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Yammer Co-founder Adam Pisoni on Collaboration Roadblocks

Continuing my conversation with co-founder Adam Pisoni, we discuss Yammer's integration strategy, and the two things he thinks get in the way of most collaboration. He'll take a look at how business models are changing and driving more value out of employees, how space effects collaboration and how communication drives everything!

David: So, you were talking about partners and integration. What are some of your criteria for this?

Adam: Simply put, we generally like working with companies that are easy to work with. This includes companies that have open APIs or have thought about a following model or activity streams. We also look at integrations very strategically, as in the case of SAP.

Part of our integration strategy is to make it really easy to partner with us. All we need is activities through data and open graph objects. Once the basic integration is complete, our partners get increased value over time without anyone having to upgrade or change their product.

David: What do you see as the biggest stumbling point for collaboration? What is the thing that's getting in the way of it working well since you quoted Gartner saying 70 percent of all IT-dominated social initiatives would fail, which is good for me because I consult around that part.

Adam: I think there are two things: one is there are still a lot of bad tools out there that just don’t work or aren’t easy to use. The second is more about corporate culture. There is a huge conflict in enterprises between the old model – where companies try to be as rigid and predictable as possible – and the new model that incorporates transparency, agility, etc.

If you’re agile and innovative, you’re going to be less predictable and that’s a really difficult set of trade-offs because we tend to reward companies for predictability above all else – even above success. Look at the stock market – if a company comes in within an analyst’s range or beats it, the stock goes up, but if it comes in lower, the stock goes down. This is the ultimate value of predictability.

David: Any other indicators besides their stock price?

Adam: In general, we give employees very narrow job descriptions because we want to know what their output will be. We would rather have an expected outcome than have them excel in a way that was unpredictable for the most part.

David: I would think you would want them to excel …

Adam: Of course, we want employees to excel. But historically, predictability has been more important than agility.

David: Well that's because it's based on a model from the industrial age, a Taylorist model.

Adam_Pisoni_New.jpgAdam: Exactly. That probably has been detrimental for a couple decades now but I think we’re at the point now where we’re seeing whole industries get disrupted so fast … It’s becoming really apparent that we actually have to be able to get more value from our employees by expanding their job descriptions and letting them excel.

We have to be much more innovative and agile. One of the ways we can do that is by giving our employees a little more room to solve problems in a better way and collaborate. Everything we talked about, self-organizing and just-in-time, isn’t predictable. That’s what we’re saying. It’s like we’re going to let them figure this out and that’s the biggest stumbling block.

If companies are internalizing this and deciding that that’s important to them and modeling that behavior in fact — because certainly I know plenty of companies who said, “We want to go social,” and then modeled a really bad behavior, like firing employees who were questioning strategies. Giving employees a voice — those are the kind of things that I think are the biggest and are a key part of social.

David: Well that's why I look at collaboration holistically, all the good people, process, technology and space. Because I think all four affect the ability to collaborate. 

Adam: Physical and virtual space does impact collaboration. What do you think of offices and cubicles?

David: Yeah. Because, you know, a lot of the problem is that you don’t get to sit and have time to think before you get interrupted. And I think studies say that it takes 7 to 15 minutes to get back to what you are doing once you’re interrupted. I mean when I’m writing, I just ignore email, phone, cell phone, IM, etc. I just don’t even look at my other screen which has email and IM and all that, and I just focus on the writing because otherwise I would never make a deadline.

 

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