Collaboration

Wikipedia gives a long winded definition of collaboration, Google’s dictionary comes up with something simple; the action of working with someone to produce something. Its use has grown in our lifetime.

That upward blip in the use of the word at the end of the 1940s is due to the second meaning of the word; traitorous cooperation with an enemy. Some of the recent growth is due to the rise of social media and the experiments in new ways of working.

What is the benefit of collaborating in a team?

Better solutions.

In the theory of the wisdom of the crowds, the more people contributing to an answer the more likely you are to get the right answer. In effective collaboration a team of diverse experts bring their perspectives to decision-making.

In every major project I’ve worked in the contributions of experts from different fields has been critical to the solution’s success. I will never know as much as the collective knowledge across the company; here are a few examples.

  • Implementing an enterprise social media platform; its use as a service channel by a business investment team became the best use case collaboration to provide a service. I was looking for use cases, but didn’t even know the team existed.
  • Developing social media guidelines; we had legal and risk experts in the room, they had the deep expertise we needed to get it right, but it was a new hire from a non-digital team who pushed us to simplify the guidelines and the language.
  • Social Media Publication Platform; we had experts from IT, business, legal, and digital involved in evaluating possible tools. It sounds a bit like that old trope of six blind men describing an elephant, but in fact we had good discussions and agreed on the solution to be chosen, while understanding the limits and compromises we were making.
  • Translation; we translated some internal messaging via the enterprise social network, with contributors all using their native language and delivering the translated versions back within 3 days.

Collaboration can also provide additional capacity, if you work collaboratively you can share resources and even provide coverage in the absence of a colleague. Non-profits have been finding ways to collaborate under cost cutting pressure for years, but it can work within organisations as well.

How can you make collaboration effective?

Collaboration isn’t easy, and there is a lot in current workplaces that goes against collaboration. A HBR study reports that when teams get above 20 members, have high levels of expertise, are highly diverse, virtual, or are addressing complex tasks, the chances of effective collaboration drop. Collaboration requires trust across a team and a willingness to share knowledge, it’s easy to see that virtual teams might struggle, but the high expertise seems counter-intuitive.

Here are some factors to consider when building a collaborative team.

  1. Executives model collaborative behaviour
    When executives a visible and demonstrating a particular behaviour they will be copied.
  2. Relationship focus in the company’s culture
    Company cultures often emphasise a task focus, but in companies that emphasise a relationship focus teams find it easier to collaborate along the lines created in the company’s human network.
  3. Clearly defined roles
    Collaborative teams work better with defined roles and responsibilities, usually the roles can be derived from the person’s expertise, but it pays to specify the responsibilities. You can use a form of a RACI to document responsibilities.
  4. Team results rewarded and celebrated
    When teams have a strong joint purpose and are rewarded for the results of the team’s work their motivation to collaborate rises, yet most companies focus on individual performance and results. If you can’t re-organise your company’s formal reward system look for other ways to reward and celebrate teams that have genuinely collaborated.
  5. Skills to collaborate
    We’re used to working as individuals, we need to learn new ways of working for the collaborative era. Two techniques that are worth checking are Work Out Loud (WOL) and appreciative enquiry.
  6. Tools to collaborate
    Whether you use a company enterprise social network, a project tool such as basecamp, or a SharePoint team site, you will need some way for a collaborating team to share their work. If the team is dispersed across locations the tools become vital.

I’ve discussed the benefits of collaboration to the company, there are also benefits for individual contributors. For many people working collaboratively is more engaging and more rewarding. It’s also an appealing way of working for tech-savvy employees and millennials. Two groups your company should be trying to attract and retain. It’s a win for everyone.

Image: Together |  geralt via pixaay |   CC0 1.0 

Work Out Loud

We’re in the middle of “Working Out Loud” week, it’s a way of working within a network to create results around a common purpose. It encompasses a set of working skills that make a lot of sense as we work in a world where collaboration and agility are growing needs.

So what does it mean?

It means building a network around an idea or joint purpose, sharing your work, improving your ideas/programme/product within the network, being generous across your network.

Here’s how it all started.

It turns out that it’s an approach that can be used by independent people, and by those working in large organisations.

If you’re trying to build collaboration practices in your company then Work Out Loud circles are worth trying, there’s a twelve week process set out on the Working Out Loud website with pdf guides for each step.

I’m sort of in two minds about this method, in theory it sounds brilliant, but I know I find it hard to share half-baked work, I think there’s too much of the “good student” in me and I want to only show the good stuff. I know, I need to get over it.

I’ve just downloaded the kindle sample of the book, so let’s see if that helps me.

Image: Chinese Whispers  |   Ricky Thakrar  |  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

 

Learning about Digital

It’s a digital world. I was reminded recently of just how digital it’s becoming speaking to a retired friend who doesn’t have a computer. It’s going to be almost impossible for her to pay her rent by the end of the year. Because I spend so much time with people who are digital savvy, if not digital natives, I tend to forget just how many levels there are to digital learning.

1 Beginner

Familiar with tools like word and excel, can use the internet, understands the risks and knows what signs to look for to check that a site is safe.

Learning focus = tools.

2 Effective

Can use all the tools, websites and apps in daily life.  Can do basic trouble-shooting when things go wrong.

Learning focus = autonomy

3 Mastered

Can use tools independently and teach themselves how to use new tools, can find new information and tools, can contribute online to social media or discussion groups, understands “netiquette”.  Has strategies to avoid trolls, scams and social engineering. Can work with colleagues online

Learning focus = behaviours

4 Professional

Your role at work is around digital, either in producing content, running digital campaigns, online marketing, digital projects or change management for digital transformation.

Learning focus = delivering value

5 Mentor

Leading digital transformation or development of new ways of working in digital. Expert at using the collaboration techniques including Work-Out-Loud and Results Only Work Environment.

Learning focus = helping others increase their digital knowledge

Do you agree? Are there other levels or things you’d add to these levels?

Let me know in the comments – I feel a series coming on.

Image: Kids these days | Louise McGregor  | CC BY-4.0

Work Out Loud


Companies, particularly large companies, are organised into departments, and departments are organised into teams. It would be a rare project where you did not need the expertise of someone outside your own team. Yet silos within companies persist. Collaboration tools are starting to break them down, but we need more than that, we need to change our working behaviour. Rather than working to a defined goal and sharing the output, we should share the work in progress and the process; we should work out loud.

Bryce Williams coined the term and defines two behaviours that combine to form “working out loud”

Working Out Loud   =   Observable Work   +   Narrating Your Work

Or to paraphrase; “show and tell”.

Promoters of the concept give a long list of benefits;

Wow, with all of that good stuff why aren’t we all working out loud? Because it’s hard. It goes against everything our education and training have taught us.

All through school we’re told to show our own work, to prove what we know, and the pressure to do this grows as we face the exams of high school and then, if we’re lucky, the pressured halls of a university with still more exams, dissertations and theses. Even courses that promise group work still reward individuals on outcome, rather than process; meaning that teams form along ability lines pretty quickly – free-loaders and stragglers are left to rot. School is predicated on individual achievement.

Work isn’t.

At work we rely on the co-operation and collaboration of others, we draw on the expertise of others and after a project is completed it can be hard to discern who was responsible for each detail. Most often it doesn’t matter who did what, in a good team the pride is shared.

The idea of working out loud fits our new reality of work, plus we have the tools to share our work, and collect feedback/input in an easy way. But the change in behaviour is still a challenge, both as individuals and as a company change.

Bryce Williams suggests some ways to think about use cases for working out loud. While I do think that systematic efforts to change people’s behaviour are needed the biggest way to stimulate this change is to model the behaviour you want to see in the company.

The behaviours I try to demonstrate to build up my own habits of working out loud are;

  • sharing updates on the ESN Playbook I’m writing as often as possible, and these are becoming more content related
  • drawing on the work of others and providing commentary (as in this post)
  • sharing work of others – and giving them credit
  • asking for input or feedback

There are more ideas for working out loud (as well as what not to do) in this great article from HBR. What will you do to build your working out loud habit?