Published on July 10, 2019 @ 10:08 am

News From Cracking Eggs to Busting Silos

Global Collaboration Secrets Revealed at InfoComm 2019

By Julian Phillips, EVP, Whitlock

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There’s an old saying that goes, “you can’t make an omelet without cracking a few eggs,” and as we learned at InfoComm ‘19 in Orlando, perhaps you can’t achieve real and productive collaboration across the enterprise unless you bust a few silos too.

Whitlock, in partnership with Herman Miller and the Global Presence Alliance, and sponsored by Crestron, hosted over a hundred organizations with representatives from real estate, facilities, technology and the line of business in a series of events, roundtables and panel discussions. Whitlock debuted the theme #silobusting, proclaiming the notion that if we don’t disrupt our own businesses to change faster, someone else will disrupt us from outside.

This whitepaper captures relevant narrative and insights gleaned from many hours of discussion and collaboration among thought leaders, technology providers, decision makers and end users who gathered from over 20 countries, providing a truly global perspective.

Setting the scene – The Silo Effect

Social Anthropologist Gillian Tett’s book1, The Silo Effect, argues that until recently, global enterprises grew powerful by building highly effect organizational structures, departments and processes designed for efficiency, and that these focused silos were decidedly important in corporate success. However, digital transformation, big data, IoT, AI and disruptive business models have spawned extremely successful startups which are now challenging the dominant players in the Global 500 — and are changing the rules in the process.



Organizations that embrace creativity, divergent thinking and teamwork are out-performing those organized for conformity and efficiency.



Cracking eggs

Kay Sargent, Senior Principal and Director of WorkPlace at internationally renowned architects, HOK, led the discussion at the customer roundtable by calling out a few myths. She asked the audience to estimate what percentage of “big ideas” were originated inside the office. Even the most pessimistic answers were off. A recent Johnson Controls collaboration study2 showed that only 6% of big ideas originate in the office. They discovered that five times as many were thought up while exercising away from work. Kay continued to explore why this might be happening; the American Psychological Association3 shows that 40% of productivity might be lost through cognitive overload, and workplace studies report that 51% of employees have no place to re-energize at work. Could it be that businesses are unintentionally stifling creativity by focusing too heavily on traditional efficiency measures?

“94% of ideas are not generated at work. They originate when we are alone, but germinate when we are together.” Kay Sargent, Senior Principal and Director of WorkPlace at HOK

Kay drew inspiration from non-conformist musician Frank Zappa’s quote, “a mind is like a parachute, it doesn’t work if it isn’t open.” She asserted that openness means leaving things behind to explore new opportunities. “Divergent thinking and co-creation bring thought fusion, the workplace version of Korean Tacos,” she mused. So, although ideas may originate outside of the office, they often germinate and flourish inside a workplace that offers people freedom to roam, relax and gather in spaces with co-creators.

Ultimately, we acknowledged that our great endeavors in workplace design and integrated technology in the past have indeed delivered efficiency and productivity gains. And we recognized that the world has shifted into a different paradigm and we must shift too.

Fusion thinking and ideation

Having challenged the room to think differently and keep an open mind, the group split into four different teams for a collaborative exercise. Each team was assigned a topic and no specific outcome was required, other than to break some rules, think outside of the box and report back within 30 minutes. Each gathered around an Avocor interactive whiteboard and the ideas and digital ink started to flow.

Busting silos takes courage

Kay Sargent continued with her theme from earlier and led the team in looking at organizational and behavioral silos across the enterprise. They focused on organizational design, the barriers that exist through well-intentioned departmental structures and how to reorganize in more fluid teams that include decision-makers, end users, partners and vendors.

It was noted that although direction from the CEO’s office about organizational agility was clear, often by the time it was distilled down through existing departments, challenges and dysfunctions surfaced. In the specific case of collaborative spaces and technology, real estate, facilities, IT, AV, and information security, together with the line of business units, often lack a shared understanding and trust that they are all working together to achieve a common goal.



If you want to bust some of these silos and build highly effective, transformational teams and results, you need personal and organizational courage.



The team then moved to discuss why there might be organizational trust issues: fear of failure for trying something new leads to silo protection and judgement which then perpetuates a culture of “safety first,” often hanging back to watch the “other guy” fail.

Kay encouraged the group “to be the neck that turns the head” and to take leadership for creating cross-functional teams, partnering both inside the organization and inviting partners and service providers into these teams too. Kay was also applauded for her creative use of pictures and color during the whiteboarding session; a valuable lesson in how to engage and inspire co-creation.

Tackling standards and removing friction

The second group selected the theme of standards. They agreed that shared understanding and operational effectiveness could be achieved through creating standards for collaboration spaces and technology across the enterprise, but there were some significant caveats.

First, standards are often developed in one region and then “globalized” without fully considering differences in culture, work styles, technology availability and support. So, although global standards are desirable, there must be some fluidity and flexibility without comprising the principle intent. A proactive change control process is also necessary, so that standards don’t become locked down and redundant.

Secondly, standards in themselves can create a silo; people hiding behind standards and using them as an excuse for lack of innovation and experimentation. As such, sandbox environments can encourage experimentation in a controlled environment and a solid business process can help fast track innovative solutions.

Finally, there was a conversation about friction. While global standards are the ideal, it’s another thing to get them deployed quickly enough so the entire business can realize the benefit of them in time. The process of designing, deploying and managing standards remains overly complex, labor intensive and costly and this creates unnecessary friction.

A near frictionless model might enable a customer to pick and order from an online catalog without a lengthy sales process. The provider should be able to deploy hundreds of these solutions in weeks rather than months and everything should be provisioned and supported by remote tools through the cloud. And when friction starts to disappear, so does cost — not just for enterprises, but also for the technology providers. In this scenario, everyone benefits.

Collaboration is a human endeavor, not a piece of technology

The third team went analog and talked about people, not technology. It was acknowledged that great collaborative experiences can only be achieved when we create the fusion of the space, technology and the individual needs of people.

The modern workplace caters to multigenerational demographics and vastly different work styles and behaviors. Therefore, this group stressed the importance of listening to users, understanding divergent needs and developing “personas” for how users can interact with space and technology. The workplace should allow for the need to find quiet space for thinking and processing, and then move to a space that enables rapid-fire problem solving with teammates both in-person and remotely.

There was also discussion about how effective, or not, we are at meetings. It is entirely possible that we may have created standards that support dysfunctional meeting behavior. Perhaps if we learn to meet differently for shorter time periods and get more done with less people, it might change our whole idea of how we design the workplace and the technology to support it. David Pearl’s book4, Will There Be Donuts, was referenced as a good read — it highlights some of the absurdities of how and why we meet and offers alternative strategies to change the meeting dynamic into “really meeting” and not “nearly meeting.”

The group concluded that we need to focus on the quality of the meeting experience that best supports a successful outcome, just as much as we do on designing the right space with the best technology. And guess what? Perhaps we need to break down some silos to achieve that goal too.

“Nearly meetings are not just unproductive, they are counterproductive because they undermine our trust in the power of really meeting. And really meeting can change the world…” – David Pearl, Will There Be Donuts

You can’t manage what you can’t measure

The fourth and final group huddled to figure out the seamlessly never-ending challenge of data, analytics and reporting. The premise being that enterprises will not continue to invest heavily in collaboration spaces and technology unless they can measure a return on their investment. And additionally, that we can’t improve the customer experience unless we are informed with data about what worked and what failed in the past, before we design for the future.

The team acknowledged that we already have many data inputs from building management systems, energy utilization, network management and system / room controls. However, much of this data is organized in silos and often it is difficult to “see the forest for the trees.”

It was agreed that in future state, we need to collate all our data inputs from IoT room sensors to video conference system alerts into one “data lake,” either fully in the cloud or in a hybrid environment, and present the resulting business intelligence on a single pane of glass. To achieve this goal, we need to encourage technology providers with their own measurement and reporting protocols to develop simple API schemes and SDKs (Systems Development Kits) so data can be shared across platforms and provide the powerful insights and perspective needed to make future space design and technology decisions.

It’s a wrap – take courage, bust some silos and co-create the future

Each team proudly presented back to the entire group their discoveries and insights. The first comment was, “this was great, we need to do more of this back at the office,” a recognition that we still probably spend too much time processing and managing the way things have been in the past, rather than thinking about and planning a different kind of future.

As each group presented, it became apparent that although we were covering different topics, common themes emerged. Here are the global collaboration secrets revealed:

  1. Organizational and behavioral silos are a reality and they often stifle creativity and innovation.
  2. There is too much friction in our business today and we need to scale with simplicity and speed.
  3. Standards are great, but we need flexibility and fluidity and continuous improvement.
  4. The end-user experience is everything; we need to listen and adapt for different work styles.
  5. Learning is a lifelong activity and we need to facilitate knowledge capture and sharing.
  6. Collaboration should not happen just inside our company but with partners and vendors too.
  7. We need to measure what’s happening but only though a single pane of glass with insights.
  8. Our people need private time to originate ideas and team spaces to germinate and grow them.
  9. To move forward we need to bust silos, think differently and leave old stuff behind us.
  10. Finally, none of this will happen unless we take courage and be the neck that turns the head.

Thank you – Silo Buster Extraordinaire

A big thank you to all the enterprise organizations and industry partners who participated in this “real-time research” experiment. Without sharing their experiences and insights and having the courage to collaborate among their peers, we could not have produced this whitepaper. In our own way, over a brief period, we busted a few silos of our own. And to Kay Sargent of HOK, who provided thought leadership, energy, passion and creative whiteboarding expertise throughout the entire exercise; you are indeed a Silo Buster Extraordinaire.

#Silobusting epilogue

During the week of InfoComm ‘19, over 130 Whitlock and GPA team members from around the world wore black t-shirts featuring #silobusting in lime green on the front. This slogan helped initiate many hundreds of conversations about what silos we were busting, even at Orlando airport departures with complete strangers outside of the industry. Sometimes to make change happen, we must provoke a conversation just to get the ball rolling.

We passionately believe that global collaboration is about people understanding each other better, communicating openly and freely with trust and integrity. We believe that diversity is an essential ingredient in creativity and the world will be a better and happier place when we listen to and learn from each other.

This is why the Global Presence Alliance exists — we bring together countries, cultures, languages and perspectives to help our customers deploy and manage collaboration space and technology around the globe. It’s why we developed the “Velocity” program, designed around the premise of deploying 1000 rooms in over 50 countries in less than 90 days while removing friction and cost. And it’s why we partnered with Herman Miller to bust silos between facilities and technology to build better integrated spaces designed around how people actually work.

If you have enjoyed or learned a little from the discussion and conclusions in this whitepaper and want to know how we might help you bust some silos of your own, come say hello and let’s see where we could go from there.

1. Gillian Tett, The Silo Effect: The Peril of Expertise and the Promise of Breaking Down Barriers,
(New York, Simon & Schuster, 2016).
2. Johnson Controls Global Workplace Solutions (GWS), Collaboration 2020
3. American Psychological Association
4. David Pearl, Will There Be Donuts?: Better Business One Meeting at a Time, (New York, HarperCollins, 2013).

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