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On Friday, Forbes.com featured a write-up of an interview with Patrick Lencioni, a leadership consultant and author of several books on the subject. The article focuses on the degree to which technology can be relied upon to manage virtual teams and offers useful advice for organizations and managers alike.

Lencioni takes an interesting approach when he compares workplace teams to families:

No family would say, ‘Well, Dad lives in New York, Mom lives in San Francisco, and the kids are spread around the country, but thanks to my iPhone and computer, it’s no different from living under the same roof.’ The simple but often overlooked truth is that without the daily interaction of breakfast or dinner or homework or late night conversation or doing the dishes, a family can’t possibly develop and maintain the strength it needs to thrive during good times and survive during challenging ones. The same is true for teams that have no incidental conversations in the hallway, or at lunch or in the elevator for that matter.

But Lencioni understands that face-to-face isn’t always possible and turns to conference calls to facilitate virtual team meetings when necessary. He also acknowledges that high-end video conferencing may be an opportunity for better connecting virtual teams, but he warns that “no single device or tool can replace face-to-face interaction” and that such sophisticated technology is absent from most organizations.

Ultimately, Lencioni concludes that, whether meetings are face-to-face or via the latest technology, a few common rules apply:

Regardless of whether teams get together in person or remotely, they need to regularly revisit their purpose, values and mission. They need to work at developing trust and determining methods for hashing out differences remotely. They also have to establish ways to keep their team goals—not just their individuals’ goals—visible and urgent.

Read: When You Absolutely Can’t Meet Face-to-Face by Terry Waghorn for Forbes.com (10.16.09)

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Earlier this evening, Marketwire announced an upcoming PR University audio conference tackling the use of social media and Web 2.0 in internal communications. If you have a communications department willing to foot the $299 bill (for an unlimited number of attendees), it might be worth checking out.

The conference, which will take place on October 22 and include presentations by four leading communications professionals, will explore some of these burning questions:

– How do social media tools like Facebook and LinkedIn help—or hinder—employee communications, particularly in an era where there are no more gatekeepers of information?

– How does internal or employee social media usage impact PR, IR, HR, IT and even Legal?

– How can your company customize these platforms to suit its needs?

– How do today’s tech-savvy companies use YouTube, wikis, podcasts, Intranets, employee blogs and other Web 2.0 channels to foster and drive employee engagement?

– How can Twitter and other micro-blogging platforms help teams manage events or handle real-time logistics more effectively?

– And what are the country’s top companies doing to encourage and enable staff to engage in social media in the most productive, responsible and even Reg FD-compliant manner?

View the conference’s brochure: Using Social Media for Internal Communications: Execs Outline Best Policies and Practices for PR in the Web 2.0 Era

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Up until recently, I was pretty convinced that the integration of social media into every organization’s internal communications plan was inevitable. No, not just inevitable. Necessary.

I still think, to a certain degree, it is. But last week, my view was put to the test by a legend in the field of internal communications. I had the honor and privilege of speaking one-on-one with Roger D’Aprix, who IABC has named as “one of the most influential thinkers in the communication profession in the last 25 years.”

I knew Mr. D’Aprix had questioned social media for its drain on employee productivity. In fact, in a 2007 article for the Ragan Report he wrote, “Give it some careful thought before you succumb to the hype and recommend any activity that adds to an already maddening overload problem.”

I was curious to see if Mr. D’Aprix’s position had changed at all given the proliferation in social media over the last two years. I was lucky enough to have the chance to ask him myself…

CS: Mr. D’Aprix, what do you see as the role of social media in internal communications today?

RD: Social media is a phenomenal tool to help people collaborate. The downside, of course, is when it’s used frivolously or in the wrong way, which it so often is. Social media is not an end in itself, but I see organizations making it their primary means of communication.

CS: But isn’t it a necessary part of an organization’s internal communications plan? Won’t organizations that refuse to adopt it be left behind?

RD: One of the things that bothers me about social media is that it’s sort of being shoved down people’s throats. There’s sort of this sense that organizations “must” encourage any form of social media. But where is the demand coming from? I don’t see people clamoring to blog inside organizations. What I see are professional communicators who are trying to keep up with the times, and they think social media is the best or only way to do that.

CS: But regardless, doesn’t the use of social media ultimately benefit the organization?

RD: I’m struggling with whether this is really a solution to a problem, or a solution in search of a problem to solve. I wonder if social media might actually just compound the whole process of communication.

CS: In past articles, you have criticized social media for its negative effects on employee productivity. What is your current take on this?

RD: There is a tremendous amount of noise and information being passed around. Inevitably, what people will tell you is that they are drowning in information. They are bombarded with things they couldn’t care less about. What is this going to do to the amount of important information they can actually retain?

CS: Aside from perhaps decreasing employee productivity, how is social media affecting the way organizations are functioning?

RD: The bigger part of the problem is that the old hierarchical, autocratic approach to managing people is coming face-to-face with something that is emerging right now—a more collaborative team approach. Changing values are coming up against an old system and old values. What happens is anyone’s guess.

CS: And you believe technology and social media are playing a large role in this culture clash?  

RD: Absolutely. Inevitably, organizations will have to change to become less bureaucratic in response to a different organizational system, much of it at the hands of social media. I see a fair amount of conflict down the road because of this. I believe this is the most interesting time in my whole internal communications career—I am interested to see what it will look when it all comes out in the end.

 —

What I ultimately took away from my conversation with Mr. D’Aprix is that, yes, social media is sort of inevitable and, in some cases, even warranted. But its introduction into organizations carries greater implications than those of just another communications tactic. Social media represents more than a change in how we transmit messages—it represents a change in how we view management systems and, in turn, how organizations operate.

But is social media, as Mr. D’Aprix suggested, merely a solution in search of a problem?

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Losing control

In my last post, I shared a video segment of an interview with David Pogue of the New York Times. In it, he cited “loss of control” as a primary reason companies hesitate before jumping onto the social media bandwagon.

According to Jon Iwata, SVP Marketing & Communications at IBM, companies can address most of their concerns (disclosure of proprietary information, criticism of management, personal attacks, etc.) by turning to existing company policies.

View: Three-minute video in which Mr. Iwata discusses the use of social media as an internal tool and how companies can manage a lack of control.

I found Mr. Iwata’s insights particularly interesting given IBM’s relatively early adoption of online social media tools. In 2005, IBM began encouraging employees to enter the blogosphere, and the company has since garnered attention for incorporating social networking and online collaboration into communications practices.

Read: Big Blue Embraces Social Media: IBM has been encouraging social networking among its employees with in-house versions of Web 2.0 hits such as Facebook and Twitter  (BusinessWeek, May 2008)

Despite Mr. Iwata’s statement, it is worth noting that IBM maintains a comprehensive list of “Social Computing Guidelines” on its website. These guidelines expressly encourage the use of social media for learning, collaboration, and community building, but they also outline how employees can engage in social media responsibly, legally, and in accordance with IBM’s principles and values.

As companies turn more frequently to the use of technology and social media in internal communications, the loss of some control is inevitable. Organizations must learn to walk a very fine line between protecting their own interests and being perceived as the 21st century’s answer to Orwell’s Thought Police. In my own humble opinion, I believe IBM has set an example for how this delicate balance can be achieved.

Cheers,
Cristina

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A change would do you good

Ah… change. We’ve heard a lot about change lately. It’s a word that is used interchangeably with progress and at the same time causes even competent leaders to raise an eyebrow in skepticism or perhaps just plain fear.

Depending on your role and your organization’s structure and attitude toward change, incorporating social media into a stale, but probably comfortable, internal communications plan will likely be an uphill battle.

So, before we delve too deeply into where and exactly how to use social media internally, I recommend we take a couple steps back to learn more about the art of gaining buy-in from senior management.

In the following two videos (hosted by Ragan Communications), communications experts address this very challenge:

David Pogue discusses how he worked with New York Times leadership to overcome their fear of social media and tap into technology to communicate with internal constituents.

Blair Klein, Director of Corporate Communications at AT&T discusses how to get naysayers on board, and why technology makes this an exciting time to be a communicator.

Reconciling your organization’s current culture and processes with its business objectives is a great place to start. But management concerns can’t be ignored and may be a major roadblock if we don’t take the time to understand them. More on that later. In the meantime, good luck!

Cheers,

Cristina

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