Our last three blog posts have outlined collaboration challenges and solutions. In this fourth and concluding post, we’re talking about the role the organization plays in making collaboration work. The way you design your organization — your rules, tools and people practices — has a substantial impact on how effectively you and others collaborate.
What is the collaboration culture like in your organization? Are the ‘rules’ about collaboration mostly unspoken or informal? They shouldn’t be. Organizations that thrive in our fast-moving business environment tend to be intentional about how collaboration takes place.
A good place to start is to look at your decision rights – your framework for the decision-making process in your organization that includes who makes what types of decisions. Effective decision rights/governance structures include guidance about who and how people collaborate on decision-making. A lot of collaborative effort may not seem to be directly linked to organization-level decision-making. But embedded in the day-to-day collaborative work everyone does are numerous decisions which should follow from and support those higher-level decisions. Being intentional about decision-making clarifies, streamlines, and improves collaboration.
I’ve run into many organizations over the years who, when I ask them to describe their culture, use the word collaborative as one of the first descriptors. What that means need to change as your organization grows. Small start-ups often thrive in a culture where everyone is involved in everything. Different perspectives and viewpoints create energy and momentum. However, as the organization grows, continuing to live by the ‘involve everyone’ mantra actually slows momentum, delays decisions and creates roadblocks. You need to establish and adapt your culture’s norms around collaboration. The more complex your business, the more you need formal decision rights.
Some questions for further thought… Is your organization structure designed to facilitate the right level of collaboration and drive effective, timely decisions? Are your senior leaders all explicitly on the same page and do all your leaders have the right knowledge and skills to leverage decision rights?
There is no shortage of technology tools designed to facilitate collaboration, with more on the way. And with good reason. Used effectively, such tools can improve collaboration, enhance productivity, and accelerate innovation, among other things. We’re not experts on specific tools, so we’ll leave questions like functionality, platform and scalability to others. However, there are significant ramifications for what you choose, and some consideration for how you do it.
(1) How does your choice align with your business strategy? Are you looking to acquire businesses over the next few years? Are you looking to rapidly expand globally? Are you about to take on new products and services that impact what types of projects you run or the talent you hire? Make decisions based not just on your current challenges, but on your future ones.
(2) What problem(s) are you trying to solve? Or put another way, what are you trying to accomplish? More effective sharing of resources? Better decision-making? Improved communication? It’s easy to say “all of the above,” but what specifically does that mean? This should be one of the first questions you ask, and then dig deep on the answers.
(3) How will your choice impact users? Is the tool great for one group, but not another? What will the transition to the tool require of users? What do they lose in the changeover and how will it impact their work? Does the new tool fully compensate?
(4) How important is it to standardize your tool set? Issues arise when the organization allows every group or business unit to determine what its tool of choice is. Then you have certain groups that can easily collaborate while others either have to spend time learning multiple tools or work around tools which don’t integrate effectively. Even organizations that don’t want to mandate tools and technology will benefit by standardizing or integrating their collaboration tools.
Not only are high-performing organizations clear about decision rights and what that means for who and how people collaborate structurally, they tend to be clear about what it looks like behaviorally.
When you consider all the practices that we could discuss here there’s enough fodder for multiple pages. Boiled down, here’s my mantra… Define it. Communicate it. Integrate it.
Communicate it. Starting at the top, let people know what’s expected of them. “Here’s what our company believes in and expects when it comes to collaboration.” Make it a formal part of things like project charters, personal goals and feedback discussions.
Integrate it. From competency development and selection to performance management and training, ensure that the organization places the appropriate priority on collaboration. Furthermore, it’s critical not to send mixed messages across practices. In high-collaboration cultures, it’s not uncommon for goal-setting, development activities and formal recognition programs to reinforce collaboration. And yet, performance management and compensation practices don’t always support it. Research shows that about 20% of an organization’s “stars” don’t collaborate. They hit their numbers (and receive kudos and raises for it) but don’t do anything to amplify the success of their colleagues. That hurts the business in the long run.
In a world where collaboration is increasingly essential for business success, how you collaborate can create competitive advantage. If you’re mired in slow decision-making, faced with abundant project bottlenecks or losing good talent because of “collaboration burnout,” then you’re not staying ahead of the curve.
Properly leveraging rules, tools and people practices makes a huge difference in how well you collaborate and how smoothly your business functions.
To read the other blog posts in this series go to:
Collaborate The Right Way and Free Up 20% More Time
Solution #1: Over-Collaboration: Be More Intentional About Meetings
Solution #2: Over-Collaboration: Better Skills and Behaviors
- They are goal-directed. The best collaborative leaders are overt about the who, what, where, why and when of collaboration. Does our business strategy for this initiative require a great deal of collaboration? What does it look like… project assignments ? Weekly meetings? Or is regular reporting enough? Do I need maximum collaboration with group A or person B now or only later in the project? Great collaborators start by determining the outcome they are trying to achieve and then work backward, intentionally designing the collaborative elements of their project, initiative and working relationships.
- They define clear roles for each collaborator. Everyone involved needs to be able to answer ‘why am I here?’ At a minimum, they need to know the role they play in decision-making, including “final” decisions. One of the fastest ways to make people think that collaboration is a waste of time is when they have a different assumption about their role in decision-making than the leader or other stakeholders do. Transparency is critical.
- Each meeting has a purpose. We talked in the last newsletter about the sheer number of meetings on everyone’s calendar. Too often, the purpose of each meeting is not well defined but occurs because everyone has it on the calendar. Great collaborators will tell you what outcome is expected from each meeting. They also run meetings effectively and efficiently. And, if the meeting isn’t needed, they cancel it.
- Great collaborators facilitate conversations by asking the right questions. Meetings and conversations are decidedly two way. They lead the meeting and the collaboration process by asking open, thought-provoking questions not simply sharing information. One of the questions they ask regularly is… “how well are we collaborating?” Is everyone’s time well spent? Can we do with fewer people, fewer meetings, or different collaborative methods?
- They promote constructive conflict. The power of collaboration comes from the diverse perspectives in the process. Great collaborators know that constructive conflict, focused on robust debate and deliberation, usually creates a superior result. They also do not tolerate destructive conflict and they step in to stop it when they see it. Importantly, they are also mindful that time constraints don’t allow for every voice to be heard on every topic. They set expectations for debate and deliberation in advance.
Our last post talked about the problems of over-collaboration: wasted time, burn- out of some of your most valuable people, and decision/action bottlenecks. Let’s start with something practical – smarter use of meetings as a collaborative tool. It’s not sexy, but it’s a solution that can save your team thousands of hours per month.
Most people don’t want to be viewed as un-collaborative or leaving someone out of the loop. Nor do we want to be left out of the loop ourselves. And technology has made scheduling and accepting meetings incredibly efficient. So, the meetings pile up. I can’t tell you the number of leaders I’ve worked with who tell me how easy it is to accept invitations without really knowing what the meeting is all about. Maybe they know it’s related to an important initiative, but they’re not sure exactly why they’re needed for the meeting.
So, the meeting goes on the calendar with all the others and the leader shows up. By the time they’re questioning whether they really need to be there, it’s often too difficult to extract oneself. So they’ve wasted 30 minutes or an hour, and they’ve wasted time physically or mentally coming and going to the meeting. What really matters about this? There’s the opportunity cost of not being able to tackle higher priority items.
The first solution to over-collaboration is to be intentional when planning, accepting and running meetings.
- Determine if you really need to meet. Does every one of your meetings have a clear purpose and intended results? Do you really need to meet every week? Every month? Can you cut the meeting from 60 to 30 minutes? If it’s just to share information or it’s a low value meeting that seems more habitual than helpful, get rid of it altogether.
- Be a better meeting leader. How organized are you? Consider must-have versus nice-to-have agenda items. Set expectations and put targeted time limits on the agenda items. Are you managing the discussion? Is the person who always talks forever encouraged to get to the point? Fight the “collaborative” urge to hear what every single person has to say on every single topic. Do you know how to artfully table an item when you don’t have the right information or the right people at the table to make a decision?
- When you’re planning your meetings, think about each person you are inviting. Why do they need to be there? Do they have critical information? Are they needed to make a decision? Are they there only for internal political reasons? Are you making an intentional decision to include them or are they invited because they’ve always been at this type of meeting in the past? Talk with them and encourage them to speak about whether this is a good use of their time.
- Don’t make attendance all or nothing. Can one person represent one or more additional people at the meeting? Can some people be invited only for certain meetings or segments of meetings? Maybe they can dial in or show up at a specific time. If you only need me for 10 minutes of a 60-minute meeting, that’s 50 minutes I can spend on other pressing matters.
- Be intentional when you receive a meeting invitation. Ask yourself the following questions: Why am I invited to this meeting? What value will I add to the meeting and the organization’s goals by attending? What will my role be? Is this an opportunity for someone else on my team?
- Give yourself and others permission to say no. Too often we feel like we can’t decline a meeting invitation. It means we aren’t a ‘team player.’ Permit yourself and others to decline meetings. Teach people how to say no effectively and respect it what someone else says no. Executives who lead by example can create a culture that makes it acceptable, even desirable to limit how many people attend how many meetings.
Look at the meetings on your calendar over the course of the next month. Which can you decline going forward? Which can you delegate to a team member? Are there some you can attend only part of?
Let’s say you remove just 3 meetings per week for a total savings of 120 minutes, which equates to 8 hours per month. Now multiply that times the number of people on your team… or by the number of people in your company. How many hours do you come up with?
What’s the value of hundreds or thousands of hours per quarter better spent on addressing your business challenges? What’s the value of collaborating more intentionally?
Collaboration is a great thing. It brings together diverse perspectives and experiences, helps us generate new ideas and can create breakthrough results. In highly matrixed organizations it seems to be just about the only way to get things done. As a matter of fact, research says collaboration has increased by more than 50% over the past 20 years.
Great, right? Actually, it’s not so great. Too many of us are collaborating too much and in the wrong ways. We see 5 key risks from too much collaboration. Which of these are familiar to you?
- Time sinks: Highly collaborative environments create a lot of extra meetings, phone calls and emails – which eat up a lot of time. One HBR article says that we’re spending about 80% of our time on these three activities.
- Burn out: The good news is your highest collaborators – your uber-collaborators – can drive team performance more than all other team members combined. The bad news is people seen as the best sources of information and in the highest demand as collaborators have the lowest engagement and career satisfaction scores. They are at higher risk to leave, taking valuable knowledge and experience with them.
- Bottlenecks: Uber-collaborators can become seemingly indispensable to different groups or projects. Work just can’t get done and decisions aren’t made without their participation, insights and perspectives. They can then become decision or workflow bottleneck, as well.
- Poorer work quality and speed. Multiple studies show that both suffer when people over-collaborate. But super high levels of collaboration have become the norm and it’s hard to see the forest for the trees on quality and speed.
- Too few doing too much. Collaboration isn’t spread around enough. Up to 35% of value added collaboration comes from 5% of employees. 20% of your “star” performers are among your worst collaborators, i.e., they aren’t getting their results by collaborating. Only 50% of your top performers are also top collaborators.
It’s early in the baseball season and hopes are running high. The Red Sox have a lot of great talent on the team. There should be a lot of wins this year. What can the Sox teach us about winning?
I hear what you’re saying. We’re not the Red Sox. Sports teams aren’t like most organizations… or are they? Talent is everything for them, right? But how many times have we seen teams spend big money on great talent only to have a dismal season because of bad morale, poor coaching, or unexpected changes drive them off course?
A few weeks ago, Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated, wrote about how the Red Sox have ‘Culture Culture’ meetings during spring training. The article reinforces what we believe. A winning culture doesn’t just happen. Being intentional and sweating the small stuff – the right small stuff – is what creates it.
Building a great team starts with being intentional about hiring great talent but it doesn’t stop there. Without the right culture, even great talent will underperform much of the time.
The talent in the majors is of course the best baseball talent around. They all have spring training to get ready for the season. Think of it as onboarding. All teams work on the fundamentals during spring training but the Sox and some other teams, intentionally focus on culture – and the details that build it. For example, the idea of each person contributing to the team is paramount to Red Sox culture. So, in spring training when reviewing game films, they don’t just call out the highlight reel moments. They call out moments like running out a play to make it to first or an at bat that sets up the next batter to drive in a crucial run. They’ve taken the concept of team and defined the behaviors that represent it. Has your organization done the same?
They also make culture building a habit. They’ve created a short-hand language that allows them to talk about the successes and failures on the field in real-time. Everyone on the team knows what a right-handed fist pump means vs a left-handed one. What key words or phrases are you using as “short-hand”? Is using them a habit? What other culture building habits do you have?
In winning cultures, everyone has the opportunity to reach their potential. The Red Sox have one of the youngest teams in baseball. Back in the day, young ball players
When it’s the wrong type of loyalty.
We’ve talked in the past about the importance of building trust in leading change efforts. Change creates discomfort and disruption to the way people do things and how they interact with others – sometimes in profound ways. In short, it puts a strain on relationships, and therefore, on loyalty. And what does a leader under pressure to manage a significant change often do, almost reflexively? They try to leverage the loyalty of others.
There’s good news and bad news in this. Here’s the good news. The right kind of loyalty provides a solid foundation for the trust and leadership people are looking for from others during challenging situations. It makes it easier for a leader to convey the value of the change and enlist others in making it happen.
The bad news? It’s all too easy to misunderstand the nature of loyalty or to disregard the consequences of “fake loyalty.” You risk building a house of cards that falls apart under the high stakes and duress that change often brings.
You want to build the kind of solid relationships that allow you and your management team to build long-term change agility into your organization’s DNA. You want to avoid:
- Blind loyalty. This is based on the premise that an idea or argument is right simply because it comes from someone who is in a position of leadership or iinfluence. But great ideas come from robust conversation and differing perspectives. Blind loyalty doesn’t question. And blind loyalists simply execute the plan. Don’t count on them to take a lot of initiative to uncover or find solutions to problems that inevitably pop up.
- Forced loyalty. If someone is demanding loyalty, it is given out of compliance and fear. Forced loyalty may look like engagement to an outsider but it’s not. Underneath the surface is resentment and anxiety.
- Favor-seeking loyalty. This individual laughs at even your worst jokes and is often way too eager to support your ideas – even the ones you’re not too sure of yourself. It isn’t about the team or the larger vision. It’s about being rewarded for being a favorite. This type of loyalty is toxic to the team. People recognize what’s happening. It often creates distrust, jealousy and behaviors that undermine rather than elevate.
- Conflict-avoidant loyalty. Some people go along to get along. They always do what’s asked (i.e., they’re loyal) because even modest amounts of conflict make them very uncomfortable.
When you are a leader implementing change, ask yourself: how do I create buy-in and enhance loyalty? Have you and the organization helped people move through the change curve or have you tried to go from awareness to commitment in one giant step? We work with leaders every day to create loyalty and move people through the change curve. Read about one of our client’s results.