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Over-Collaboration: Solution #3: Designing for Great Collaboration


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.

Rules
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?

Tools
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.

People Practices
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.

Define it.  The most important consideration is this: what does good collaboration look like?  What does a good collaborator do and say?  We covered some basics in our “Solution #2” blog post.  But what does it look like in your business, specifically?  Identify role models.  Break it down to finite behaviors that can be easily understood and replicated.

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