Leticia Guzzetta, Imagination Technologies LLC
We often emphasize how “I” achieved major accomplishments and “I” have great leadership qualities to drive a team to complete a large project that saved our company oodles of money. “I” forge ahead alone and never ask for assistance. The usual story is always about the “I”, “I”, and “I”. Well this story is not about the “I” but about the “we”—the teamwork and collaboration to achieve a common goal. This story describes the journey of how decentralized teams met and rallied together to accomplish a common goal and ended up becoming a unified tech pubs team. It is about our success even though we are separated by locale, have vast cultural differences, and report into different business units (eVPs and budgets). The story is how we used three key strategies to achieve emotional and procedural unification, what we discovered from our journey, and our success stories about what we learned.
Our company, Imagination Technologies, is a global company that creates Intellectual Propriety and solutions for customers to produce their products. Imagination Technologies presents a complete solution with a variety of tools to build products that our customers can easily use. Imagination products and teams were accumulated through team building and business acquisitions. We went from 400 people to 1600 internationally without a set process or path except what Imagination wanted for their product line: a complete product solution. Internally, we are separate teams with too many conductors to orchestrate a proper symphony. We were out of tune and sync. Evidence of the problem—Tech Pubs was not taken into real consideration.
We are an international company with no central tech pubs leader. How can diverse teams built from multiple business acquisitions look like a unified team in our publications, processes, styles, and formats? What do we have in common? We, Tech Pubs, wanted to move to DITA/modular documentation to help with our publishing process and content reuse. But, moving to DITA is more than just selecting the authoring tools. To transition to DITA, you need a common process, flow, style, and format. How is that achievable with our barriers of locale, culture, and different business units? We had to work together.
Where do we begin?
Tech pubs established broader goals that needed to be achieved beyond just the day-to-day goals. We had to collaborate to have a merged publishing and writing processes, guidelines, and overall common over-arching goals. To transform and transition, we used three key strategies:
- Get to know the teams and each other: Establish transparency and build relationships—essential to international business and virtual sites.
- Establish common goals: What is our end game and where are the gaps?
- Communication and Collaboration: We are communicators. We must communicate.
Get to Know Your Teammates!
To get to know your teammates, you must be willing to share thoughts and goals. Where do you want to start? Explain what you want to accomplish for your team. Define how you see your team and the user interacting. Define the issues with input, reviews, tools, output, and distribution. You are looking for complementary traits and attitudes, ideas, needs, and requirements.
Listen. You must be willing to listen to your co-workers as you want them to listen to you. Ask questions and be curious about their goals and thoughts. Ask questions without interrogating your peers. Learn more about them and their needs to try to understand their issues by summarizing without fixing their issues.
Be positive and accepting in your discussions. No egos. Exchange concepts. Share your thoughts without trying to solve everyone’s problem. “Just listen.” If you must make suggestions, voice them carefully without directing or telling your peers what to do to fix their problems. Make no judgments because everyone has good and bad points, as do you. Everyone’s story is different.
- Voice your thoughts
- Listen to their thoughts and concerns
- Navigate carefully, and use logic, not emotions; we are not in the same location and they cannot see you
Understand cultural differences. Don’t force your culture on others. We often fail to understand the uniqueness of others. Everyone is different. It is the differences of others that improve the projects. You are trying to understand each other, to look for common ideas. You are making allies for your projects and process improvements.
Last, but crucial: Be Respectful to others. The initial phase at Imagination was difficult as we transformed from the “I” to the “we”. It was difficult to look beyond our cultures and to be open to other people’s thoughts and concepts. We had to accept others and respect their views.
Establish Common Goals
During our “get to know your teammates” phase, we had lots of discussion sessions and we learned about our similarities, differences, and process gaps. We established who we are (personalities and skill sets). At this juncture, we made a list of our process gaps, including processes that we needed to merge into one or processes that we needed to establish.
Next step—We targeted the process gaps to be filled for us to be a standard publications group. We needed to establish a foundation of documentation consistency. We created “working groups” to close those process gaps. A working group is a team of volunteers dedicated to solve and document a changed or new process. Some people might call a working group a committee or an initiative. “Working group” sounded more like we were on an action-oriented team. With working groups, we established basic ground rules, goals, and objects for each group. We determined the “focus area” to establish the impact on Tech Pubs. We set goals for our working groups to focus on which area each would improve such as basic standards or guidelines for future standards such as DITA and CCMS.
We used basic rules to navigate the working groups to aid us in being fair and consistent with our work processes:
- Each group must have a Tech Pubs leader and additional members are encouraged to join
- Each group must maintain a wiki page and document progress
- Each group must promote and communicate end results to the Imagination community
- Project Working Group meetings are held separately from the main working group status meetings
- Each team gets a single vote for each decision presented from a working group project
Our Working Groups
Communicate and Collaborate
To keep the tech pubs movement going, we increased our communication and began our collaboration to accomplish our goals. It is back to the “we”. We are now forming the “we” through our collaboration and joint efforts. The working groups enabled us to begin our collaboration to achieve our now established common goals.
We established weekly discussions to share thoughts about where we want to go with our projects. We created a network share and wiki/webpage/sharepoint so we can store our notes, progress reports, and communications from our team members. We began to network and meet via telephone and travel to collaborate in person. We were now progressing toward our common goal to establish common tech pubs processes, style and writing guides, and formats. This work was the beginning of our baseline foundation to prepare for our final goal: DITA and modular documentation.
During our transformation, we had small wins to help motivate us and communicate to others outside tech pubs our successes and importance.
- We had other teams asking if we had a Graphics template to use. Our Answer—yes we have one. We shared our template and write ups so new documents with figures would be consistent. We received recognition for being the “go to” team for these items.
- We had a Non-tech pubs team member join our working groups. He appreciated our goals and what we were trying to accomplish. He wanted to be part of the process. He is now leading our User Analysis working group.
- Our Document Portal group was well received by our Web Services team. They heard about the tech pubs teams collaborating to improve the documentation content and consistency. The Web Services team is now helping us establish a central location on our public website for our public technical documentation. Working together with the Web Services, we created specs, common location for our database, and scripts. The first phase will be rolled out in 2016.
What We Learned from our Collaboration Process
Reaching team agreement is hard but worthwhile if you can reach a common process agreement from a disperse team. We built in measures to make agreements fair, such as one vote per tech pubs team. We also had to be open to discussions and arguments when discussing our processes and styles.
Recognize that people are different but have complimentary skills. You are not the only skilled tech pubs person. There are others in your international company who can help build a solid foundation and help accomplish the goals. You are not alone. Working together is about looking at the whole and not your individual wants. Remember, share thoughts, tasks, and goals. It is about the “we” and not the “I”.
Where Are We Today?
We had a small setback with our funding due to economic conditions, but we are still moving forward to modular content writing. As we moved forward, we learned that moving to modular writing is more than authoring and CCMS tools and formats. It is about a solid infrastructure and a team collaborating to create a new work flow that everyone can use. Before you build a house, you must build a solid foundation to help support the house. We are building the solid foundation so that the transition to DITA will be seamless.
- In Mixed Company – Communicating in Small Groups and Teams by J. Dan Rothwell
- Small Group and Team Communication by Thomas E. Harris and John C. Sherblom