Collaboration


I’ve repeatedly written in this space that effective collaboration requires more than shared responsibilities.  To truly realize the benefits of collaboration, or to actually collaborate, a team has to value learning.  In this article in Talent Management magazine the author cites three building blocks required for collaboration, people, process, and tools.

People: According to Jay Cross, CEO of Internet Time Group, “most people only know 9 percent of what they need to know to fulfill their jobs.  The other 91 percent, he said, gets fulfilled by other people.”  That is a striking observation and I don’t know how to verify that.  Even if the ratio is less than 1:10 it is likely that the average employee depends greatly on the knowledge, experience and perspective of others.

Process: “Due to its organic, social nature, collaborative learning is not process- but people driven.”  The author assumes that employees are given the freedom to seek new opportunities to grow their business.  Based on that assumption, employees “will ask for what they need, will find meaningful information, and have fun while doing it.”  If the assumption is incorrect, then what motivation does anyone have to ask questions or seek meaningful information?

Tools: “Content management systems, social networks, instant messaging or cloud computing technology that is easily accessible to everyone.  A video, podcast, or audio file are just a few examples of tools people can use to get quick answers.” [Emphasis mine]
I’ve long maintained that the key to effective collaboration is a willingness to share and seek information.  Everyone is an expert in something.  You wouldn’t have your job if you weren’t an expert at something.  Sharing information in its raw form is useful.  Adding your perspective adds even more value.

Don’t wait for the training department to write objectives and set prescribed learning outcomes.  That should be saved for big initiatives that will advance the cause of the entire organization.  Everyone has a stake in the collective knowledge base of an organization.  Contribute!  The training department can take the lead on creating and maintaining a platform where information is stored.  Its up to everyone to participate in the dialog.

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This post by Angela Ashenden makes some worthwhile points about using social networks (i.e., Facebook) for business collaboration.  I appreciate that she points out the obvious, and not so obvious, reasons that social networks can be a productivity drain and their use should be discouraged.  However, toward the end of the post, Ms. Ashenden concludes that,

“[w]hen it comes down to it, the biggest issue is trust, and trusting your employees to behave in an appropriate way. The reality is that if people want to waste their time they will, whether or not you deploy social collaboration tools in your business (after all, they can access their public Facebook and Twitter accounts from their personal smartphones, even if your organisation blocks access on work devices). In practice, few organisations find that governance is an issue on internal social collaboration platforms – once everyone understands how things work, initial concerns fade away.”

I completely agree with this conclusion, but it seems to me that trust is the lowest threshold for adoption.  Most often trust is the issue cited by leadership for not embracing social collaboration.  This is becoming less of an issue for the rank and file, as noted in the quote above.

The obstacle I have not figured out how to overcome is drawing people to an internal social network.  People are drawn to Facebook by news about family and friends, games, pictures, video clips, etc.  You don’t want your business information to compete with baby pictures so there has to be a compelling reason for a team to use a social network for collaboration.

In my organization I believe there are two overriding factors that influence collaboration, deadlines and budget.  Assuming I am right, the biggest obstacle to adopting a social network is the impact it has on processes and accountability.  A model that is based on social collaboration forces an organization to rethink how it views these factors; However, I would argue that social collaboration spreads the responsibility in a healthy way and can instill a greater sense of unity in an organization.

  • What would it look like if everyone is jointly accountable for meeting a deadline?
  • How would people behave if they had a voice in deciding the theme for a catalog?
  • What if everyone knew what the top performing products were?
  • How could we collectively improve collaboration and communication with remote locations?

This is challenging to the culture of an organization.  It forces people to rethink their assumptions.  That is not easy and is predicated on trust.  In the long run I believe the benefits can far outweigh the consequences.

The video below is from an article with a somewhat deceptive title, What Twitter Can Teach You About Your Dysfunctional Business.  Integrating social media into a cohesive communication strategy is tricky.  If your organization is having trouble with this it does not automatically mean your business is dysfunctional.  I recommend watching the 2 1/2 minute video to get some good insights about the challenges with this and ways to mitigate the risks.

Google recently announced that it is “launching an initial set of Google+ features designed specifically for businesses.”  If you don’t know, Google+ is a social networking platform similar to Facebook.  The plan is to make Google+ available to companies that are already using Google Apps.  This move has great implications from a performance improvement perspective.  Let me tell you why.

Informal learning has been a hot topic in learning circles for several years.  The struggle has always been to capture the dynamic of the water cooler without losing its value.  By adding social networking features to Google Apps an organization can bring the water cooler to everyone’s work space.  I will attempt to provide some examples of how this can work.

An analyst becomes aware of a shipping problem at the warehouse.  He contacts the supervisor to get a status report on the problem.  Using the Hangouts On Air feature, the two discuss the problem and work out a resolution via video chat.

The entire process can take minutes to complete.  The analyst and warehouse supervisor do not need schedule a meeting or even be in the same location.  The conversation can be recorded and shared for everyone in the organization to access or it can be shared with specific groups (called Circles in Google+).   When the video is posted viewers can comment and ask questions just like they comment on a post in Facebook.

The Circles feature is another great way to encourage and facilitate collaboration.

A circle enables you to decide who has access to information.  If a work group is created to develop a new sales strategy they can collaborate in a circle.  Throughout the process they can share selected information with other circles to solicit feedback or provide updates.  They can add members as the needs of the project dictate.  When the project is complete they can share their final report with other circles.

These are just two examples of how Google+ can improve an organization’s performance.  The company I work for uses Google Apps.  We have stretched the docs and sites features to improve collaboration within the corporate office and with our remote locations.  I think the social aspect of Google+ would take the work we have done already to an entirely new level.

Trust is built when people exhibit competence in their areas of expertise and show integrity through their personal interactions with others.

The quote above is from an article in this month’s edition of Talent Management.  The focus of the article is mentoring in a networked workplace.  The author clearly thinks of a networked workplace as one where the company has offices in multiple states or countries, employees who work from home offices, and others who do most of their work on the road.  But these days, every office is networked in some way or another so the guidelines provided in the article apply to everyone.

The days of hoarding information are long gone.  Success in the modern workplace requires information sharing.  Don’t be shy.  You might have the perspective or information that will make a difference for another person.  How would you feel if someone else possessed information that you needed but was unwilling to share?

In that spirit here are the high-level guidelines from the article and my thoughts on each.

  1. Give willingly and generously – The table at the top of this post clearly shows that limited sharing is an indication of partial engagement and a competitive atmosphere.  By competitive they mean competitive within the workplace (not good).
  2. Act humbly and courageously – Get ready for resistance and/or criticism.  They way you react to this will either build trust or barriers.
  3. Engage others honestly and openly – As trust is built, be ready to receive from others.  Accept their input and respond.  You don’t need to sugar coat your reaction but a little sugar won’t hurt.

Does your team:

  • Guard their work from others (avoid sharing)
  • “Tear apart” the work of their peers
  • Take longer to deliver
  • Work long hours as a result
  • Expend more energy than required (which often translates into stress)

If so, it may be caused by leadership that is too focused on what the team missed or not done right.  The net result is stifled creativity and less than ideal team performance.

The characteristics listed above come from an ISPI article on collaboration.  I’ve worked in this type of environment and I know how destructive it can be.   Fear not if this describes your team. The same article offers strategies for correcting this dynamic.

  1. Set clear, attainable, and realistic expectations.
  2. Put your positive pair of glasses on (SB-don’t focus on the negative).
  3. Train your “positive eye” and share findings!
  4. Communicate the importance of sharing ideas and work in progress without criticism (ideas for improvements are welcome).
  5. Buy a positive set for each person on your team.
  6. Schedule meetings where team members can share their “positive eye” findings.

If you don’t like the way your team is working, use the tips above and read the article for some more helpful recommendations.  They can help a dysfunctional team or get an otherwise functional team back on track.

Emphasizing the positive is an investment.  You may not see results immediately.  Hang in there.