Ethan McCarty

Digital strategy | Social business | People-centric biznology

Four Collaboration Mistakes You Can Stop Making Today

Cincinnati Reds v Miami MarlinsThere’s something undeniably magical about collaboration and the energy unleashed by a group of people working on something together. It’s a little bit like the energy you feel when in a packed stadium when your favorite band plays — everyone knows the lyrics, everyone knows the songs and there’s just that buzz. It’s amazing.

When we try to create this collaboration buzz in our organizations, we often focus on building the stadium (i.e. we buy a piece of collaboration technology) and hope that the buzz somehow follows. We’re so focused on the stadium, we forget to consider what the band was doing that was so right that got people aligned around it. Worse yet, we forget the fans. The result? Empty collaboration stadiums.

On our mission to fill these collaboration stadiums, some common mistakes plague many organizations. Here are four major collaboration missteps you may be making (and some ideas on how to get back on track).

Mistake #1: You Delegate Collaboration
This is probably the most harmful mistake out there. You see this happen particularly when collaboration is defined as some kind of dated concept of knowledge management, like updating a wiki or something similar. Often collaboration is punted to the lowest-ranking member of the team who is told “Go collaborate for me,” or “Go update this.” The other kind of collaboration by delegation is the ghost collaborator. Most common among senior team members who ask a junior team member to “collaborate” for them (sometimes even using their login).

The workaround? Make sure you’re leading from the middle.

Collaboration works best when the people at the top are viewed as collaborators themselves. But by “the top” I don’t mean the CEO, I really mean the middle — the people who are really in the midst of where the work gets done. It could be the most connected salesperson or the most efficient supply chain manager. When you see those people collaborating, that’s when your collaboration technology starts to gain credibility.

Another work around? Be a “Servant Leader”. Instead of leadership being about the application of pressure onto people, the servant leader is about removing blockers. And this is one of the things that’s great about Bloomberg: hierarchically it’s a very flat organization and the notion of the servant leader is very prevalent here. As a manager, my job is to help my people succeed by working with them. And to me, that is a direct affront to the dated notion of “delegating collaboration”.

Mistake #2: You’ve Assigned Collaboration to a Person or Department
By definition collaboration is not a solitary task. You don’t have to speak Latin to understand that “co-labor” is about more than just one person. But in so many organizations you find that this responsibility falls on one person or department. You might have a Community Manager or a Knowledge Manager who is somehow supposed to make the collaboration happen between disparate teams.

Don’t get me wrong, I think there’s definitely a role for people who have skills facilitating collaboration, but I think there’s a real shortfall when you make it somebody’s sole job because it allows mistake #1 to happen (delegating collaboration). People will say “Oh. I don’t have to collaborate. We hired so and so to do that.”

The work around? Build collaboration goals into all levels of the organization – especially in formal and public reviews. Simply asking “who did you work with to get this wonderful thing done?” in a staff meeting sends a powerful signal to everyone present. Make collaboration an expectation, not an exception.

Mistake #3: You Think Collaboration Can Self-Organize
This is the notion I mentioned at the start of the post about building a stadium and hoping the fans come. Unfortunately collaboration doesn’t have any magical self-organizing properties. Too often there is some serious money spent on a deployment of collaboration software followed by a very brief training period. The organization says “Okay, you took the online self-paced learning on how to collaborate.” And then six months later wonder why you haven’t been collaborating in the tool.

When you expect your teams to organize themselves without having thought about what makes a great collaborative culture and really demonstrating that, you have destined your teams to failure.

Successful organizations do three things in regards to collaboration: They teach people how to collaborate; they make collaboration part of people’s jobs; and they publicly recognize good examples of collaboration.

Mistake #4: You View Collaboration as a Weakness
Long gone are the days where a leader sits alone in the corner office issuing commands to the underlings who are doing the actual work. The decline of the channel-centric, hierarchical view of organizations has seen the ascendance of strong networks of connected people. Whereas leveraging networks may have in the past seemed more like a social activity that was somehow weak or for entertainment value, that’s no longer the case. That part of the movie is over. We’re now in the part of the movie where networks are powerful and the heroes are the leaders who understand how collaboration is not a weakness, it’s a business imperative.

A work around? Make sure everyone understands why collaboration matters (for your company).

Collaboration is one of these words that has, in corporate land, become one of these over-determined expressions that carries a lot of weight (and by weight, I mean baggage.) I come to the table thinking collaboration means one thing, you come to the table thinking it means another thing, heaven help us if you’ve come from ten years of experience at some other company! So having some established ground rules and shared perceptions about collaboration is key, especially if you’re going to link collaboration to job performance. When your people understand the power of collaboration they will no longer see it as a weakness.

Ethan McCarty (@ethanmcc) is the Global Head of Employee and Brand Communications for Bloomberg LP. Ethan is responsible for growing and managing a team of Employee Communications professionals who activate, inform and enable Bloomberg’s 15,000+ employees worldwide through engaging messages, interactive experiences both online and off. Catch him speaking at Enterprise Collaboration Tech Fest in Melbourne on 28 Feb – 2 March 2016.

Check out my session and come hang with me in Australia:-).

My team made this video about #Agile @Bl

How I meet with my team

Boring Presentation --- Image by © Corbis

Another #winning meeting! — Image by © Corbis

(Originally posted to the Arthur Page Society Page Up blog)
A friend and colleague (who is an employee comms exec at a big insurance firm) asked me about how I am meeting with my team because their monthly departmental meetings are wearing everyone out. For whatever reason I wrote her back at length (poorly timed espresso-infusion? I dunno.)  Anyway, I thought it might be something some folks here would like to read:

Here’s what I am doing w/ my team — it comes from a bias against infrequent (e.g. monthly) big meetings.

First of all, I meet with my direct reports individually every week — depending on the individual it’s usually 15 minutes to 1 hour. I view these as my most important meetings. Format is the same every week — I ask them to bring me a list of things they want to talk about. Ideally the list includes things like blockers to their work they’re facing that they want to think through with me, any opportunities they’d like to pursue, questions about things they don’t understand or want to discuss in the marketplace or the organization etc. I ask them specifically not to view these 1:1s as status reporting meetings. You will see below why I don’t really need them to do that. I always bring my list of things to cover w them too — but almost never get to it since usually theirs and mine overlap. We almost always end early and never go late.

Every morning we have our daily standup from 8:45 am – 9 am. It follows a pattern semi-borrowed from Scrum software development — everyone says a highlight or two from what they got done yesterday, mentions who they will meet with today and also what they have to get out the door that day. Just those three things and nothing more. Attendance is on a best-effort basis, but the expectation is that we all come every day. If you can’t make it, you just ask a buddy to “read out” for you. Send a couple bullets! We end with PSAs from whomever has one and then I read the word of the day from I am, afterall, a wordnerd. Intention here is to create situational awareness and avoid any duplicative efforts. Also this mtg functions to highlight any blockers people are hitting. Oh, and I had the facilities team remove the rectangle table from our team meeting room and replace it with a round table — we literally stand up during the meeting.

Every Tuesday we have a one hour team meeting.
* We start with me listing off the three or four things that I am really excited about from the past wk. I namecheck anyone who has worked on these things and I try to be generous with compliments. I point out where we’ve collaborated well, executed in a particularly high quality way or innovated our way out of a mess etc.

* Then we do a 5MM Class — Five Minute Master Class. We rotate who on the team has to do it each week: you have five minutes to show everyone on the team something useful int he field of employee communications. Doesn’t need to be epic — heck, show me how to left align a photo in the CMS in three fewer clicks, I don’t care! Just make it useful and do it in fewer than 5 mins. Someone usually video records this and we post it to our wiki/team page.

* After that we do “Rearview mirror.” this is where we crack open the spreadsheets and look at whatever data we can regarding the past week’s effort. Which articles were well-read? Which ones had higher conversion to next action (such as watch the video/enroll int he program etc)? Which ones dies on the vine? We have an open discussion about the A/B testing we are doing across some of our channels — the main question is — how do we use data to do better next wk?

* Next is “Headlights” where we look ahead. My team got tired of me asking them and having to tell me ad hoc so they created a shared spreadsheet which then led to them moving over to some more sophisticated software. This is where we look at how we are cross marketing our content, load balancing for up-coming doozies and generally thinking through approach and assignments.

Finally, once/quarter I take the team out for drinks or lunch (we kind of alternate.) My MO here is to buy a few rounds and leave early so I don’t ruin the fun:-)

So far this has been working (we’ve only got about 10 people in this group) but I think I know how to scale it as we get bigger by adding/compressing segments to the weekly team meeting. Also, my initial objectives are starting to be met — I had designed this cadence around a few needs that were particular to building a data-driven employee comms group somewhat from scratch (and by that I mean we had really good people who weren’t necessarily working in the best way possible.) My objectives were to boost coordination, drive content cross-promotion, build esprit de corps, build a culture of comms-enablement (we are already scaling by inviting “non-professional” communicators onto our employee comms platforms) and really, really use data to drive our efforts through frequent contemplation of observable phenomena.

That was a really, really long way of saying — if you busted this approach up across your groups within HR you might find yourself not needed the monthly snoozefest.

Hope you are doing very well!

Leaving IBM for a new adventure

So yesterday was my last day at IBM… Here’s the note I sent to my colleagues.

Subject: So long (for now)

Friends and Colleagues,

After thirteen challenging, rewarding, meaningful years, today is my last day at IBM. I am going to Bloomberg as the Global Head of Internal Communications.

I have worked on amazing projects and programs at IBM — building IBM Research’s digital communications system, launching Autonomic Computing (!), developing and facilitating the Jams, producing the Annual Report, introducing Smarter Planet, personalizing, socializing and democratizing our Intranet, growing our Alumni network, celebrating our Centennial, creating our digital strategy and our Social Media strategy and, last but certainly not least, launching the M&C Labs.

When I told a mentor that I was leaving, he said something that really stuck with me: you are starting to ask questions of yourself now that IBM cannot answer. I think the biggest one is, of course, can I do great things outside of IBM?

At Bloomberg I will be at the crossroads of financial services, media, technology and even politics — the very things that make New York City such an exciting place to live. The company has a very strong and unique culture (and concomitant zaniness too, no doubt) and it is going through an exciting moment — its founder’s return, a massive expansion of the employee population, expansion of the core terminals business into adjacent industries, the very exciting and deliberate expansion of the media and news business — that will make a compelling challenge for me as I build their Internal Communications capability. I aim to apply much of what I have learned from IBM to Bloomberg’s CEO’s quest for a more cohesive identity and narrative for Bloomberg employees.

So I am excited to test my mettle outside of IBM — and nervous too: IBM is like my home town and leaving is scary. Yet I feel very good about the work I’ve done with all of you and the network of relationships I have through IBM. Looking back at my time at IBM, the massively overwhelming feeling is that it has been time very, very meaningfully and well spent. And I have you, my fellow IBMers, to thank for this.

I am hopeful for IBM and all my IBM friends — the company is on the precipice of a set of changes that will be super interesting, challenging and mind-expanding. You can feel the engines revving up for a course-change. And I will be rooting for you to make it in grand style (and not just as a shareholder.)

Because I will always be an IBMer; I feel as though I have a tattoo on my heart in blue ink — it’s the eight bar logo, of course.

Cheers, Ethan


Live (sorta!) from IBM Connect

It was really fun and interesting to have a chance to talk with Cheryl Burgess (@CKBurgess) at IBM’s annual confab on the topic of social business: IBM Connect.  The conference had many, many great talks — alas, I only got to be there for a day and most of that was hustling to do my talk.

You should check out Cheryl’s detailed write up here, but in the meantime, you can watch the video here:

IBM’s point of view on Social Business (that’s me, mom)

We initially created this video as part of our Think Academy — a monthly education program that we do virtually for all 400,000+ IBMers on strategic topics like cloud computing, analytics etc. For January’s session, we covered Social Business and the organizers of the program asked me to appear with my colleague Tami Cannizzaro to describe IBM’s point of view on social business. So here you have it — a video initially made just for IBMers, but now we’re using it externally — it’s on YouTube — for example, we played it at my panel discussion with Cheryl Burgess yesterday at IBM Connect.

Mostly publishing stuff elsewhere

I’ve been neglecting my blog…but it’s not for lack of online content creation. Far from it! Here are some links to some articles and podcasts I’ve worked on in recent months for other sites.  I’m having a great time doing it and may ultimately re-post some of it here or revisit some of the topics in greater detail.

For now, the links:

Ever Onward: Social media enablement from the early days

A few years ago when my team and I were getting super excited about podcasting (gosh, this must have been like 6 or 7 years ago now that I think about it) we realized that we and our other podcasting pals at IBM needed good intro, outtro and music-bed tracks for our IBM podcasts.  So we did a remix of IBM’s rally song from the 1930’s, Ever Onward (original lyrics and music; playable file from 1930s).

We did four mixes…a “corporate” mix which we wanted to sounded newsy, a “warm” mix which we wanted to sound folksy, a “rock” mix we wanted to sound energetic and an embarrassingly named “techno” mix that we wanted to sound, uh, techy.

Say what you will about the titles of the remixes, they were popular! The files were downloaded more than 15,000 from IBM’s intranet and used many, many thousands of times again in podcasts, live employee events, video podcasts and a zillion other contexts. We had negotiated a novel contract with the producer that would allow us to use them as we saw fit with the exception of advertising…this was pretty cutting edge, I think, for the time and allowed IBMers from all around the world to have professional-sounding audio branding for their podcasts without having to negotiate individual licenses.

Anyway, that’s an example of early-days social media enablement for the enterprise that I am pretty happy to have been a part of here at IBM:-)

Curated collections for engaged employees

Random thought for today…I really, really like the notion of curated collections — lots of stuff goes in this category…from Pinterest Boards about tats to recent articles in the NY Times. I think it is a powerful indicator of expertise and something people naturally do on the web. The first ‘web sites’ I ever saw were lists of links to meaningful stuff (from that individual’s perspective) typically organized by category.  That gave birth to the homepage.

But the instinct goes way deeper than that just being a fan (or even a fanboy) of something — collecting is a human habit and, in the context of social media communications and marketing, can be a powerful indicator of expertise as well as a wonderful way to channel a natural, social behavior into a productive means to render implicit organizational knowledge explicit.

What I am thinking of in particular is that making it easy for people in your organization to create, display and share collections of links to things they find meaningful can be a powerful way to engage the workforce. It gives a context for them to to enjoy their competence, which is a very important dimension of doing meaningful work. 

We’ve done some experiments at IBM in this area — some of which have turned into product features, like social bookmarking — that have yielded promising results.  People like to create useful categories of stuff and show them off…and seeing what other people have collected, gives insight not only into who they are, but what kind of world they want to create.

IBM slides from SXSW 2013

Somehow I forgot to post these here despite having uploaded them ages ago to Slideshare.  Oh well, here are my slides from the keynote I did at the OMMA track of SXSW earlier this year.


<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”; title=”Enterprise transformation through social media” target=”_blank”>Enterprise transformation through social media</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”; target=”_blank”>Ethan McCarty</a></strong> </div>


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