5 ways to collaborate more effectively

I’ve been thinking for years that businesses don’t collaborate effectively, and various analysis and studies done on this subject just seem to prove this hunch right. After reading the latest articles on collaboration from the Economist and Harvard Business Review, I felt compelled to write a response.

Collaboration is a buzzword everyone in the office talks about. And why wouldn’t it be? The brilliance of accessing the thoughts and insights of a group of people is more powerful than one person trying to solve a tricky problem on their own. It’s common sense!

However, collaboration seems to mean different things to different people.

The Economist and Harvard Business Review recently defined collaboration as how many people post messages on instant communications systems like Slack or speak up in meetings – one line in this article states that collaboration is about ‘working in a constant state of distraction’. That’s hardly doing the image of collaboration any good. They don’t talk about collaboration as the ability to create or dismantle structures that enhance group genius or generate ideas that help businesses grow – that’s where I’m coming from!

With the advent of ‘collaboration’ tools like Lync, Yammer, and Chatter, we may be getting more channels of communication, but that does NOT mean we are getting better at collaborating. This is not collaboration, this is just distraction in its finest form.

The same could be said of meetings. Many companies that I’ve worked with believe they are collaboration experts simply because they hold lots of meetings to share ideas and discuss concepts with each other. The outputs of these meetings are usually more meetings and more actions. With so many meetings and actions and so little time, how on earth is anyone supposed to get anything done? This type of definition gives collaboration a bad name.

So what does effective collaboration actually look and feel like? In my view there are 5 key elements:

1. Have a common purpose – you are all there to achieve something – the same thing, and you don’t stop until it’s achieved. What would you like? A new vision? A new business model? A new product? A new go-to market approach? A refined process?

2. Ignite the burning passion – rather than inviting everyone you think should be there, consider those that have a deep and burning passion to collaborate on this topic – even if they are not directly involved in the team they could provide some valuable insight.

3. Share ideas and discuss concepts – this isn’t just another meeting, it’s a conversation that elevates your thinking to the next level. Hierarchies are irrelevant, everyone has a voice and they’re not afraid to use it.

4. Make time to get things done – Whilst there is always benefit in the odd water cooler conversation, focusing on one thing at a time without distractions can save hours worth of rework – it takes time and mental energy to get into ‘the zone’, so once you’re there keep the distractions to a minimum.

5. Continuously iterate and improve – Initial thinking is never perfect, but its better to have something the customer wants (that you can improve), as opposed to working tirelessly over months to create something they don’t want. Read about Boeings ‘fail fast’ approach to design here.

So, sorry The Economist and HBR I think you’re confusing communication channels with collaboration and I don’t agree with you. Whilst communication tools can support collaboration they will never be as effective as face-to-face conversations that have a common purpose.

At ProcessThink, we believe the true value of collaboration comes in combining the right information, the right people, at the right time, and then working together to get things done, rather than just talk about getting things done.

If you have views on this, please share them. Where have you seen collaboration work well and how could it be improved further?


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