What Can Team Managers In Big Companies Learn From Small Businesses?

Last Updated Sep 17, 2010 6:37 AM EDT

Why does it seem like small businesses use all the cool new tools while those of us that toil in large companies get stuck with legacy technology or tools that don't match the way we really work? In a recent interview, I asked a very smart guy what managers in any sized operation can learn from small entrepreneurial businesses.

Phil Simon is the author of the Why New Systems Fail (Cengage, 2010), The Next Wave of Technologies (John Wiley & Sons, 2010), and the forthcoming book The New Small (Motion, 2010). He consults companies on how to optimize their use of technology.

Phil, what's the difference between how small businesses approach technology (especially collaboration tools) and the traditional enterprise approach?
In a nutshell, small businesses (SBs) tend to experiment more. They'll try out a tool like Yammer, for example, on an individual basis. If it catches on, it will be adopted throughout the company. It's less "top-down" than the traditional enterprise approach. What's more, if something else comes along that offers superior functionality, SBs will experiment with that tool as well, utilizing what's best from each. There's no corporate edict that "all people must use X" even though X doesn't have key functionality.

How can managers start with their own teams on the cheap/free to handle their communication needs?
I interviewed a lot of business owners and managers for The New Small. It's given me great insight into what managers do--and how they do it. These managers aren't sure about what's best, so they don't pretend to have all of the answers. They encourage employees to find the right tools. Once something reaches critical mass, they'll give it a shot.
Today, so many products are based on the "freemium" model; it's rare now that you have to sign a traditional contract with a vendor before you can kick the tires on collaborative tools. These companies embrace IM tools such as Meebo, calling tools like Skype and GoogleVoice, and simple hardware like webcams, Smartphones, and digital cameras.

What are your favorite tools and why?
There are so many. I'm a big fan of Twitter and related tools such as paper.li and HootSuite. They allow me to keep tabs on what's going on in certain areas. WordPress is simply an amazing tool for easily creating and distributing content. I can't believe that I've only been on it for a year. Kickstarter has been invaluable in helping me raise funds for The New Small and discover some other pretty neat projects. GoogleDocs is great for easy collaboration.

Listen to Phil Simon and Charlie Bess on the Cranky Middle Manager Show
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photo by flickr user pasukaru76 CC 2.0