Dinesh Tantri, of Thoughtworks gave a compelling talk at E2Innovate on Tuesday. An IT services company of 2000 people in 27 global offices, Tantri shared the secret sauce of building a collaborative enterprise. It starts with a collaborative work culture that they've evolved around a core set of practices and principles and he outlined ten key approaches that Thougthworks focus on.Cultural strength = market resilience
The topmost is that Thoughtworks tends more towards culture as opposed to business models for building long term company viability. As he indicated, business models will be obsolete every 18 months, but a strong culture will let you be resilient. The key behaviorial traits they look for is "the substrate for our collaborative culture" -- individuals who have a capacity for empathy, are intrapreneurial, optimistic, reflect openness, even rebellious, and selfless. He noted that traditionally social collaboration initiatives have been led without HR but he recommends close engagement early on.
Keeping Dunbar's number in mind
Thoughtworks is a growing company, but as Tantri says "We're big with small offices." They typically limit the number of people in their offices in the 150-200 range. This helps foster a sustained productive connectedness of group and reflect their adoption of an insight from Dunbar's number- that "there's a cognitive limit to the number of people we can have a meaningful social relationship with". So even within in the same city they might put together two smaller offices.
Within those offices Thoughtworks focus is on open workspaces - cubicle-less workplace that are structured as large open floors with project teams sitting together at round tables. Teams sit together a tables, and because of the large open workspace, cross-project collaboration becomes easier. The periperhapy of the space has small conferences rooms for private time, or small group meetings when needed. Dinesh noted that leaders don't have secretaries, and sits at the same tables as the teams - they don't reinforce hierarchy.Situational leadership
Leadership at Thoughtworks is situational. They reference the fishnet model (wirearchy) where centralization of power based on purpose and need - not based on hierarchy.
Thoughtworks, Tantri says practices situational leadership quite well and what this means on the ground is that they are not a permissions based organization there's a lot of trust. Ideas do not need to be sequenced through a hierarchy.Thoughtworks they talk about practices and principles before they talk about the platform. Successful social implementations need to do as much on the people site as the platform side.
Thoughtworks actively use collaborative engineering practices - especially through the use of agile methodology which is essentially collaborative with the use of pair programming and distributed agile teams
The porous enterprise in a networked world
The culture at Thoughtworks also brings in the perspective of 'porous enterprise boundaries.' Tantri noted that a lot of focus by companies on the social area has been outside the firewell using social media to collaborate with customers or partners. Thoughtworks engages in specific ways to enable flows inside and outside the company in ways that balance the internal and external knowledge flows that are key to refresh what they know and dovtetails into the marketplace view of the enterprise.
Affirmation and recognition that's tuned for culture
The other area that's important is smart incentives. Their foray into a gamification program was less than successful, and he says that gamification needs utmost care. They defined a points scheme that tended to work at cross purposes with their very egalitarian culture where they hire very talented people and reinforce sharing. He indicated they mis-judged the effectiveness of a leader board.
A gamification platform that says A is better than B - when you have seasoned experienced people, these simple point systems that rank people doesn't express enough of the context of their experience, achievements, background. He indicated that when you start comparing people, a lot of these dynamics start going wrong, so gamification won't work out of the box. You must understand deeply your cultural context or it will backfire. They now rely on peer recognition and intrinsic motivation to drive collaborative behavior.
Another strength of their collaborative enterprise are strong communities, and not just virtual ones. Tantri noted that in many organizations where virtual communities thrive, there are also physical communities underlying them. They have actively engaged employees who regularly adapt and create opportunities and gatherings in their regions for conversations, shared learnings, and regular dialogue. If physical communities or lack of sharing behavior persist in the culture, then the likelihood building thriving virtual communities will be challenging.
Thoughtworks builds these thriving physical communities through local knowledge sharings and events -- they have a process they call 'away days' a two-day event of sharing and social learning. And every region has it's own style and rhythm. Their UK office has Thirsty thursday's and this in turn reflects on the nature of conversations in the virtual realm.
Transparency supporting a culture of trust Transparency and trust are major cultural values at Thougthworks -- as much transparency as people can tolerate. The large floor workspaces at Thoughtworks offices have ample mechanisms for sharing, with bulletin boards, wall postings, making visual project team information with dashboards, operational metrics. Building an ecosystem of trust through transparency goes a long way to building a collaboration culture.
Thoughtworks gives people on the ground access to resources and trusts that they will make good decisions. And it's had a huge impact on how people relate and perceive each other within and across regions. The success of this kind of practice was underscored by Ben Fried CIO of Google in the morning keynote,
Social platform value proposition
In Tantri's view the social platform strategy helps the company scale some of these principles and practices especially as the workforce becomes more distributed. They have multiple applications; Jive, Google Apps, wikis. It does give them new opportunities, but essentialy it helps them scale those communities to be global so when they have an innovation in one office they can use the tools to help easily seed it to others.
Both their culture and adoption of social platforms, allows leaders to emerge bottom-up, as opposed to being appointed top down. They have had people who have done a brilliant blog piece that became a service practice. Individuals and teams become more productive and enterprise KM becomes a side effect. They look at patterns of use and tools, and instead of doing a formal RFP process - a bottom's up approach to the tools that people were leaning to.
Thoughtworks uses one primary enterprise-wide social network, Jive, but are moving to this as a social layer rather than a place. They have a mix of other platforms like wikis and mailing lists. A lot of social business people say email is dead. Thoughtworks is a developer centric company so they are heavy users of mailing lists. Three years ago, Thoughtworks didn't have a social platform but used mailing lists.
Next steps are to work toward socially enabling some of of their business apps. They have some heavy information based processes especially resource management software.
Integrated profiles - an emerging priority
Integrated profiles is a huge challenge for SaaS platforms. He noted that profile information is getting scattered creating social silos. You may have a dozen apps that have profiles, and how do you reconcile this?. They're nowlooking at the idea of a unified, integrated profile system. Some of these conversations go back to social as a layer. Should Jive own it, should Google apps own it? Enterprise search is also in this category bringing unified view of company -- how do you get people to find the information they need. On the HR/Performancem for instance they use Rypple (now a Salesforce company). Tantri indicates that the more that companies go to SaaS or hosted solutions there are issues around creating operational silos.
Thoughtworks really exemplifiies a thoughtful approach to reaping the benefits of collaboration.