Q&A: Kat Mandelstein

We talk to PwC's social collaboration lead about the importance of effective communication and collaboration in business...

Define collaboration in just three words

Connected. Teaming. Sharing.

How important is effective communication to modern business success?

With the rapid speed of change and geographically dispersed teams, effective communication is critical to the success of modern business. Real-time communication is key to making sure everyone is executing together against the same strategic plans and making the most of the subject matter expertise across the organisation.

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What are the key benefits of having the right collaboration and communication strategy in place and acting upon it?

Getting enterprise-wide collaboration right allows companies to act quickly, respond to new opportunities or threats and to bring the best thinking across the entire organisation into solve their business challenges. 

What are companies currently doing well when it comes to collaboration and communication?

Companies that are getting collaboration right realise that good ideas can come from anywhere in the organisation. They focus less on organisational structure and remove the silos of knowledge by using enterprise collaboration tools to openly share and collaborate across the organisation at all levels of the business. Leaders lead by example in participating collaboratively and being more transparent on where the business is headed. Communities are formed by passionate employees who help champion the collaboration with others who have interest or expertise on the topic.

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Conversely, what could they be doing better/more of/less of? And why?

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Many companies purchase collaboration tools and roll them out without focusing on the cultural change of a different way of working. Then they wonder why there is low adoption and ineffective communication and collaboration. Focusing on the cultural change and the business process changes to the new way of working is critical to it's success.

Understanding the employee journeys and adapting the structures of the tools and communications will make adoption go more smoothly. Having a clear architecture, taxonomy and governance in place before launching the effort is also critical. If there is no clear structure, it is challenging to easily find and leverage information and if there are no clear guidelines, behaviours may not be what leaders expected. Clear ownership of collaboration groups needs to be in place, so that the content is kept current or archived when it is no longer valuable to the organisation.

Who in the organisation should be taking the lead when it comes to choosing the right tools and implementing them successfully?

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Where this has worked best, choosing the right collaboration tools has been done by committee between the heads of IT, corporate communications and key business units.

Who else in the organisation is critical to success here?

HR is also often another key input and user of the systems, though the budget rarely sits with them, there input will be critical. Also, having a small pilot group of eager collaborators from across the organisation at all levels of the organisation to give input into the design and to test it before it is rolled out to the entire organisation is really important in a smooth launch and user adoption.

How do you ensure you're collaborating and communicating effectively? Do you have any words from the wise or anecdotes from other real-world experience you can share?

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I have been fortunate to have worked in very collaborative environments for a good part of my career. I believe in sharing and collaborating across geographic and organizational bounds and use social enterprise collaboration tools to crowdsource ideas, co-create presentations and proposals and to share ideas, materials and assets across the organisation. I was an early adopter of social media and apply the same principles to how I work within the organisation on continuously connecting, sharing and collaborating with others.

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There have been projects where I found great subject matter expertise from other countries or other parts of the organisation and then I have leveraged that in my work and then shared back my resulting work with them. We often form impromptu working groups to create content and documents that them benefit all of us in better serving clients or developing new business.

Where do you see the market and adoption of communication and collaboration tools headed? 

As the next generation of digital natives becomes the largest share of the workforce, the expectation is that they will have tools at work that are as easy to use as the tools that they use to communicate in their personal life.

Because of this, I see social capability is being integrated into many of the collaboration tools. The larger enterprise social network platforms that have been out there for a few years are now focused on designing for mobile first since employees need to be able to collaborate and communicate from where ever they are. Better search needs to be integrated into these platforms as well to be able to easily to surface the best knowledge more quickly versus having to hunt through lists and groups. 

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Traditional collaboration tools are integrating more social capability directly into platforms like email with real time feeds and circle-like groups to communicate with specific teams. Real-time collaboration is being built into document, presentation and spreadsheet collaboration so that teams can work simultaneously on the same document without fear of version control.

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With the growth in geographically dispersed teams, virtual meeting tools become more important that allow for real-time video and audio for participants, in meeting chat, group document collaboration and then storing back the collaboration to shared repository directly from the meeting as well as integration with calendars and project timelines throughout the project collaboration.

What will successful corporate collaboration and communication looks like five or 10 years from now?

Ten years from now, the tools themselves should be transparent to the user. The tools will become more intuitive and users will not have to be trained how to use them. The user experience will become more seamless and it will not be obvious when they are switching from one tool or capability to another, it will seem as natural as talking in person to co-workers. I also see voice and video taking an increasingly important role in corporate collaboration and communication. Real-time language translation from text or voice from one user to another will also make collaborating on a global basis more effective. 

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Why should people attend this event?

With the speed of change in the marketplace, there is a lot of disruption currently in all industries. Acting on developing better collaboration across your organisation will allow you to be the disruptor versus being disrupted. This conference is a great way to learn what tools are out there today for better collaboration, as well as where it is headed, and to learn best practices and lessons learned from other organisations. I look forward to meeting you at the conference.

Is there anything else you would like to add on this topic? 

Unlike other business systems that get rolled out in organisations, collaboration systems are not a 'build it and they will come' solution. It is definitely a journey that evolves over time and focusing on culture and the people side of the new way to work is as critical as selecting the right tools and platforms.

Attend our exclusive event on 8th July to hear more from Kat and others who know their stuff when it comes to communication and collaboration. Click here for more information.

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