Want a Collaborative Culture? It’s Time to Look Outside Your Organization

July 21, 2016 Nick Ryan

The term collaboration gets tossed around freely in the modern workplace. Many organisations claim it as a value. They invest heavily in technology and HR programs to break down silos and connect employees across departments and geographies. They organise offsites and innovation days to harness the wisdom of the crowd.

It’s a worthy goal. Collaboration is known to boost productivity and employee morale. We also know that bringing together different skills and viewpoints fosters creativity and innovation. And of course it’s rare for success to be achieved in total isolation.

Yet I question how collaborative can we really be without bringing our customers and partners into the fold?

According to Andrew Lam-Po-Tang, former CIO of one of Australia’s largest media companies, the tools necessary to fostering a collaborative culture are sitting outside a company’s four walls.

“The important thing is to never lose sight of the fact that there are customers to be served and you can measure everything you are doing against that relevance,” said Lam-Po-Tang.

Put simply, collaboration requires customer and external focus.

This point could not be more salient at a time when the customer experience reigns supreme.

Under threat from digital disruptors who’ve designed their entire businesses around the customer experience, organisations across all industries have become customer- obsessed. In fact, a Garner report published in April of last year showed that customer experience management was the number one priority for CEOs in terms of technology investment.

So why are customers – and partners – kept at arm’s length while organisations mobilise teams for internal collaboration?

Overcoming the barriers: More than a change in mindset 
I think most leaders would agree that external collaboration makes sense. How can you design the pinnacle customer experience without a deep understanding of what it is your customer really wants? How can you build loyalty and trust without first establishing a relationship?

Of course smart companies get it. They engage and solicit input from customers and partners. They run user groups to gather ideas for new products and services. They issue surveys and invite feedback on customer service. They also join forces with partners to address customer needs.

The decision to go further and open up more channels of communication is easy but the practicalities can be more daunting. The idea of closer collaboration and information sharing exacerbates privacy and security concerns. Mobility and cloud services are key to breaking down geographical barriers but IT spend also needs to be managed.

These are valid concerns and no one is suggesting organisations throw open their networks to all and sundry. Nor is it recommended that money poured into initiatives that don’t align with the overall aims of the business. The role of a CIO is not just to improve technology, it’s more about how can they increase revenue or the overall operational performance of the business.

The truth is that many of the same technologies being used for internal collaboration can be used to collaborate securely with customers and partners, minimising risk and cost. BlueJeans’ cloud-based video communications service is one of these. Companies like Netflix and Red Hat use BlueJeans to collaborate internally and externally.

With BlueJeans, they can hold video meetings with external parties from anywhere – whether they are in a conference room, at home on their laptop or using a mobile device on the go. They can securely share documents and presentations and chat online. There’s no hardware or software required and new users can be added on demand. It’s simple and intuitive so joining a call or sharing information is effortless for employees and customers.

John Campbell who works as a Desktop Analyst at Netflix said the ability to share content within meetings was essential and that while phone calls are good for a check in, with face-to-face you get real emotion.

That ability to connect face-to-face and have animated conversations is instrumental to building relationships and enabling effective collaboration. It’s why businesses spend tens of thousands of dollars on travel each year. Now, they can reduce that spend but still foster productive relationships.

With the right technologies – and a change in mindset – organizations can develop an external focus and create a truly collaborative culture. Customers and partners will have a greater voice and influence more customer-centric products and services. Untold revenue opportunities exist for those who get it right.

 

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