Okay, I’m not going to lie but some of the best examples of teamwork I’ve been in my life the days was when I worked in Defence. Somehow working under duress, pressure and stressful situations in environments away from home, family and friends meant you had to put personal issues and hangups aside for the benefit of the whole. You also had an end goal in mind and knew everyone played an equal part in achieving it bringing in their own unique skills, talents, experiences, personalities – and quirks – to the mix. (Read an excellent article on the Power of Hidden Teams).
Yesterday I attended the Melbourne Workplace Innovation Summit hosted by Microsoft and the theme of the half-day sessions was around teamwork with a heavy emphasis on the use of Microsoft Teams.
The summit was opened up by Jas from Microsoft who shared her own personal teamwork story and who then introduced our keynote speaker Colin who shared an amusing presentation on organisational culture. I had a chuckle with some of the things that we have seen in our workplaces touted as ‘the next big thing’ – Agile, Six Sigma, Open Plan Offices, you name it, everything was a target and it provided a light-hearted environment ready for the next sessions which I was there keen to hear.
The panel consisted of leaders from Microsoft, AGL, Australia Post, Victorian Department of Health Services who spoke about how enabled their people and teams in their organisations to collaborate within MS Teams. There was also an excellent session by Cricket Australia who outlined their entire strategy and phased approach on how they implemented MS Teams.
What is Microsoft Teams?
You’d be hiding under a rock if you haven’t seen the extraordinary push and the success of Microsoft’s product MS Teams into organisations. As I sat there listening to these leaders, my mind cast back to the early days of Yammer where there was much excitement around how Yammer was going to change the face of business as we know it, opening up channels of conversations across workers, departments, organisations and indeed, external networks.
Years on, it seems like Yammer has flattened out. It’s not uncommon to hear, “Oh no one uses Yammer”, “hardly anyone is on it anymore”…
But Yammer aside, I sat there in the audience thinking that the success of Teams is because it’s a program that links all our workplace applications into one – it’s the one place where we can talk to people via video or phone; work together on documents; ideate together; share the conversations around our team projects; express our voice; express the meaning of what we want to convey through different formats (text, gif, links, video; stickers; etc) on OUR ACTUAL WORK. That is, what we are doing day to day.
It’s the portal that ties together what were stand-alone applications and now you can customise to suit around the projects you’re working on. The biggest time saver (if you set up your notifications correctly – and if your team decides that they communicate wholly in that platform) is a reduction of emails. (I’ll let you in on a secret: yes, you’ll reduce your emails, however, one skill I would thoroughly recommend you start learning is editing notification and filtering so that you won’t be overwhelmed with the notifications and alerts. Don’t worry, this is simple to do).
Many of you know me that I’m pretty much brand agnostic. I like to dabble in all sorts of different programs – Apple, Google, Open Source, for me, it’s the exploring of what these programs do and how they work that I enjoy. I’ve long since realised that it’s not about the brand – it’s about the behaviours. You can pretty much do a lot of the same things regardless of what you use, however, what makes it difficult at times is when others are using different programs to what you’re using.
So you can imagine a worker in a corporate environment having to open MS Word documents sent by colleagues; read a post in Yammer because they’re part of a community in there; they may be a member of several Slack groups too, be sent Google Slides for editing by an external marketing agency; save files to Dropbox (despite their IT Department calling him up to stop doing this); or communicating to his peers on WhatsApp because it’s just easier – what Microsoft has done has now eradicated these problems because the entire work environment is within a Microsoft ecosphere available 24/7 across any device. Pretty much any consumer app has an equivalent Microsoft product.
After working at Adopt & Embrace who’s a Microsoft Partner, I’m still learning about Microsoft and what’s evident is that they’ve made work a whole lot easier. In fact, I wish I had thought of the idea myself. It’s genius. Teams is akin to a portal – a doorway that links to all your work and teams in the one place – your virtual, in the cloud workplace.
My key reflections from the summit were not about the tool itself. Let’s leave that aside because, in actual fact, it’s a good tool that allows people to do their work seamlessly and easily.
There seems to be a positive buzz around it and when you have employees ASKING THEIR IT TEAMS to have MS Teams, you know you’re on a winner.
What I was interested in was the additional conversations happening around the room and in the plenary around the changes in roles to departments.
I spoke with a few people in the IT departments who are happy about MS Teams and gladly implement it for their organisations because it puts the control to the worker. I also spoke with others who were in a Change Management or ‘customer success’ roles. Both were talking about what this change means to their own department and roles. All of a sudden, IT was expected not simply to control but were put in a position of having to guide their employees towards adoption.
Shock horror, they had to learn the ‘soft skills’ around dealing with people.
During the session, one of the panel members shared how they were guiding, supporting, role modelling and facilitating the change towards new behaviours in the workplace. Emphasis included providing highly contextual training and performance support specifically around certain workplace scenarios such as:
- Finding and Searching for Information
- Collaboration in a Work Document
- Collaborating in Meetings
- Using Video
- Flexible Work Practices
People Leaders played a critical role in ensuring that new modern workplace behaviours were encouraged and supported. What was also mentioned was the emphasis on people learning and sharing what they know with others because it was all around their particular team projects but also an understanding and a commitment to working this way. For example, one departmental team placed automatic replies on their email about preferred ways of correspondence. “If you would like to talk to me about Project ABC, you can reach me in MS Teams”.
Another observation speaking to three engineers who did a lot of design work was this missing “how we take notes/brainstorm/ideate” around the use of devices and I wondered if this was also going to see some changes in coming years? That is, we are on laptops that can serve as tablets and yet we are still tied to the keyboard and mouse. (Me included). Does this limit that way we think at all because text, by its nature is quite structured and limited? We are more likely to type our notes into our devices than say, draw or sketch note our ideas onto the tablet. I have yet to see people who are using their tablets and stylus to do the bulk of the work. I’m going to park that idea for now because it means a whole different relationship to how we think and express our ideas in different forms.
(Thanks to Nick Sousanis excellent book Unflattening which explained this concept on page 54, “traditionally words have been privileged as the proper mode of explanation, as the tool of thought. Images on the other hand, long been sequestered to the realm of aesthetics, sidelined in serious discussions as mere illustration to support the text”)
The third observation of mine was that for nearly a year now, I’ve been working at Adopt & Embrace but have yet to meet or have any connection or mention of Learning and Development involved in this process. The people who are working on such transformation projects for their businesses are IT, Change Management, Marketing and Corporate Communications along with the representation from Business Units who are working on specific project teams.
I’m left wondering, “where the hell is L&D?”
I know that some L&D teams have “offloaded” (this was a word I was told once) social learning to the business or mistakenly thought that social learning is about using a social network, “Oh the business is already doing that in Yammer, L&D doesn’t need to be involved in that!” “Isn’t that what Yammer is for? ” or “Oh social learning failed in our organisation because no one is using Yammer” however, there’s a massive missing gap on building new behaviours and skill sets in employees to be ready for this massive change in the way they work beyond the platforms themselves.
Also, these excuses are illogical now because they can’t say the same excuses for MS Teams. “Oh, we have a successful social learning program because our people collaborate in MS Teams!” ???? Nope. Doesn’t make sense.
Social learning has never been about a particular enterprise social network platform – “people are the platform” (I’ve borrowed this term from @JoeWilsonTV) – not Yammer, not Teams, not Slack, not Facebook Workplace, not any other tech platform….
And guess who L&D’s competition is? IT, Change Management, Communications and a whole range of vendors in moving into this space.
As I was sitting there, listening to how organisations were implementing and using MS Teams, what struck me was that there was still a preference to speak about the tips, strategies, techniques, ways they helped people use the system at a day-to-day level but very little on what impact these actions on achieving business goals and strategic outcomes for the organisation.
I wanted to hear big reforms in how business had improved their position, impacted the market or even society at a grand scale – as a result of this collaboration.
However, I think it’s early days yet – people need to get comfortable in working this way before they realise the potential of what they could do with it collectively to make a greater impact.
At the moment we are still thinking short-term, focusing on what we need to do to get through the day and complete the tasks we need to do.
What happens when these tools now allow us to bring together broad ideas, different perspectives and voices to the mix, free up*** time where we could play, discover, experiment more – or spend time reflecting on possibilities – become more creative and more long-term in our approach?
Most of all, once workers are comfortable with working this way above, how will we then inspire them to move into the next developmental phase which is about continual and lifelong learning?
***I say ‘free up time’ as long as we don’t use our free time filling it up with other useless, non-value add activities.