The Art of Successful Collaboration

Create to CollaborateI have been a fan of collaboration for many years at work. “Many hands make light work”. I hardly questioned that collaboration can actually be a hindrance. Sure, I am – like many – aware if one doesn’t pull his own weight the whole team suffers. Although, I didn’t click what prevents this.

Today I came across this article on 99U by Ron Friedman. Using the example of good and bad marriages as well as John Lennon and Paul McCartney of The Beatles he shows that collaboration comes with an opportunity cost. And if that isn’t paid, collaboration pulls everybody down.

I don’t intend to repeat his examples and arguments, please read the above article for it. No, I want to highlight what to do to make collaboration successful (which Ron does towards the end of the article)

The best (visual) design tends to happens late at night.

Jasper Stephenson, a 10 week intern at Adaptive Path said this in his parting blog post.

If I think back to much of my favorite work, the execution part has come from trance-like zen states where I work until well after midnight — not by necessity, but by nature of having a constant flow of ideas that demand to be realized. There’s much to be said for having a team all present in the same space at the same time and the cohesion of ideas that comes from that, but it’s hard to enter a trance of exploration and creation in such an active office.

And this is pretty much what Ron said about The Beatles. The ideas, the rough diamonds, the blink “let’s do this” doesn’t come from the group huddle. It comes from the inspiration at a “non-busy” spot. Like a shower, mowing the lawn, or watching the waves roll in. Then the first bit of hard work starts, working on the very inspiration so I can explain it to my friends.

The Spark

A blank canvas is not stimulating, having 4 or 6 people staring at a blank whiteboard doesn’t help either. A spark is necessary. Much is said about Brainstorming as an idea generating stimulus. Not so. Brainstorming works when you have a facilitator and a topic. Even better, if your participants know the brainstorming session is tomorrow and they have individually time to think about it even if only unconsciously. Ron Friedman demands “homework is necessary”: [The Beatles] collaborated after they [individually] had gotten a piece as far as they could, and were ready for suggestions.

Collaboration

When you meet to discuss the merits and the foolishness of your idea look at your team. Do they tend to agree? Do they have the same sort of thinking? Do they excel at the same disciplines? Let’s face it, while we like people who agree with our ideas – it makes us feel good!, we learn more if people have different view points, different strengths, and can say so without being blunt but in a supportive manner.

Collaborations are most effective when teammates complement rather than replicate one another’s abilities. 

Summing it up

Collaboration works best when

  • there is a rough idea that is the result of hard work – alone
  • there is a team that complements each other
  • there is a team that prepares for collaboration
  • there is a willingness to critique consciously
  • there is a willingness to accept such critique
  • there is a recognition the final outcome is a team effort

 

 

Internal versus External

Enable or Protect

In many discussions the view of customer  is often cited as a core driver. Organisations have long made a distinction between an external customer and an internal employee. While there is a strong push to only see one customer in recent times, this push comes from a UX (user experience perspective) and “mobile first” perspective.

In this post I’m looking at Information Management from a security perspective. I strongly believe there are differences for employees and customers. In this case customer includes the B2B (Business to Business) and B2C (Business to Customer) elements.

The Internal View

Enable and Protect

Most organisations have adopted a policy of openness and information sharing. Fileserver security is often implemented as open unless specific needs require folders or files to be secured. The latter is usually bound to confidential or sensitive information like commercial negotiations and agreements, NDA (non-disclosure) data, and personnel files. Other information is shared to achieve better re-use of data, enable master data management, foster staff engagement, and nurture cross functional teams.

The element of trust plays a significant role at what level data is shared.

The element of control plays a second level role which data is classified and who is the gatekeeper.

The balance between those two is for each organisation different and largely influenced by what is commonly called Culture and the Industry the organisation plays in.

A good description is “Enable and Protect if necessary”

The External View.

ProtectAndEnable

Customers want to have easy access to their information with the organisation. Repeat data entries is a turn off. If I can’t see what I’ve done previously is also a big no – no. At the same time my information should be protected from other customers or organisations but not necessarily from other employees of my business. For example a third party is working on a project with the organisation, then this information should be shared between the relevant team members of both businesses.

Consequently such external collaboration is often implemented in closed groups or spaces where membership is controlled. This model requires a much closer attention to detail and review of membership in particular when staff on either side move to a different business or part of the organisation.

Trust and Control play again an important role, although the weight towards control is much larger and often reversed to the Internal implementation.

The description here would be “Protect and Enable where appropriate”.

Business growth = Fire your Managers!

Essence of SuccessThe idea stems from an article on Linkedin, written by Ilya Pozin. Essentially he says,

eliminating established hierarchy (that is multiple levels of top-down management) frees people from working for their boss to working for the company goals.

Ilya goes on and describes a set very practical approaches and steps. His achievement is a company

  • people loved working for
  • enjoyed reduced costs
  • increased customer satisfaction and
  • improved quality of work

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The Liability of Complex Communication

Guide4ClearYesterday I found a study published by the University of St. Gallen “Complex to Clear – Managing Clarity in Corporate Communication“.

The authors Martin J Eppler and Nicole Bischof argue convincingly a business case for clarity in all types of corporate communications. They address reports, emails, and even Twitter. That fascinating study can be downloaded from the University’s website and there’s also a presentation on Slideshare.

I was so fascinated by the clarity of the report – it follows to a great extent the recommended principles very closely – that I decided to blog about it straight away. It took me just half an hour to read through the 67 pages.

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Doing just enough …

Good EnoughI just read a blog post by Seth D. Cohen “The cost of doing just enough“.

When I saw the title I mental picture in mind of a certain person. I struggle to get that person stepping up. And here comes a promise that may help.

Disappointment

I really am disappointed by that post it states the obvious and doesn’t address how to create the change of mind. A few days earlier John Stepper wrote about “the Influencer’s checklist“. Now that was much more practical. Thanks John.

Doing just enough is an attitude statement. It tells a story. It says something about not being engaged, not being in tune with the organisation, the team, the project, or the task. As a leader I have an obligation to understand “why”. This is my team and my project. Success doesn’t come by sitting on my hands. High performance teams don’t emerge if I don’t plant the seed, nurture it and get the environment right.

Doing just enough is a statement that something is wrong. It could be a personal thing, it could be a cultural things, it could be a change that doesn’t sit well, and it could be a change in the person itself. People grow and change. A job that is perfectly fine today may not be tomorrow. I, as a leader, need to understand. That’s the only way to decide what to do about.

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Clusters – a maverick research

One of my favourite sessions at Gartner ITxpo was Dave Aron’s thought provoking presentation on

“Don’t hire people, hire clusters!”

I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was intrigued. The basic premise wasn’t new: the world of heros is coming to an end, agile teams are the high performers of the 21 century. So far, so good. Then Dave challenged the audience, asking who had experienced working in a high performance team and how long that team stayed together. Many were on board with the first part, but hardly any had a long lasting experience.

The argument for the cause of such teams breaking up was presented of our inability to manage talent effectively. We look at individuals, we appraise individuals, we hire individuals and then we expect them to fit into an existing team where the team members have minimal input in the hiring process.

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