Collaboration, Empathy, and Language in Global Teams

March 27, 2013
Panacousticon -- Athanasius Kircher (1650)

Panacousticon — Athanasius Kircher (1650)

The importance of empathy for design research, organizational collaboration, and language is one of my major focuses. The relationship between empathy and collaboration is a topic I’ve covered in a range of posts over the past few years. One post in particular, drawing from the Open Empathy Organization concept of Dev Patnaik’s Wired to Care, focused on how empathy improves the overall communication patterns in organizations.

Organizations, for-profit or not-for-profit, which ignore the benefits of using empathy as an organizing principle do so to their own detriment. The point is especially relevant to global companies that mandate a lingua franca.  Companies currently mandating English as their lingua franca (ELF) include Daimler AG, Kone Elevators, SAP, Siemens, Philips, Nokia, Alcatel-Lucent, Nissan, Technicolor, Rakuten, and Microsoft in Beijing, among others.

The trade-offs in deciding whether to implement ELF are pretty well known. Pressure from other global players such as suppliers, customers, partners, and competitors who increasingly use English is one. Diversification of organizational tasks across departments in different countries creates bottlenecks without a lingua franca, increasing inefficiencies. A third reason relates to making mergers and acquisitions among global companies smoother in organizational terms.

Actual research into how ELF affects collaboration within distributed teams with members from different mother toungues and national cultures is less abundant. The following discussion looks at some recent research into the way ELF actually affects distributed team members of global companies.

However, before looking at the research, a brief review of the debate about ELF is useful to put the research into a broader context. Most of the points (pro lingua france and con lingua franca) below are drawn from a debate between Maury Peipert and Karsten Jonsen of IMD.

If I had known about Jankaki Kumar when I wrote this post she would have been my point of reference for how these concerns apply to what employees in global enterprises think, feel, and do while participating across national cultures and peoples.

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Social Learning, Collaboration, and Team Identity

March 4, 2010

Harold Jarche recently offered a framework for social learning in the enterprise in which he draws from a range of colleagues (Jay Cross, Jane Hart, George Siemens, Charles Jennings, and Jon Husband, all members of the Internet Time Alliance) to outline how the concept of social learning relates to the large-scale changes facing organizations as they struggle to manage how people share and use knowledge.

Harold’s overall framework comes down to the following insight,

Individual learning in organizations is basically irrelevant because work is almost never done by one person. All organizational value is created by teams and networks. Furthermore, learning may be generated in teams but even this type of knowledge comes and goes. Learning really spreads through social networks. Social networks are the primary conduit for effective organizational performance…Social learning is how groups work and share knowledge to become better practitioners. Organizations should focus on enabling practitioners to produce results by supporting learning through social networks.

Indeed, Jay Cross suggests that the whole discussion needs framing in terms of collaboration, and I tend to agree. Yet, saying social learning occurs largely through collaboration means delving into the subtleties of how social networks relate to the organizing work of project teams as well as to their performance. After all, much of the work done in Enterprises involves multidisciplinary teams, often spread across departments, operating units, and locations.

One of my earlier posts posed the question Who’s on Your Team? to highlight the importance of social networking to establishing team identity and enhancing knowledge sharing across distributed, multidisciplinary teams. Its focus was on the importance of social software applications in the Enterprise to the ability of distributed project team members to recognize who is on their team at any point in time, and who isn’t. Organizational analysts refer to the challenge of establishing team identity as a boundary definition problem for teams, when members are spread across large distances whether geographic or cultural in nature.

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Customer Competencies, Co-Creation, and Brand Communities

October 20, 2009
Courtesy of Wonderfully Complex's photostream on flickr.

Courtesy of Wonderfully Complex’s photostream on flickr.

Word of mouth communities and networks using social software are increasingly spread over regional, national, and international borders, making them much more important to those who market branded products and services, online and off. The recent buzz around the concept of social business points to the growing importance of social networks and communities to the evolution of business practice. Whether companies are in fact closing the community gap or the engagement gap remains an open question though.

As Rachael Happe of the Community Roundtable notes in commentary on the Community Maturity Model:

in the stages before a company becomes truly networked, metrics are isolated to supporting one business process vs. in a networked business the whole business becomes social and the communities are set up to support cross-functional goals.

In other words, customer communities approaching maturity produce value for the business, or organizational enterprise, rather than only a specific functional area – such as research and development, product management, customer support, or marketing. Rachel’s overall point receives validation in a recent article in the September (2009) issue of the Journal of Marketing that reports on long term ethnographic research on brand communities by Professors Hope Jensen Schau, Albert M. Muniz, Jr., and Eric J. Arnould, “How Brand Community Practices Create Value .”  The most interesting thought in the article for me is their point that customer competencies are a valuable resource for building co-creation opportunities in brand communities.

Unlike earlier discussions of customer competence, Schau, Muniz, and Arnould contend trying to co-opt customer competencies is the wrong strategy. Rather, their research findings suggest community management benefits from developing opportunities for customers to grow their competencies with the brand. They make it clear that their research indicates,

Companies wishing to encourage co-creation should foster a broad array of practices, not merely customization.” In other words, don’t try to keep the community focus only on what benefits the brand as you define it. The important point to keep in mind when discussing value in brand communities is that members create value for themselves through producing cultural capital distinguishing their status relative to the community, aside from the ROI and business value gained by the company owning the brand. Making sure members are provided opportunities to grow their competencies encourages them to reinvest their cultural capital in the brand community.

I discussed co-creation in several posts this past year in relation to eLearning 2.0 generally as well as Nokia and, back in 2005, its overall importance to the challenge of creating successful innovation, including the relevance of customer communities to innovation outcomes. The concept of customer competencies captures the overall significance of co-creation for efforts to produce value through engaging customers. However, Schau, Muniz, and Arnould offer the additional insight that the competencies critical to brand communities are developed through community practices. By practice they mean the linked, implicit way people understand, say, and do things. The term is further used to refer to the activities, performances, and representations (video, graphics, etc.) or talk of community members.  

Experience designers can use the concept of customer competencies  to inform choices about how to manage practices in customer communities.
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Validating Customer Communities

October 13, 2009
group

Courtesy of mtsofan's photostream on flickr.

I’ve known Steve Finikiotis over at Touchpoints for some time, and especially appreciate his concept of the Validation Principle. I’ve seen the Validation Principle at work in my own experience managing online communities, as well as participating in many online communities. The key to any online experience is engagement, and engagement means relating empathically to other people in a way that they appreciate. Steve recently outlined the relevance of the Validation Principle to Twitter use, and other social media, in a succinct way.

If you use Twitter or any of the other social networking tools, you’re bound to notice how much people crave acceptance and appreciation…Its obvious that people like being shown appreciation, but there’s more to being appreciated than meets the eye…When we’re validated by others, we’re inclined to bond with them. I call this the Validation Principle, and it’s one of the keys to building durable customer relationships.

The bond Steve is alluding to is a key part of any successful customer community. It contributes significantly to a community’s duration. Developing such bonds though is not an easy process, requiring time as well as attention. It involves learning from customers, and it involves their learning from your actions in relating to them.  

Rule number one in managing customer communities is don’t fail to listen. Additionally, failing to recognize that customers know you are listening but feel like you just aren’t hearing them is equally damaging. Sometimes it is possible to listen effectively in an online community itself. Other times, you may need to actually do research to directly engage and validate passive members who mostly consume content (sometimes referred to as lurkers) to really understand the dynamics of an issue playing out in an online customer community.

What have you learned from engaging passive content consumers in customer communities?

Posted by Larry R. Irons

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Using Social Network Analysis in Social Business Design

September 23, 2009

radical

My last post discussed the Open/Closed culture fallacy in social business design. I made the point that leaders of large corporations are typically unable to answer the key strategic questions posed by David Armano of the Dachis Group in a recent important post, Re-designing Your Business Culture. Among other questions, David asked:

Do we want real connections established between employees, customers, partners?
How can we reward those in our ecosystem who actively contribute?
Do we actually want to engage those who want to engage us? Can we?

As this post’s subject indicates, my interest here is to explain how social network analysis, applied to the ecosystems of organizations, helps apply social business design in a manner that avoids the fallacy of open/closed business cultures. We can’t know how open or closed a business culture is until we research, analyze, and understand both its formal and informal networks.

As I noted previously,

To paraphrase Valdis Krebs, a social network analyst, more connections are not necessarily betterValdis Krebs, and other social network analysts engaged in ONA (Rob Cross and Steve Borgatti, for example) contend that the most efficient and effective adaptation to emergent challenges lies in “the pattern of direct and indirect links” in the ecosystem. You can read a straightforward overview of ONA by Valdis.

This post continues David’s line of thinking by considering a combination of two of his strategic questions in light of the open/closed culture fallacy. I also take a stab at noting how to answer his last question.

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Social Business, the Golden Rule, and Open Empathy Organization

May 20, 2009

empathyI first took real notice of the term “social business” in a post early this year over at Peter Kim‘s blog. The concept of social business is not limited to those enterprises seeking to “generate social improvements and serve a broader human development purpose,” though these are certainly admirable goals. Rather, social business is increasingly discussed as a frame of analysis for considering the business implications of  large numbers of people using web 2.0 technologies, especially social media, within corporate enterprises as employees, or outside them as customers.

Channels, policies, processes, touch points and transactions are increasingly viewed as parts of the social experience organizations use to engage employees in collaboration, and customers in conversation. The common goal of the discussion involves transforming business practices to incorporate social relationships into the value proposition to customers and other stakeholders.

My recent reading of Wired to Care by Dev Patnaik (with Peter Mortensen) provided some basic insights for me in thinking about the development of social business practices. I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in the intersection of experience design and organization. The book explores the concept of empathy in a manner that speaks to the social business discussion by pointing out that the result of a transformation is more than adoption of new technologies such as social media.

Wired to Care offers an approach to organizing business as well as creating design insights on how to engage customers to improve products and services. One of my earliest posts on Skilful Minds, Break the Golden Rule with Customer Dialogue Support, offered the following observation,

Many “customer care” approaches call for treating customers the way you’d like to be treated—the so-called Golden Rule. Treating customers the way we, as service providers want to be treated implies that we inherently know what’s best for them. A customer dialogue approach alternatively assumes that customers know, or can quickly learn, what’s best for them as individual customers. We need to treat customers the way their actions indicate they want, not the way we would want to be treated as a customer.

Reading Wired to Care persuaded me that my previous point only moved the discussion a part of the way to an understanding of the nuances of the Golden Rule for business. Wired to Care offers an interesting point of view on the limitations inherent in the traditional understanding of the Golden Rule, while contending that a full appreciation of it reveals truths about us as individuals, and our relationship to organizations, whether as employees or customers. It outlines three levels of the Golden Rule:

  1. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” — the most basic level with limited efficacy unless people share the same view of the world
  2. “Do unto others as they would have done to them” — requires increased empathy to distinguish the wants and needs of individuals
  3. “Do unto each other as we would have done unto us” — provides for empathy by focusing on “how we’d all like to be treated, inside the company and out,” yet also recognizes that good business practice might additionally require treating people “better than they expect to be treated”

Dev contends that the third level of the Golden Rule provides a basis for integrating empathy into the everyday practices of organizations. Though he does not use the term social business, Dev’s analysis offers a foundational strategy for implementing social business through the concept of an Open Empathy Organization.

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