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Build Teamwork & Increase Productivity with these 10 Simple Exercises. Part II

Part II: 10 Simple Exercises to Build Teamwork & Increase Productivity

In the office and at the workplace, success is rarely the result of a single person. Rather, success is the result of several people coming together to work as a single team. Thus, effective managers are well aware that the key to increasing productivity in the workplace is to build teamwork. In part 1 of this series, we looked at some ways you can build teamwork and increase productivity. In part 2, we look at 10 more simple exercises you can do to build teamwork. Each of these exercises takes less than half an hour to complete and need little to no preparation time. Yet at the end, you will have a team better suited to working together effectively to meet both short-term and long-term challenges.

Planning Exercises

The Human Knot

Time Required: 5 – 15 minutes

This planning activity is a simple exercise that requires zero preparation time. First, organize everyone into groups of no less than 5 but no more than 10 people each. Once you organize the groups, have each group form their own circle. Then have everyone place their left hand into the center of the circle and tell them to grab the hand of someone else not standing next to them. Repeat again with the right hand, but be sure everyone holds hands with a different person. After this, the group must use teamwork to untangle themselves without anyone disconnecting. You can optionally run this activity as a race between groups. The goal of the human knot exercise is to get your group working together as a team to meet a common goal while also having a fun time. Of course, it requires not only creativity and planning, but flexibility as well!

Magic Shoes

Time Required: 30 – 45 minutes

This planning activity is another simple exercise that again involves zero preparation time. Depending on the size of the group, you may want to split people up into teams of between 5 to 10 each. Instruct the teams that they are stranded in the desert and that they must cross a patch of very hot sand roughly 50 feet across to reach an oasis. Be sure you mark off a starting line and a finish line for the patch of sand. However, to cross the patch of very hot sand, you need magic shoes that can only be worn by each team member /once/. The magic shoes should not be actual shoes, but can instead be represented by a piece of paper or even just a stick. These shoes cannot be thrown or separated, and each member of the team must eventually cross the sand. As the shoes can only be worn once by each person, the team will have to devise creative strategies about how to get everyone across such as by carrying people and who carries who. The magic shoes exercise teaches the wisdom of planning ahead.

Hot Lava

Time Required: 30 – 45 minutes

For this planning activity, you will need materials large enough for two people to step on at the same time. Stuff like old notepads or pieces of cardboard work great, as do narrow wooden boards or cinder blocks if you have any lying around. You will need about 5 to 7 of whatever you grab. As with magic shoes, you will need to create an area with a starting line and a finish line. Place the materials across this area and label them 1 through 7 (or however much you have). Split your group up into teams of between 3 to 6 people each and instruct them that the marked off area represents hot lava. In order to get across the hot lava, they must step only on the materials. However, the entire team must hold hands throughout the exercise to make sure no one falls into the hot lava until each team member makes it to the finish line. Moreover, once a person steps on whatever material you are using (e.g., notepads), that notepad must always have at least one foot on it before the last team member passes it. To make this more challenging, make the area longer than the materials you are using when placed next to another. This way, in order to succeed, the team will have to pick up the materials they cross along the way. That is, after each team member passes, say, the first old notepad, the last team member bends down to pick it up-without letting their hand go-then passes it up to the front of the group. The hot lava game teaches not only planning but communication as well. If a team member touches the hot lava, the entire team must return to the starting line.

The Tallest Tower

Time Required: 20 minutes

For this planning exercise, you will need a variety of building materials such as paper cups and bowls, masking tape, construction paper, cheap pens, and cardboard. Split your group up into teams of between 3 to 5 people each and give them a lot of one material but very little of the other materials (vary this among teams). Tell them the goal of the exercise is to build the tallest tower in just 20 minutes. In order to succeed, each team will have to plan about how they will use their building supplies, and each team member will have to communicate with one another. You can optionally allow groups to barter materials to demonstrate the importance of cooperation between different teams.


Time Required: 5 minutes

This is another very simple planning exercise. Before getting started, you should create a list of 10 items that one would need in a survival exercise at sea, such as a life-preserver, food, water, flare gun, compass, inflatable raft, knife, rope, etc. Once you are ready, split the group into teams of between 3 and 5 people each. You will then instruct the teams that they are on a sailboat that is now sinking. Give them the list of 10 items you drew up and tell them they have room on the lifeboat for only three of those items. Moreover, they have only 5 minutes to make a decision. At the end, have each team say the 3 items they took and explain why. This team planning exercise encourages communication among team members and promotes creative problem solving.

Trust and Communication Exercises

Trust Lean

Time Required: 5 – 10 minutes

This trust-building exercise involves all the members of your group and requires zero preparation time. First, have everyone count off starting with 1. Once everyone states their number, all group members should join together to hold hands. Tell the odd numbers to lean forward and the even numbers to lean backward slowly after you finish counting down from 5. If the group succeeds, everyone should be able to lean forwards or backwards in such a way that if one person let go, the entire group would fall. The goal of the Trust Lean is to show how the team must implicitly trust one another to meet a common goal. Keep in mind, however, that you may want to use spotters to make sure nobody actually falls.

Blindfold Runner

Time Required: 5 – 10 minutes

This trust-building exercise requires enough blindfolds for half your group. First, create an area roughly 30 feet across with a starting line and a finish line. In this area, create small obstacles with sticks or pieces of paper. However, be sure no one can trip over the obstacles! Secondly, split everyone into teams of two and tell one member of each team to tie a blindfold around their head. The blindfolded teammate will go to the starting line while the second teammate goes to the finish line. The teammate at the finish line must then direct the blindfolded teammate using verbal instructions to cross the area. If the blindfolded teammate hits an obstacle, the team must start over again. For added difficulty, make everyone with a blindfold spin in a circle three times before starting. The goal of this exercise is to promote trust among one another and to foster effective communication while working to build teamwork.

Slice ‘n’ Dice

Time Required: 15 minutes

In this trust-building exercise, have your group form two parallel lines of the same length and facing one another. The two lines should be standing roughly a few feet apart, and each person should extend one arm across the gap so that it would block anyone trying to walk between the two lines. Then have one team member at a time walk through the gap. To allow the team member to walk through, each person will have to raise and lower their arm. Once the team member walks through, have them rejoin one of the lines. Repeat this until each team member has gone through at least once. At this time, the group should have more confidence, and you can increase the difficulty by having each team member walk briskly or even run through the gap. This is a very simple exercise that relies a lot on trust. That is, each team member must learn to trust the other team members to raise and lower their arms at the right time. The goal is to create and foster a sense of trust among the group.

The Silent Birthday Game

Time Required: 15 minutes

This is a simple communications exercise that requires no preparation. This exercise will teach your team how to communicate with one another using nonverbal cues. In it, first instruct your group that no one can talk but they can use any variety of hand signals. Then tell them that the goal is to organize themselves in such a way that they form a single line in order of birthday. So the first person in the line may have their birthday on January 2, the second on January 17, the third on February 25, and so on. This is a great and simple exercise that demonstrates communication is not always verbal. Moreover, it teaches how to overcome barriers to communication. It is also a fun way for your team to learn more about one another!

Draw a Circle Exercise

Time Required: 15 to 20 minutes

This last communications exercise requires a large enough table for the group to sit at together, or at least tables for everyone, and a marker and one sheet of paper per person. After everyone is seated, tell them that you want them to follow your instructions word for word, there can be no questions, and to not look at anyone else’s paper during the exercise. First, tell them to draw a circle. Second, tell them to draw a triangle in that circle. Third, tell them to draw a square in the corner. Lastly, ask them to sign their name on the paper. At the end, ask everyone to hold up their sheet of paper for all to see. Chances are everyone will have drawn something slightly different. At this point, you should ask why everyone’s paper looked different. You may get a variety of responses such as, “The instructions weren’t clear,” or “You didn’t allow us to ask questions.” After this brief discussion, begin the exercise over again. This time, tell them to draw a circle four inches in diameter, then to draw a triangle within that circle such that all three corners touch the circle with the triangle pointing up. Then ask them to draw a square in the top right-hand corner roughly one inch wide and one inch tall. Lastly, ask everyone to sign their name at the bottom center of the page in cursive. After you’re done, ask everyone to hold up their sheets of paper. This time, each sheet should be nearly identical. This exercise demonstrates the difference between vague and clear instructions.

A Final Word

These 10 simple exercises to build teamwork and increase productivity will build a greater sense of trust, foster more communication, and encourage more cooperative planning in the office. However, for any team building exercise to be truly effective, you must communicate the goals well. Without an understanding of why they are engaging in activities that seem silly at times, the group will approach the team building exercises with a collective groan. However, you can avoid this by planning ahead and communicating your goals. This will in turn create trust between you and the group. Done right, team building exercises are a lot of fun, provide a break from the monotony of the office, and will lead to big productivity gains. So get out there and have fun!

There is more than exercises to Build Teamwork & Increase Productivity. Techniques such as Participative Leadership will help management to set the pace in the work place.

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Build Teamwork & Increase Productivity with These 10 Simple Exercises! Part I

Ten Best Exercises to Build Teamwork & Increase Worker’s Productivity and Communication

Even the most successful companies with highly trained professionals working for them find the need to reinforce their workforce by having them take part in team building exercises. Any business large or small can strengthen their workforce’s motivation, morale, personal communication, productivity and communication skills, without having to spend huge amounts of money on costly seminars. Weekly team meetings or company outings gives businesses the perfect opportunity to exercise their workers’ team building skills, which take almost no time at all to execute. The following ten low costs simple exercises can help business build stronger teams, which would increase a workforce’s productivity.

Coin Logo (10-15 Min exercise)

This exercise allows group members to bond and allows them to get a bit more personal. All members participating in this communication exercise become self-aware and begin to understand their colleauges’ awareness as well.

Objective: Each participant prepares a logo using coins and other materials.

Prepare: Ask all the participants to remove the contents from their pockets wallets and purses and place the objects in front of them. Workers with few or no coins can borrow ones from others. The leader should break large groups into teams.

Action: The coordinator keeps time and asks each participant or group to design a personal logo that shows who they are, using only the items in front of them. Pens, notebooks and other materials can also be used along with the coins in the logo’s creation. The participants have only one minute to do this task. After the leader calls time, each member explains their logo to the group. Each participant should briefly state the meaning of their logo and what it represents.

Variations: Do the exercise in groups. Have each group choose a leader and at the end of the exercise the leader discusses the group’s logo and its meaning.

Picture Pieces Game (30 Min exercise)

This exercise demands participants to work as a team and teaches them how to solve productivity problems together. Each person is important in the overall result, and the results reflect the team’s overall work.

Objective: Create a picture five times larger than its original size using just a piece of a puzzle.

Prepare: Leader cuts a well-known cartoon or picture with a lot of detail into equal squares for each participant. Pass writing materials, paper, and utensils to everyone in the group.

Action: ive each participant one piece of the puzzle (cut picture) and have them create a copy that is 5-times larger than the one they have. Each participant will not know how their contribution will affect the overall result until they put the pieces together. Once the groups make their enlargements, have everyone put the pieces together and try to figure out the identity of the original picture.

The Take Away Game (5-10 min exercise)

This exercise requires teams to plan and control the outcome of a fairly simple productivity game. Participants play the game and in each turn, understand its principles, and form more efficient ways to play to win.

Objective: The last team or participant to remove the last of 15 coins from the table wins.

Prepare: Gather 15 coins, including pennies and place them on a table. Create teams with two participants in each group

Action: Toss a coin to see which team goes first. The winner tosses a coin again, and if they answer heads or tails correctly, they get to remove 2 coins from the table of 15. The toss is then passed to the next team. The team that removes the last coin wins.

Variations: Increase the number of coins or allow teams that guess wrong to put back coins they have removed from the table.

The Paper Tower (5 min exercise)

This exercise reinforces participants’ planning, timing and reaction tools and asks them to think about their overall performance and how it could be improved.

Objective: To create a stable structure using only the materials at hand.

Prepare: Obtain a single sheet paper for each participant.

Action: Distribute one single sheet of paper for each person and ask them to build a tall structure using just the paper. Inform them that they only have 5 minutes to do the exercise. When the leader calls time, have the participants discuss: the details of each structure and how they planned it, who ran out of time and how improvements could be made the next time around.

Eye Contact (5 min exercise)

This simple exercise builds trust among coworkers through eye contact. It helps people overcome shyness and increases respect among workers.

Objective: Maintain eye contact with someone for more than 60 seconds without looking away or fidgeting.

Prepare: Group the participants into pairs and have them face each other.

Action: Ask participants to remove any eyeglasses and to stare directly in the eyes of the other in front of them. Even though they may laugh at first or feel uncomfortable, ask them not to look away or fidget while doing the exercise. As the group becomes comfortable with the task, increase the time a bit.

Willow in the Wind (20 min exercise)

This is another fun-trust building game that works well when workers pair up with someone they know. Participants build trust as they move from being trusted to a trustee.

Objective: Participants who are not in the center of the group must support another worker and not allow them to fall or touch the ground.

Prepare: Place workers in groups of 4 or five. Discuss with the non-willows how to support and to pass around safely each willow, by instructing each non-willow to place one foot in front of the other, to stretch out their arms and to lock their elbows.

Action: Each group chooses a willow, who will stand in an upright position in the center of the group with their eyes closed and feet together. They then do some trust leans and as they lean against others, Non-willows pass around the willow. Afterwards, other co-workers in the group take turns being the center willow.

Paper and Straws Game (15 min exercise)

This game builds workers’ planning and productivity skills as they work together in a small group to solve an easy problem. The workers also learn to communicate with one another as the game progresses.

Objective: Push balls into high-scoring sections without removing the ones already in the section.

Prepare: Gather up some drinking straws and paper. Draw a big circle on a large paper and after draw smaller circles within the larger circle. Assign each circle a score with the smallest circle in the middle having the highest score. Tape the big paper with the circles to a lengthy desk. Group workers around the table and give each participant a straw.

Action: The leader wads up small balls of paper and throws then into the circle. Players must blow into their straws to high scoring section without removing balls that are already there. Players should form an attack plan by moving around the table and have two people blow at the same time to make the highest possible score.

Create an Original Problem Solving Activity (One-hour exercise)

This is a group problem solving exercise that builds worker productivity, creativity and trust. Workers will also need to communicate and manage their time as this hour-long game winds down.

Objective: Have the entire group come up with a new problem solving exercise invented entirely by them. The participants must invent an original and never played before exercise.

Prepare: Divide participants into groups of 4 to 5 people.

Action: The leader explains to the group that he scheduled one hour to do a problem solving exercise, but unfortunately, he does not know of one. The leader instructs each group to invent a new exercise themselves. As the hour winds down each group needs to present their exercise to their co-workers who will vote on which one is most original.

The Egg Drop (2 hour exercise)

This is a potentially messy communication and productivity team-building game. It rewards workers in the end for doing excellent work.

Objective: Participants build an egg platform that will support an egg from breaking in an eight-foot drop.

Prepare: Gather a bunch of material and some tools for building a platform. Pillows, hammers, screws, whatever is accessible will work. Also, have an eight foot ladder available. Separate the group into two large teams.

Action: Each group builds a structure that will support an egg dropped from eight feet from breaking. After the construction, each team will present their package in 30 seconds, explaining the structure’s originality and how it works. Finally, a designated group member climbs the eight-foot ladder, drops the egg, and sees if it works.

Sneak a Peek Game (10 min exercise)

This is a simple problem solving game and helps to build both analytical skills and communication skills among workers. Team members also learn how to trust their own instincts as the game progresses.

Objective: Teams must build the same structure as the leader by using only their memory.

Prepare: Find some children’s building blocks and divide the workers into teams of four participants.

Action: The leader builds a unique structure with some of the blocks far away from the group. The leader allows one participant from each group to take a look at his structure for 10 seconds to memorize it. They then return to their group, and the team has twenty-five seconds to try to recreate the leader’s design from the memory of their colleague. If the group has not effectively recreated the leader’s design after one minute, a different member from the group can take a ten-second look at the instructor’s design. This process repeats until one team successfully recreates the leader’s sculpture.

Comparing these simple exercises to the advantages each game produces, gives business easy options should they choose to integrate some of these tasks into their weekly meetings. These team-building exercises can only strengthen the workforce, adding more efficient production within the group, which increases the overall success of the business.

Next week: Build Teamwork & Increase Productivity with These 10 Simple Exercises! Part II

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TeamLab, An Open Source Solution to Creating an Effective Corporate Portal.

What are the benefits of using Teamlab, an open source solution, for creating your corporate portal?

TeamLab is an online hub application that allows users to edit documents, manage projects, create tasks and send instant messages, all from an Amazon cloud-based platform. Project managers can enable and disable the various modules on demand, allowing TeamLab to be customized to the unique needs of each user. Other features include blogs and forums, image uploading, poll creation and a simple registration process.

The best thing about TeamLab? It’s free. According to Teamlab.com  the freemium open-source model is a business process management application designed for small and mid-size companies that need an effective platform for hosted project management. Supported operating systems include Windows Server 2003-2008, and Windows 7, Vista and XP.

TeamLab Development Timeline

First launched on July 7, 2010, TeamLab was developed by Ascensio System SIA of Latvia, a IT solutions provider. Founded in 2009, this fast-growing company also has offices in London, UK, offering most of their services and features for free.

According to their July 28, 2011, corporate blog, TeamLab now has over 115,000 worldwide users in 148 countries, representing a 300 percent increase over the past six months.

Current TeamLab Features

Improvements and updates to the TeamLab application are occurring frequently as the Ascensio developers respond to user feedback and beta test results. As of August 18, 2011, the following features are included in TeamLab:

  • Project Management: Using the Project Management module, milestones can be created along with lists of active, completed and overdue tasks, and due date notifications. Tasks can be designed and delegated to specific team members, and discussions between team members are enabled. Managers can use the time-tracking tools to generate detailed project reports, and the access rights feature (for Premium subscribers) allows for the creation of different visibility levels for files, tasks, milestones and discussions.
  • Business Collaboration: These features enable users to create and manage corporate profiles, manage internal announcements and develop polls. Photos can be uploaded to the cloud server and shared using the blogs and forums tool. There is also a wiki section to a create corporate knowledge base through the TeamLab portal.
  • Document Management: These are among the most popular TeamLab tools, and let users edit, import, share and integrate documents directly on the TeamLab portal. Document version control is enabled through automatic file saving and organization, including the ability to restore to earlier versions sorted by date and time.
  • Instant Messaging: TeamLab users can chat live with contacts through the portal, as well as integrate the corporate messenger with other desktop email clients.

TeamLab Security Features

All TeamLab portals are protected by HTTPS (HyperText Transfer Protocol), which adds an extra layer of digital data protection with SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) to personal data like passwords, login information, and all the content on the portal. SSL encrypts all communication within the TeamLab environment, making it virtually impossible for hackers to obtain any private business information through the TeamLab portal.

As of August 12, 2011, TeamLab is offering a free online diagnostic system that scans all applications and services automatically during system startup, with the goal of detecting and eliminating threats like viruses, trojans and damaged files.

TeamLab Premium

Launched on the first anniversary of TeamLab, TeamLab Premium is available for $49 a month. Along with the features included in the /freemium/ version, TeamLab Premium users receive:

  • 10 GB of cloud-based storage versus 1000 MB in freemium model.
  • 100 MB file size upload limit (up from 10 MB per file in the free version).
  • User-controlled file sharing, private projects and access rights management.

Premium subscribers also enjoy faster upload speeds in comparison to the free model, and have priority access to customer support service from TeamLab.

Planned Upgrades to TeamLab

Ascensio System Limited has announced the following upcoming features for TeamLab:

  • A full mobile version of the project module for Android and iOS devices, with the ability to email team members, edit tasks and comment on events, blogs and forums.
  • Email integration via the TeamLab portal, including user-controlled tag-based message filtering.
  • CRM support integration including sales and communication tracking, report generation and the ability to import data from Highrise.
  • A calendar feature with customizable tracking, history logging and separate work and personal scheduling.

Other improvements to the application will include Gnatt charts for project management, currency conversion tools and customized contact and deals forms.

TeamLab User Reviews

Early users of TeamLab are impressed with the fact that 90 percent of the features are free, it supports multiple languages, and the portal is completely customizable at the point of use.

According to an August 18 post on SoftwardReviewBoffin.com, TeamLab earned a five-star rating because of the variety of collaboration tools, ease of IM client use, and the fact that, “TeamLab is the only project management solution that includes fully featured online editing.”

On AppAppeal.com, an editor rated TeamLab four out of five stars, noting that, “TeamLab offers a unique solution that brings individuals together, no matter how many miles may lie between them.” This reviewer recommends TeamLab for freelancers as a simple, cost-effective (currently free) way to collaborate with clients, as well as small businesses looking for team management software. AppAppeal.com also suggests that schools and nonprofit organizations could make extensive use of TeamLab for work on projects and to facilitate effective communication among stakeholders.

Ryan Stubbs touted his approval of TeamLab in his May 18th post on Appstorm, where he writes, “TeamLab just ticks all the boxes for me.” He points out that all-in-one solutions are usually priced beyond the reach of most start-ups and small businesses, and other applications include features that typical users simply don’t want or need. Stubbs likes the fact that TeamLab has made disabling features “incredibly simple”, reducing portal clutter while improving usability.

::Start-Up and Small Business Applications::

TeamLab developers focused on making this application easy to use for both IT professionals and regular Internet users, with an emphasis on providing collaboration and project management tools for startups, small, and medium sized-enterprises. This product is unique in the way it combines a number of different functions in one user-controlled portal, increasing both security and ease-of-use. For managers and freelancers who require a comprehensive, stable and customizable solution for both projects and ongoing collaboration management, TeamLab provides a cost-effective resource.


While Teamlab is an excellent productivity application, what about solutions for personal productivity? Up Next:  “Using Pomodoro Technique and the Results Curve for Productivity”

Tracking SaaS Usage with Totango in Real-Time

The Totango Service

Totango [http://www.totango.com] is a new service launched on July 28, 2011, currently in a public beta, that allows users to track application events in real time for subsequent analysis. It is similar to Google Analytics [http://www.google.com/analytics/] but with the added ability for the user to control what data is collected and at which time intervals the recording occurs. Totango also enables AJAX tracking activity, and delivers the user a clear picture of application usage patterns as well as customer engagement levels. According to Totango, their mission is to help online companies build better customer relationships through the gathering and analysis of customer usage patterns of Software-as-a-Service, or SaaS applications. [http://www.totango.com/about.html]

Salesforce Integration for SaaS Applications

The Totango service is fully integrated with the Salesforce [http://www.salesforce.com/] Sales Cloud, making it a powerful tool for data generation to guide sales leads and activity. Totango analyzes real customer behavior within Software-as-a-service, or SaaS applications, making it easy to provide an immediate response to customer needs and achieve successful sales outcomes. Proactive account monitoring allows sales teams to develop valuable insight into customer usage and needs, and sales leads self-qualify through usage patterns that are automatically sorted by Totango.

Since users can specify exactly what goes into Totango using their own application, the data collection can be tailored to each users specific needs. This feature is what really sets Totango apart from page view metrics like Google Analytics, which are usually filled with information that needs to be filtered to be relevant to each users’ needs.

Using Totango

Totango is currently free in public beta, and implementation is simple once users sign up and obtain a Totango ID. No pre-booking or scheduling is required to record application events.

When users have a designated event they want to register for the SaaS tracking service, they simply create a HTTP GET to Totango and input basic information including username, organization and which event is being registered from either the client or call server side. Once Totango begins receiving data from the event, a string comparison is completed to support the best possible configuration. Within a few minutes, users will begin to receive information about their customer SaaS usage in real time.

Beta testers have reported that the service integrates well with no noticeable slowdowns on the server side. Real time displays of user activity stream onto the desktop activities monitor, and the numerous customer relationship management metrics within the system have practical and immediate applications for sales teams. Early reviews indicate that Totango may be the ideal tool for measuring trial conversion rates and timing sales to maximize profits on SaaS.

Future Applications

With the prevalence of SaaS usage either being maintained or increased by over ninety-five percent of organizations surveyed by the analyst firm Gartner, [http://www.documentmanagementnews.com/the-news/software-as-a-service/557-over-95-of-organisations-to-maintain-or-increase-saas-usage.html] SaaS applications have clearly gained widespread acceptance across a number of industries, including a rise among small and medium sized businesses. A recent survey by Goldman Sach [http://www.deskaway.com/blog/2010/02/15/44-of-saas-usage-is-for-collaboration/] reports that sixty-four percent of the companies they contacted use SaaS for salesforce automation, representing a large potential market for the Totango service.


Totango is excellent for tracking SaaS usage, but what about corporate portals? Next: “Creating Effective Corporate Portals using Teamlab”

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