The way we work has changed and management structures are getting more and more complex and convoluted. Today, teams want to have a voice – something that is not always easy for geographically fragmented businesses. Fortunately, as we will see, technology can help.

Digitization: How to manage a team by putting them in the driver’s seat

The way we work has changed and management structures are getting more and more complex and convoluted. Today, teams want to have a voice – something that is not always easy for geographically fragmented businesses. Fortunately, as we will see, technology can help.

This Monday was a day unlike any other for Thomas*, financial manager at the HQ of Polyseth, an energy company in Madrid, Spain. He was to supervise the implementation of the company’s new internal audit procedure at their Ilium, NY Business Unit. For the company’s management, it was a real revolution because the internal audit would now be carried out by staff from departments that were not used to working together, one from upper management and the other from line management. Thomas was apprehensive about this from the start, especially since the Ilium site had been experiencing a lot of tension and he could not make the trip to ensure that everything went well on the ground. 

Video conferencing minimizes distance between team members

8.30 a.m.  Thomas was the first to arrive at the Madrid headquarters of Polyseth for the videoconference he had organized with Jack and Max, respectively the general manager and the supply manager at the Ilium site. Thomas knows how the industry operates and is aware that they start early in that region. If he had to travel from Madrid, he would have had to leave the day before and, with his wife about to give birth, it would have added a whole new level of logistical nightmares! As it is, he is fresh and ready - ready to take the pulse of the duo who will be responsible for taking the new internal audit procedure into its second phase.

8.45 a.m. – 10.00 a.m. The videoconference was very useful. Jack joined Max in his office for their virtual meeting with Thomas - it was the first time he had set foot in the supply department. What a bizarre paradox that it was a video stream that had helped to bring colleagues physically closer. Thomas shared his screen with them and all three could review the new internal audit procedure. Thomas was pleased to note that his colleagues had a good handle on the new processes. He told them that he would be available all day in case they had any questions and that he could be contacted by onlinechat, SMS or phone.

Jack and Max start wading through the project files. Jack is surprised at the number of suppliers Max uses, but he does not really have anything to use as a comparison. So as not to put Max on the spot, he decides not to confront him about this directly and, instead, uses his mobile to send a discrete message to the upper management’s group chat, asking for his team to send some benchmarks.

A few minutes later, one of his colleagues sends him a link to a file which he has put in their online collaborative space – Jack looks on his laptop. Indeed, management at the other sites have implemented a centralized, bulk purchasing procedure that has not been implemented in Ilium. Jack makes a mental note that this may be an area that is ripe for improvement.

12 noon – 1 p.m. During lunch, Jack brings up the subject of the purchasing procedure with Max. Max explains to him that the Ilium site has specific issues which make centralized, bulk purchasing difficult. However, Max is open to making changes and suggests devoting the afternoon to a brainstorming session with Jack, his team of suppliers and purchasing representatives at headquarters. Jack sends a text message to Thomas who says he will try to organize this impromptu meeting asap.

Between 30% and 50% of the world’s population tends to be introverted

The brainstorming begins! Putting the purchasing team under the management of the finance department has helped Thomas convince buyers to join the meeting on such short notice. The meeting is being held remotely but that has helped to remove people’s reluctance to attend. So, there are two buyers in the virtual meeting room along with Jack, Max, two suppliers and Thomas (who is acting as facilitator) - a total of seven people.

4.00 p.m. – 5.00 p.m.  Diplomatically, Jack questioned the participants about the gap between the number of suppliers of the Ilium site and the number of suppliers generally found within Polyseth. Behind their screen, the two Romanian suppliers are much more comfortable to discuss the issues. This is not surprising as between one-third and one-half of the world's population tend to be introverted.

They explained that local suppliers are not able to supply them with all the products that meet the new environmental compliance standards imposed by HQ. As a result, they are forced to use many suppliers to achieve what is expected of them in terms of environmental responsibility. Max, their manager, was very surprised because none of his colleagues had ever brought this up as a problem. It is as if the online collaborative tools had opened a space for dialogue while simultaneously maintaining a distance. Thomas’ new found skills (he had just returned from a session of training on cooperative management) had also undoubtedly played a key role. For the buyers, the intelligence gleaned from the Ilium site's suppliers was also very useful. The buyers pledged to open a production site that operated within the environmental standards demanded by all the company’s sites.

Productivity gains of 20% to 25% are possible with effective communication and collaboration tools (McKinsey)

6.00 p.m. Jack and Max undertake writing a joint report about this first day of internal audit, on the company’s shared editorial space. Thomas, at HQ, will have plenty of time to comment on it. They find that they have enjoyed working together, even though before they barely knew each other. They are also astounded by what the working group could produce, simply because they were given the floor, allowing a collective intelligence to flourish. Without knowing it, they had just confirmed a study by McKinsey that showed that by improving communication and collaboration with digital tools, productivity could increase by 20 to 25%. While the channels of information were obstructed, the combination of smart management, positive group dynamics and collaborative working tools is gradually changing things at Polyseth. The future looks brighter.

There are two ways of looking at the human factor – digitization brings solutions to both approaches:

• Either you consider it is an inconvenience to be avoided, then digitization  takes the form of a race for automation;

• Or you consider that it is the heart of all efficiency, then digitization takes the form of communication tools and collaborative work.

The technology itself is neutral. It is the economic reasoning and philosophy behind it that will determine what digitalization looks like in tomorrow's organizations. In other words, the choice is not so much a technical one as a management one.

*The names, people and businesses mentioned in this article are all fictional and any similarity to any person or organization is entirely coincidental.

About the author
Blog author jerome delacroix 82x82

Jérôme Delacroix

Entrepreneur in Content Marketing Consultant

Jérôme DELACROIX is an entrepreneur and content marketing consultant. His areas of expertise are Internet technologies, customer relations and more generally B2B.

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