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  • Building a Team the Social Way

    When a project requires more agility and more expertise than usual, the manager often builds a cross-functional team. However, because of the corporate environment setup, managers tend to know only their direct reports, and fellow managers. So, when it’s time to build a cross-functional team, how does the project’s manager know which other employees will be most useful in the specific project? Simple answer: they don’t.

    The typical team creation process looks like this: the project’s manager will ask fellow managers which of their team members are available to assist on the project, and then the fellow managers will offer a certain percentage of the available employees’ time. Not only can this take a couple of weeks to put together, but it leads to a more significant problem: you have a team built around availability rather than expertise.blog_buldingteams

    This problem has been rolling around in my head. Sometimes, you just want a quick conversation between a few subject matter experts, and you don’t want to waste two weeks bringing the team together, especially when you might end up with whoever is available, not necessarily the experts.

    This led me to the idea of what I like to call micro-teams. Essentially, you reach out directly to the subject matter experts and collaborate immediately, either for a quick five minute conversation, or as a starting point for a long-term project. In order to find the experts, and avoid the problem of only seeking out team members you know personally, you can use social.

    By using social, you can search for experts yourself, by looking through profile information. You can also send out a signal across teams, and allow those passionate experts to identify themselves. Either way, you avoid the barrier of interacting with managers to reach their team members. This direct access speeds up the team formation and leads to a higher level of expertise.

    Don’t think about a team as a permanent unit. Think about it as a micro-team: a group of experts that come together quickly through social, to reach answers more efficiently.

    To find out more about how social builds better teams, contact one of our experts.

    VPN Logs? Seriously, Yahoo?

    Since my recent blog post on Marissa Mayer’s decision to stop working from home at Yahoo I learned something that really astonished me: Credible sources are reporting that Mayer made the decision after looking at Yahoo’s VPN logs.

    VPN logs? Seriously?

    The whole thing seems so…1990s.

    VPN (Virtual Private Network) access is a really crude measurement of activity. In the 1990s, when remote employees were just working on email and static websites, it made sense. But the world has come a long way since then. Today’s collaboration tools track and analyze activity down to a highly granular level: Who’s saying what to whom, who’s lurking, who’s contributing, what’s being read, who’s checking in code when, who’s visiting which clients. All of that matters a great deal more than who’s logged into the VPN.

    Speaking of the VPN, let’s talk about that for a moment.

    If the reports are accurate, Yahoo views VPN access as an indicator of who is collaborating, who is showing up (remotely) for work. That suggests that Yahoo’s senior leadership expects (and maybe even requires) all collaboration to happen inside the Yahoo network.

    All collaboration happens inside the Yahoo network? Again, so 1990s.

    I’ve used VPN’s. They’re annoying. They’re slow. Lose connectivity even for a moment and you have to log in again.

    My experience with innovative companies–especially in the tech industry–is that a great deal of collaboration happens outside the corporate network. Where in Yahoo’s equation are cloud-hosted collaboration tools like Yammer, Skype, or Socialtext? Where are Salesforce and LinkedIn? Where’s GitHub? Heck, last time I checked Yahoo.com lived outside the VPN.

    The collaboration industry is evolving much faster than Yahoo’s (or any company’s) internal network will be able to keep up with. Does Yahoo really expect innovation, connectedness, and collaboration to happen inside the VPN?

    At Socialtext, we are constantly using collaborative tools not “officially” sanctioned by the company. Some of them stick, some of them don’t. Some are open source, some are built by friends, some are built by us as skunkworks projects, some are even built by competitors. When our staff use those tools, we don’t view it as slacking. We view it as R&D.

    If Yahoo were an investment bank or a pharmaceutical company, I might have some sympathy with their position. But they’re operating in a very lightly regulated industry, and technology innovation is supposed to be what’s going to turn them around.

    I have a thoroughly unscientific theory that our world views get defined and frozen at a particular moment in time–usually some time that was particularly good, when we feel we were at our peak, our best selves. Once that world view is frozen, it’s very difficult to change.

    I went back and looked at the date when Yahoo’s share price hit its all-time high: January 3, 2000.

    That was a pretty good year for VPNs, too.

    Yahoo WFH Debate is Missing the Point

    The recent uproar over Yahoo’s about-face on working from home is missing the point.

    In her memo to staff, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer describes the move as a matter of communication, collaboration, speed, insight, and quality:

    “To become the absolute best place to work, communication and collaboration will be important, so we need to be working side-by-side. That is why it is critical that we are all present in our offices. Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings. Speed and quality are often sacrificed when we work from home. We need to be one Yahoo! and that starts with physically being together.”

    Quite a bit of research has been done on the relationship between creativity and physical co-location. It does not support Mayer’s position.

    Susan Cain’s fascinating book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking” reviews the research done on this very question. Citing research done at U.C. Berkeley in the 1950s and 1960s, Cain argues that the most creative employees tend to be introverts, who prefer to work alone for large periods of time. As she puts it, “Solitude is an important key to productivity.”

    Even more interesting for Yahoo’s situation, further studies showed that programmers are particularly productive when left alone. “Top performers overwhelmingly worked for companies that gave their workers the most privacy, personal space, control over their physical environments, and freedom from interruption.”

    Finally, and perhaps most tellingly, Cain describes online collaboration–an area in which Yahoo was an early pioneer with its Groups offering–as the sole area in which group-based work yields more creativity than solitary work. “The one exception to this is online brainstorming. Groups brainstorming electronically, when properly managed, not only do better than individuals, research shows; the larger the group, the better it performs.”

    Electronic collaboration, it seems, delivers the best of both worlds: The ability to collaborate with others, combined with the solitude to develop one’s own ideas.

    So why is Yahoo turning away from it?

    The Huffington Post quotes a number of ex-Yahoos saying that employees have been “milking” the working from home policy.

    That’s really the point here.

    Mayer is not trying to solve a communication problem, or a collaboration problem, or speed problem, or an insight problem, or a quality problem.

    She’s trying to solve a management problem.

    Yahoo suffers from too much dead weight, too many people who aren’t producing. By dragging everyone into the office, Mayer hopes to suss out who’s working and who isn’t.

    Unfortunately, it won’t work.

    Bringing people into the office tells you who’s on the clock and who isn’t. And yes, there’s some value to that. But what Mayer (well actually it’s Mayer’s middle managers) really need to know is who is producing and who isn’t. Who’s hitting their numbers? Who’s delivering quality code? Who’s generating leads? I don’t care how good you are, you can’t tell that by physical inspection.

    The only way to solve a management problem is through, well, better management. If Yahoo wants to know who’s producing and who isn’t, then they need to do it the old-fashioned way: define goals, measure outcomes, hold people accountable.

    No matter where they sit.

    Enterprise Social is all about Business Process Redesign

    In a conversation yesterday, my friend and colleague Marcia Conner lamented that “there just aren’t enough public, shared examples of companies using social to do real work.”

    Marcia, Marcia, Marcia! How right you are!

    It’s too easy for enterprise social software deployments to degenerate into places where people simply publish—or worse yet, merely talk about–work they’ve done elsewhere.

    Image: www.1to1media.com

    Image: www.1to1media.com

    But there are plenty of examples of companies that are really transforming their business processes through social.

    • Take for example McKesson and OSISoft,, whose Support professionals hit Socialtext every time they need to research a customer issue
    • Look at Southeastern Railway, whose 4,000 engineers, station conductors, and customer service professionals discover and discuss train delays on a social intranet.
    • Consider Industrial Mold & Machine, whose engineers walk the factory floor with Socialtext-enabled iPads, comparing output to spec and discussing process defects in real time.
    • Think about HUD (Office of Housing and Urban Development), which drafts, revises, approves, and publishes press releases directly from Socialtext.

    Different industries, different functions. But they have several things in common. They did the heavy strategic lifting to rethink their business processes in the age of social. They’ve achieved near-universal adoption within their target populations. Most important, they have hard ROI numbers that tie directly back to the numbers they use to run their business.

    This isn’t just about communications; it’s about business process redesign.

    So if you’re struggling to see what the “big deal” is about social, ask yourself this: Have you re-conceived your business process for a collaborative workflow, or have you simply pinned a social tail on the same old donkey.


    Update: Based on Susan Scrupski’s comment below, I added the word “Redesign” to the title. Thanks Susan!

    New Hire, Peter Smith – Making Goals on the Field and at Socialtext

    Meet Peter Smith, a new Support Engineer at Socialtext. This soccer-loving tech guy is eager to provide Socialtext users with solutions to any problems they may encounter.

    What were you doing prior to joining Socialtext?

    I worked as a Senior Online Communications Manager for an education software company called Expertus.

    What will you be doing for Socialtext?

    I will be providing top notch tech support to our customers. I feel pretty confident that this will be a great opportunity for me, because of my strong tech background, combined with my people skills.

    What are 3 words you would use to describe yourself?

    Passionate, passionate, and passionate. Really, I’m super passionate about my work and hobbies.

    What do you do in your free time?

    I’m really into soccer. I used to play often and now I’m excited about finding a new team to join. I’m also really interested in urban planning, biking, and kick scooters.

    What gets you fired up about working for Socialtext?

    Well, the easy commute is definitely a plus. But, really, I’m excited because everyone is really nice and there seems to be plenty of work for me to dive into. I love that feeling of accomplishment after completing a day filled with hard work.

    What are you most looking forward to at Socialtext?

    I’m really looking forward to working for a company that’s doing something interesting. Socialtext is in a unique industry and it’s exciting to be a part of it.

    Meet Mr. Positivity: Tyler Kellogg, New Software Engineer

    Meet Socialtext’s new Software Engineer, Tyler Kellogg. He is a coding machine whose upbeat personality keeps everyone thinking positively in the office. Tyler is excited to bring his experience and passion for engineering to Socialtext.

    What were you doing prior to joining Socialtext?

    I was working for E la Carte, a company that wants to have tablets on every restaurant table. It was a great opportunity to work on building hardware solutions from the ground up. Our tablets were called Presto, a solution to solve the ordering and payment problems at  restaurants.

    What will you be doing for Socialtext?

    Building software…and bringing boundless amounts of energy into the office.

    What are 3 words you would use to describe yourself?

    Disruptive, energetic, and positive.

    What do you do in your free time?

    Besides coding for open source projects? I’ve recently been enjoying the great outdoors. I can often be found running, biking, swimming, or backpacking. I backpacked through the West Coast Trail, which was a fun and memorable experience.

    What gets you fired up about working for Socialtext?

    I was really drawn to the company because of the people and technology. The people are smart and friendly, and it’s not everyday you get to work with someone who basically wrote Perl 6.

    What are you most looking forward to at Socialtext?

    I’m most excited about making an impact here…I’m not exactly sure how I’m going to do it, but there are so many opportunities that I know I’ll find a way!

    Meet our new Senior Quality Assurance Engineer, Michael Larsen

    Meet our new Senior Quality Assurance Engineer, Michael Larsen who is ramped up to ensure that our customers receive the very best products and features. And we literally mean ramped up maybe to level 11. This former 80′s hair band rocker has since acquired a long line of experience in this field that has given him the tools to trap the bugs before they are released and make the user experience roll like a ballad and at times an Indian Pow Wow. Since the beginning of his career he has become a full blown “Testhead,” teaching and sharing expertise inside the office and beyond. He is excited to bring his testing acumen to Socialtext and we can all attest to just how excited the team is to have him testing away.

    What were you doing prior to joining Socialtext?

    That depends on how far back you want to go (this could take awhile).

    My story starts as an aspiring rock star in training in my late teens and early twenties, which corresponds to the late 80s and early 90s. I mention this because, in the process of performing with, promoting and managing a number of bands, most of my software and technical skills were developed here.

    I discovered the Silicon Valley culture through an assignment from a temp agency. They sent me to Cisco Systems in March of 1991 when I was 23. My contract got picked up by the Release Engineering team, the division the software testers called home. I worked as a cable monkey to set up their various labs, and learned enough along the way to become their full time lab administrator. After a couple of years, the growing software testing group asked me to join their ranks, and so I did. Thus, I became a software tester and have been one ever since. I worked for a decade at Cisco Systems and then spent 2001 and beyond working for decidedly smaller companies, usually in the capacity of a “Lone Tester.” That often meant I was the only tester on a project, but more often it meant I was the only tester at a company.

    I’ve tested switches, routers, network management apps and content delivery systems (Cisco Systems), virtualization software (Connectix), human capacitance touch devices (Synaptics), video games in all their various shapes and sizes (Konami Digital Entertainment America), immigration and employment law software (Tracker Corp), and a large entertainment portal to keep track of what you watch on TV (Sidereel). Through it all, I’ve had one common thread, and that is the fun of going through and finding what is not working in all of those environments, getting it fixed and keeping potentially irate customers happy when their experience is problem free.

    What will you be doing for Socialtext?

    Well, I can say what I won’t be doing (and I’m actually glad)… I won’t be a Lone Tester any longer. One of my goals was to work with a team of testers so we could learn from each other, mentor each other, cover more ground and develop more and better ideas than we would on our own. Along with that, I hope to bring a history and passion for software testing to Socialtext. I already know I have huge shoes to fill and expectations to meet based on good friends who are Socialtext alumni (Chris McMahon and Matt Heusser, respectively).

    What are 3 words you would use to describe yourself?

    Enthusiastic, engaged, high-spirited (I’m cheating, that’s four words, but I’m pulling a technicality with the hyphen).

    What do you do in your free time?

    I’m actively engaged with the broader software testing community, and have been for several years. This involves producing podcasts on testing topics, writing about and speaking about software testing (TESTHEAD is my software testing blog), and teaching/mentoring other testers (as well as being taught/mentored by other testers). Outside of software testing, I enjoy snowboarding, hiking, mountain bikes and Scouting. I’ve been a Boy Scout leader for nearly 20 years; my son is an Eagle Scout and my older daughter, who just turned 14, has joined Venturing. I’m also a big fan of Native American culture, especially Native American dance. The Stanford Pow Wow is a must attend event for me every year.

    What’s has been the most fun moment working for Socialtext so far?

    Diving in and learning as much as possible about the Socialtext product. Additionally, getting to work directly with Ken Pier (Sr. Director of Product Quality) has been a high point. Ken is a guy I’ve only heard stories about and interacted with socially for the past few years in the broader testing community. I’ve heard a number of software testers I respect say that Ken is a force of nature. I’ve now seen it first hand :) !

    What gets you fired up about working for Socialtext?

    “I guess you could say that I am having a Sy Sperling moment here… “I’m not just an employee, I’m also a client!” I’ve been actively using and working with Socialtext for the past several years. I worked with a number of software testers to write the book “How to Reduce the Cost of Software Testing.”

    Where did we write, edit, and review the material to be included in the book? Socialtext!

    Many of my blog posts have also been crafted and reviewed by other testers before publication on my blog here in the Socialtext wiki.

    I interact with a number of people who, along with me, edit audio files so that they can be mixed down and published as podcasts. Where do we communicate and manage that work? If you were to say “Socialtext” you would be right again!

    In short, I get to work with, influence and get deep into the guts of an app I already work with pretty extensively. Even with that, I’m still just scratching the surface of what the product can do, as has been amply demonstrated to me these past couple of weeks.

    I’m fired up because I get to work on something that I use, and rely on, every day. To also see that Socialtext itself works the same way, and actually uses the product it creates, to perform and manage its work, is also awesome. It’s great to work with a company that does its best to practice what it preaches.

    Socialtext Partners with Badgeville – An Exciting Opportunity to Get our Game On!


    Socialtext is proud to announce our partnership with Badgeville, the industry leader in gamification tools for business. Socialtext is committed to creating a social, collaborative environment for our customers that engages our employees and empowers them to produce the best work possible. Our recognition program, powered by Badgeville, will allow organizations to incentivize best practices, recognize their top performers, and reward achievement instantly. Read more to find out how through this partnership, Socialtext is working to change the culture of business from compliance to collaboration.

    Socialtext has been Shortlisted in the 2012-13 Cloud Awards!

    We are extremely excited to be shortlisted for the Cloud Awards this year in the Best Software as a Service category. Being an international award program open to all organizations big and small, we are truly honored to be recognized. It goes to show we deliver solid service to our customers, an industry-leading dependable enterprise collaboration platform, and social business tools on the market. This represents a culmination of all of the work our Socialtext team has made to date.

    The Cloud Awards
    At Socialtext, we pride ourselves in providing a streamlined service to our customers. It’s not just a “swiss army knife” collection of unrelated tools. Our applications are tightly integrated and leverage common services such as linking, tagging, revision history, alerts, and most importantly people. Being a cloud-based service allows us to update features at record speed, and the flexibility to play into existing systems of record with minimal configuration. Organizations can be up-and-running with Socialtext in no time.

    “The standard of entries this year was truly incredible and we’re still scratching the surface of what cloud is capable of,” said Cloud Awards organizer Larry Johnson, “Efficiency, agility, and an ability to leverage all of the positive attributes of cloud technologies are what set organizations in this shortlist apart from any other.”

    Nearly 200 organizations entered this year, with entries coming from across the globe from Europe, the United States, and the Middle East. A winner for this category will be announced on Tuesday, January 15, 2013. To view the complete shortlist of all finalists, please visit http://www.cloud-awards.com/2013-shortlist/.

    Socialtext Welcomes Mark Edelsberg and is Excited about Looking Great!

    Mark Edelsberg has joined Socialtext as our new Art Director and the team couldn’t be happier. Over the coming months, Socialtext will be releasing great new features and improved functionality. In addition, Mark and his team will focus on creating a fantastic User Interface and innovative User Experience. Look for his new design elements as Socialtext brings our new offerings to light. The video below showcases his dedication. We think you will enjoy it.

    Mark Edelsberg

    What were you doing prior to joining Socialtext?

    Prior to joining Socialtext I worked at Magnet Systems, another software company, just a few blocks away. I was designing their corporate website and developer’s portal as well as a variety of mobile applications for both phones and tablets across iOS and Android platforms.

    What will you be doing for Socialtext?

    Pretty much the same thing. Working on giving our look a new feel on all levels.

    What are 3 words you would use to describe yourself

    Obsequious, purple and clairvoyant.

    What do you do in your free time?

    I collect vintage electronics and I am working on a book about them. I’m also into doing home improvements, playing soccer, snowboarding, traveling, and hanging out with my 7 month-old daughter Anna while neglecting my dog, Lumpy.

    What’s has been the most fun moment working for Socialtext so far?

    Finding a 14-year-old bottle of scotch behind the file cabinet in my temporary cube. This intrigues me on many levels.

    What gets you fired up about working for Socialtext?

    About This Blog

    Weblog on gaining business results from social software.

    On this blog, Socialtext staffers and customers explore how companies can gain the most business value from their use of enterprise social software, including microblogging, social networking, filtered activity streams, widget-based dashboards, blogs and wikis.


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