client-centric organization will only be created if a company stops doing BAU (Business As Usual) and starts measuring first “loyalty, delight and experience at the employee level” as Frank Palermo states in his CMS WIRE article: “Improve Employee Engagement to Maintain Loyal Customers”.

How could there ever be customer experience (CX) if employees feel partially or completely disconnected from their workplace? A fundamental reason why HR should want its workforce to invest in discretionary effort on the job is the fact that employee engagement will trigger improved customer service, which will consequently promote customer loyalty and drastically prop up bottom line profit.

How is your HR department promoting divergent thinking and creativity? Is HR considering gamification for repetitive tasks? Looking forward to your comments and suggestions.

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Related posts to Social Business i.e. Enterprise 2.0:

-4 Reasons Why Human Resources Must Become the Control Center to any Social Business Enterprise 2.0 Transformation (Part 1)
-4 More Reasons Why Human Resources Must Become the Control Center to any Social Business Enterprise 2.0 Transformation (Part 2)
3 Ways to Promote Your Employee Engagement and Increase Your Social Business Enterprise 2.0 Productivity
4 More Ways for Leaders to Promote Personnel Engagement in Social Business Enterprise 2.0
Why Are People, Processes and Platforms the Three Fundamental P’s of Any Social Business Enterprise 2.0 transformation?
Why Company Culture is The Foundation to Any Social Business Enterperise 2.0
Understanding the 4 Fundamentals of a Social Business Enterprise 2.0

4 Reasons Why Human Resources Must Become the Control Center for any Social Business Enterprise 2.0 Transformation (Part 1)

HR has traditionally been a business department silo, and I have to admit that I still somewhat associate these folks with hiring, firing and conflict management – not the team I would expect to inspire in me the feelings of exuberance and enthusiasm about company cultural changes to come. Also, not where I would personally seek contact when in need of emotional guidance or motivational leadership! Here is the transformation HR needs to go through:

1. HR to abandon its traditional administrative role and become the company’s cultural citadel and spokesman

HR’s role needs to be transformed by moving from a territorial administrative role, to becoming the strategic people-headquarters of an organization; the human resources catalyst and employee-propeller a company requires if a people-centric company culture is ever to be developed. Nowadays, the HR team needs to be highly motivated, maneuvering adroitly between departments while building bridges, removing silos and evangelizing the mission, vision and values of a 21st century social business Enterprise 2.0. It is crucial for enterprises not only to offer newer employees the connectivity they require, but to transform mentalities and relentlessly foster cooperation between business units. In our hyper-connected world it is vital for HR to revitalize its responsibilities and become cooperator, coordinator, collaborator, and thus a powerful company spokesman and communicator.

2. HR to proactively destroy company silos

One of the most difficult tasks for a company to address is the imperative need for silo-dismantling and final eradication.  A sure sign that identifies a silo is resistance to change. Silos isolate, destroy productivity, stifle initiative, decrease motivation and diminish enthusiasm overall, thus affecting worker engagement as a whole. The classic example is that between sales and production. Sales does not sell what production manufactures, and production does not manufacture what sales needs to sell! Silos are extremely detrimental to the success of an enterprise because a silo does what’s best for itself, instead of what is actually best for the company.

3. HR to clearly spell out company mission, vision and shared values

One of the best examples that I have ever seen of a display of company culture, was from Tim Cook, Steve Jobs’ successor, when he was asked how Apple would function without Jobs! It was a spur-of-the-moment question about a difficult act to follow. Tim Cook gave this eloquent, passionate and typically powerful Apple reply:

“We believe that we are on the face of the earth to make great products and that’s not changing. We are constantly focusing on innovating. We believe in the simple not the complex. We believe that we need to own and control the primary technologies behind the products that we make, and participate only in markets where we can make a significant contribution. We believe in saying no to thousands of projects, so that we can really focus on the few that are truly important and meaningful to us. We believe in deep collaboration and cross-pollination of our groups, which allow us to innovate in a way that others cannot. And frankly, we don’t settle for anything less than excellence in every group in the company, and we have the self-honesty to admit when we’re wrong and the courage to change. And I think regardless of who is in what job those values are so embedded in this company that Apple will do extremely well.” — Tim Cook January 2009

4. HR to become the Enterprise Social Networks (ESN) driving force

Broadband connectivity is the driving technological force mainly responsible for the consumerization of IT and all the portable devices attached to it. The bandwidth developments have been dramatic and the results are significant.

For example, being trilingual it is inconceivable for me nowadays to rely upon a traditional dictionary when looking up a word for translation! This, now archaic, way of translating has been replaced by online Editorial Dictionaries such as “Linguee”, which provide contextual translations with full sentences and respective hyperlinks for further study or inquiry if needed. How about researching a particular topic and coming across additional information not relevant at that moment, but of considerable value? Thanks to cloud tools, such as Diigo or Evernote, it is easier than ever to click and save for future reference. These tools help to find information faster and easier, and thereby increase productivity.

Knowledge of such tools, are nuggets of gold HR should encourage employees to share with one another, e.g. via intranet. It is well worth reflecting upon the fact that the ESN (Enterprise Social Network) industry will have an estimated worth of €5.2 billion (US$6.4) by 2017. Needless to say, the way we are communicating within companies is shifting. Collaborating tools are becoming necessary if companies wish to survive the huge data onslaught we are experiencing in the 21st century

How is HR experiencing the changes in your enterprise? What are some of the challenges you are faced with, and how is your business adapting?

Follow Bruno Gebarski on Twitter: or on LinkedIn:

Related posts to Social Business i.e. Enterprise 2.0:
3 Ways to Promote Your Employee Engagement and Increase Your Social Business Enterprise 2.0 Productivity
4 More Ways for Leaders to Promote Personnel Engagement in Social Business Enterprise 2.0
Why Are People, Processes and Platforms the Three Fundamental P’s of Any Social Business Enterprise 2.0 transformation?
Why Company Culture is The Foundation to Any Social Business Enterperise 2.0
Understanding the 4 Fundamentals of a Social Business Enterprise 2.0

How to Transform Today’s Traditional Midsize Companies and Literally Drag Them Into Digital and Social 21st Century Transformation? (Part 2)

My favorite book (The Bible) states: without vision people perish: what a true statement and without vision many companies disappear such as this old-fashioned German Drugstore outlets Schlecker struggling to find an angel investor before the end of this very month! It is sometimes sad to be able to predict that some businesses won’t be around within the next 3 to 5 years if they do not drastically change their Modus Operandi! Often companies are way too busy with “business as usual” while not spending enough time on strategy! “If you do not know where you are going you will most likely end up somewhere else”: an old adage we all know!

Today many SME (if they have not done it yet) should heavily consider creating a new responsibility, which could be something like a “Business Facilitator”: a savvy strategic thinker, who ties up four main challenges companies are facing today!  An all-around talent, visionary, influential, inspirational and above all motivational! Some would name it a CIO but may be it should be a bit more like a CBF (Chief Business Facilitator)?

I came across some quotes from CEO leaders not only talking but walking the leadership walk and embracing the turbulent changes our networked society is forcing upon us!  In the social enterprise people and culture are the two driving forces and building blocks our Business Facilitator will increasingly have to take into account:

1. Social Culture

Creating a “Culture Is Your Brand” philosophy à la Zappos and studying Tony Hsieh’s culture book would certainly be a very good start! Without enterprise culture it is going to be tricky to create motivated employees to positively and actively participate in social media communication!  How many companies out there still use Twitter as an “Inbound” marketing tool or a pricelist Email alternative? Painful! Check out the Marketing Master Coca-Cola Content 2020:  CEO Muhtar Kent thinks that marketing is getting more and more data driven and “Coca-Cola needs to be part of Digital Marketing and IT closer to customers”.

2. Content or Inbound Marketing

How does one keep patrons drinking coffee?  By providing WIFI in all Starbuck outlets so that both business people and Twitter addicts may connect to their favorite social media accounts while sipping on their preferred coffee specialty. Or by starting a monthly campaign such as: “Global Month of Service”! How about letting customer pay in its U.S. stores with a smartphone app tied to their loyalty and payment cards? Social is important to Starbuck providing its Facebook fan page with an online suggestion box while letting fans send gift cards! Being sociable seems to be “a must” for Starbucks CEO Howard Schulz who is also upgrading his IT Infrastructure for point of sales inventory management, CRM and Labor Scheduling tools!  Desktop Virtualization is also a hot trends IT department are implementing in order to accommodate BYOD and the commercialization of smart phones and tablets.

3. Social Business

Social Media is constantly changing and the first three most visited platforms in March 2012 were Facebook, Twitter and surprisingly Pinterest overtaking layout-old-fashioned “veteran” LinkedIn! It is now impossible to do business without making Social Media full part of a Marketing Strategy: And this involves a lot more than sticking a Facebook and Twitter logo on a website!  Videos themselves are becoming an integral part of the social media portfolio and if you have not yet seen the 2012 Cartier Video, I recommend you watch it! To this day it has been viewed 14.586.933 times! Airlines are also beginning to use videos such as: “KLM Surprise” and “Air China in Sweden” as well the outstanding Mini Getaway Stockholm Case Study, which already took place a year ago in Sweden! Some funny campaigns also involving an entertaining “Dollar Shave Club” and the Guinness St Patrick’s Day Commercial 2012!

4. Modernize IT infrastructure and move to the cloud while embracing mobility

Legacy systems may sometimes be responsible for slowing down technology growth and we all know mobility demand is on the rise: it is now time to reconsider a more focused cloud outlook!  Lowe’s CEO Robert A. Niblock has understood Lowe’s need to zero in on modernizing IT infrastructure with faster internet connections and deploying a gigantic action to equip store personnel with 42.000 IPhones. He also recognizes the challenge of a multi channel strategy while planning to equip both call centers and retail outlets with better access to company’s 250.000 products, customers’ accounts as well as being able to close sales on Iphones! TJX’s CEO Carol Meyrowitz has similar priorities with a multi channel strategy: “We continue wanting to marry shop and web since Ecommerce gives TJX the opportunity to sell things, which are not carried in the physical shops”. Procter & Gamble’s CEO Bob Mc Donald plans to move accounting from traditional responsibilities to operational: “accounting systems aren’t designed today for operations–they tend to look backward–but we’re working on integrating our operational system with the financial system to move in that direction.”

The Business Facilitator’s challenge is immense but one thing is for sure silos have to be dismantled: Over are the days were company departments could allow themselves to work “independently” as a block almost against each other! Time has come to transform our work environment into a social networked place following the example of Apple and Starbucks with their IT helpdesk coffee shop allowing employees to choose IT smart phone & Tablet on display and directly bill them to their departments as well as technical support and suggestion on how to make IT run better!  

Establishing Cross-Functional Teambuilding

Company managers and employees are often lacking productivity due to prevailing silo-thinking, lack of cooperation and outrageous department protectionism and non-sharing of information.  Does this ring a bell? We all know the virus: Human nature tends to protect its own environment for the feel of consistent personal safety!  Company goals?  Shared values?  Customer satisfaction?  Those are topics regularly addressed but not earnestly tackled since “everyone” goes back to his or her desk to pursue his / her daily routine brushing aside proactive ideas in order to work through the daily electronic pile of messages!  We are all aware that there is so much to do and in fact excessively much to do to get it all done!

Gone are the days of faxes and letters; everything pours onto one’s desk via email! Actually, one wonders if a Blackberry or an I Phone is a gift anymore.  It is for most Managers part of the highly wired equipment arsenal as more and more professionals chain themselves to their PIM, PDA, Blackberry, or Nokia Organizers!  Where is the necessary room for building company culture, ethics, and common goals?  Where has cooperation gone?  Unity driving energy for a common purpose and total customer satisfaction?  Where has it all gone?

Cross-Functional Teambuilding is not a luxury or a waste of time!  Let us at least try to do away with some of those emails, meetings, brainstorming and become human again focusing more on spending time together in order to create solid working bonds and relationships!  Why is it, that most business deals are consolidated in front of a meal or at the wee hours of the night at a hotel bar?  Chewing over the “latest” after a busy exhibition day in a foreign city?  Why?  Because we all know that entertaining our customers solidifies relationships and relationships do secure long-term business connections and the passing on of “valuable insider information” as we network our ways through restaurants and bars late into the night!

Cross-Functional Teambuilding remains foreign to most mid-size and even larger companies I and so many of us have worked for.  I remember a particular instance where all doors of all departments were literally closed, the Managing Director himself having his door locked and “graced” by a knob including a door bell to be allowed in! Silo Thinking? Amazing in this 21st century communication world of ours nevertheless shocking!  In that particular instance it took me each time 10 minutes to walk all the way to contact personally the production manager in order to discuss product quality and issues he most of the time refused to consider.  How about building silos, closing doors and not listening to customers crying aloud and demanding changes?  After all “we have always done it this way”!

The issue is that Cross-Functional Teambuilding remains a WIP (work in progress) concept and results are not to be quantified right away in any form! It takes time to implement mentality changes and tear down silos, which could have been already established as the company was set up! Radical changes are often necessary whereby personnel needs sometimes to be changed and / or to be taught to communicate with others, above all to share and give information freely for the well being of all employees and by so doing for the entire company!  Yes globalization is already here and customer service is in high demand.  The BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China) have been knocking on our doors for a long time! Others such as Mexico, Turkey are also arriving and offering at times cheaper and better ways to manufacture, service or address product issues in a competitive way and service oriented mentality.

In Peter Cheverton’s fabulous book:  Key Account Management, Tools and Techniques for achieving profitable Key Supplier status (3rd or 4th Edition – Kogan Page) Peter Cheverton tries to alert the reader to transform, among  other things, the bow-tie salesman mentality into a diamond one where everyone is included to make sure the much coveted Key Account Supplier status (the desired outcome of Key Account Management) is achieved and solidified, which ought to be the most important for all company departments: Remember the old saying: Customer orders do make pay day possible!

Enjoy implementing cross-functional Teambuilding inside of your company and let me know what progress you are making!

Until next time let’s team up and improve.

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Bruno Pierre Gebarski