- The experience is multi-dimensional: People experienced the eclipse through what they saw, the temperature of the air, the sound during the total eclipse, and more. Companies people love aren’t just defined by a vision, mission statement or set of values that are posted on a wall. That vision, mission and values are experienced in a multi-dimensional way, from what you see in the office design, to what you hear people saying, to the buzz you feel when you walk around.
- It’s rare or at least unique: Companies people love provide them an experience that is difficult to replicate. Others often look to these companies to try to recreate the culture. What they find is that it’s not something you replicate. It is something the company needs to define as uniquely theirs.
- There is a sense of meaning: The eclipse was meaningful to many people for many different reasons. Some were drawn from a scientific perspective (a group of scientists boarded plane so they could be among the first to experience it). Some were drawn because it was an event they could share with millions of others. Some viewed it from a spiritual perspective. Companies people love create a connection with what their employees (and potential employees) find meaningful.
- It’s a shared experience: Those who work in companies people love have shared experiences that define who the company is. In some, it’s the way they onboard people (I wrote about my brother’s experience at Apple a few years ago). In others it’s the way people are recognized no matter their level. For some, it’s meeting the patients their therapy impacts. Those shared experiences live on after people in these companies move on to other jobs. You see them in active company alumni networks. They share common stories. And, they often say working there was one of the best experiences of their work lives.
- It creates anticipation about what great thing we’ll do next: After the eclipse, many people described it with one word – wow. And, at least in my house, we were talking about when the next one would occur. When you experience an event that takes you out of the ordinary, as many companies we love do, you want to know what the next great thing is and how you can be a part of it.
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.
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
If you’re serious about improving performance and driving growth, focus on how happy and engaged your people are. That may seem mamby pamby, but there is growing evidence that it’s not such soft stuff.
Here are a couple of Gallup statistics to consider:
- Actively disengaged employees erode an organization’s bottom line. Within the U.S. workforce, Gallup estimates this cost to be more than $300 billion in lost productivity alone.
- Engaged work groups show higher productivity, fewer safety incidents, lower absenteeism and are more profitable than disengaged work groups. Their research shows that engaged organizations have 3.9 times the earnings per share (EPS) growth rate compared to organizations with lower engagement in the same industry. (Gallop statistics)
Now the question is. “What really drives engagement?” Teresa Amabile, a Harvard Business School professor, and Steven Kramer researched that question. What they determined is that of all the events that engage people at work, the single most important is simply making progress doing meaningful work. In a September 4, 2011, New York Times article, Amabile and Kramer note, “As long as workers experience their labor as meaningful, progress is often followed by joy and excitement about work.” Interestingly, this positive “’inner work life“ (as the researchers call it) has a profound impact on creativity, productivity, commitment, and collegiality.
The leader’s role, then, is to help people make progress — remove obstacles, provide support, recognize progress, and provide feedback on what’s not working. Unfortunately, almost all managers don’t see making progress as a compelling motivator. When Amabile and Kramer asked 669 managers from around the world to rank five employee motivators, they ranked “supporting progress” dead last. Ninety-five percent of these leaders failed to recognize that progress in meaningful work is a far more important motivator than raises and bonuses.
When was the last time you talked about any of this with your people? Probably not recently. Conversations with our teams are usually about financial results, how many deals are about to close, or where someone is in a project.
Next time you are trying to create motivating environment, don’t automatically think about traditional rewards. Think about whether your people feel like they are moving up the trail or if they feel like their pushing a boulder up a mountain only to have it roll back down on them.
Then ask yourself how you can bring more of of a sense of progress to the work and the workplace.
The powerhouse employee is highly capable in the work he does, motivated, and engaged. Capability is something you can either hire for or develop. An investment in skill-building is never wasted unless those skills become obsolete very soon after the investment. Most people come to anew job full of motivation and engagement. They are ready to go, excited to be there, and committed to success. The ironic thing is that, after a period of time in the job or with the company, commitment can take a bid dive.
As a leader, spend time this week thinking about where your team’s capability, motivation, and engagement levels are. How are you increasing them or decreasing them? As you do this week’s thinking, take money out of the motivation and engagement equation. Money is the cheap and easy way to try to create commitment and one that really doesn’t work for anything but short bursts. Over and over again, research shows that long-term motivation and engagement at work come from being able to make progress and feel competent in doing something that is meaningful. Many things, such as those listed below, can get in the way of generating long-term motivation and engagement. Have you been guilty of any of these?
- Assuming that making a profit is motivating enough for anyone to inspire performance
- Giving someone a project, allowing them to move forward with it, and just before it’s completed telling them priorities have changed.
- Consistently setting goals that are so much of a stretch they are viewed as unrealistic in any time frame.
- Shifting priorities again and again and again.
- Promoting people or moving them into new roles while providing little to no direction regarding your expectations for them.
- Telling someone they own the project, then advising them in a way that makes them feel yo are controlling every aspect.
Take Action! Real Change Accelerator
Examine your efforts with your team, then answer this question.
What are you really doing, really putting effort into, that’s building a powerhouse team?
I heard a thought provoking talk by Margaret Heffernan recently. She is a business thinker and advisor to CEO’s whose TED talk has had 2 million views. The topic was about the often unintended negative consequences of businesses and a country obsessed with competition and winning.
Tell me if any of this sounds familiar:
- “The only thing that matters is getting results.”
- “I need to make a name for myself in the company. That doesn’t happen by helping someone else.”
- “We use forced rankings for our performance reviews.”
- “We have an employee of the month.”
Those all reflect how we create high performance and achieve our goals, right? From the research Heffernan has done and, quite honestly, from our own experiences, that is often not true. What are some of the real consequences of the thinking reflected in these statements? Let’s take a look:
When the only thing that matters is getting results, how you get those results can promote very bad behavior. Look at the cheating scandals at universities. Think about the decisions financial institutions made that led to the financial crisis. Think about some of the people you’ve known who will do anything to win. It’s not pretty.
When career success hinges on how I and I alone make a name for myself, I won’t share information or expertise. I will maximize my performance and in the process sub-optimize the performance of others.
Forced rankings promote mediocrity. If only a small percentage can ever be ‘superstars’ then it doesn’t really matter if I work really hard because I probably won’t join them. The odds are not in my favor. On top of that, if I become part of that group, the game becomes too costly for me if I fail.
By having any recognition system that only rewards one person or a very small number of people, like employee of the month, the vast majority of your people are demotivated. Again, if only one of us can win, the odds are that I won’t be one of them.
Heffernan suggests that promoting collaborative behavior will lead to far greater success. Her research shows that companies that have long-term success not only measure and reward results, but put an equal emphasis on how one got results. They have cultural norms that promote people spending time in conversation and congregation with each other. She told the story of one company that did not allow coffee mugs on desks. It was not because they didn’t like how coffee mugs looked or feared a spill. They wanted people to get away from their desks and congregate around the coffee maker so the would begin to have conversations with each other and share ideas about their work and where the company was going.
What’s the norm at your company — collaboration or competition?
When working with a group of global executives from a wide variety of companies the other day, the conversation turned to their executive team meetings. Specifically, they were talking about their weekly executive team meetings being a waste of time.
Any executive knows it’s important to get their team together for regular meetings. The problem is that, like many of the meetings we’ve all attended, what is happening in those meetings is a poor use of that precious time together. If we want things to change, we have to change how we spend our time.
See if this sounds familiar. The team holds a 2-3 hour meeting every week. The vast majority of the time — 70%, 80%, maybe 90% — is spent focusing on status updates about what has already happened and on operational data that could just as easily be posted and read in a report. Often, many people have already heard the information in other meetings and this is being done for the CEO, VP or whomever the senior person in the room is. Or, the meeting is a mix of agenda items that were pulled together when the executive assistant sent out the weekly request for topics for the meeting. The topics are often pet projects someone wants to share or something the individual wants ‘some input on’.
Any discussion or problem-solving is focused on narrowly focused issues that may have short-term impact but in the grand scheme of things, really did not need everyone in the room’s input or perspective. A couple of people could have talked about it and made the decision what to do. The resulting decision could then be communicated to the larger group, if necessary.
Invariably, the agenda doesn’t get fully covered because the team ends up in a deep debate about one of the topics or gets into a drawn out discussion about implementation details that are best left to those whose job it is to implement. How can we get out of this meeting hell and use this very expensive time for effectively?
1. Focus on strategy. Establish separate meetings to deal with operational issues. Otherwise, operational issues will always dominate the meeting.
2. Focus on decisions not discussion. Any discussion should lead to a decision. Background information that is needed for the decision should be sent and read before the meeting.
3. Prioritize based on value and importance not just urgency. Sometimes an urgent issue needs to be addressed. If everything is on the agenda because of urgency, you’ve got a problem.
4. Create an agenda that drives the focus on strategy and decisions. Trash the ‘who has something for the agenda approach?’
5. Ask, ‘why should we be talking about this?’ about any topic that creeps onto the agenda. If it’s purely information sharing, write a report or create a dashboard. If it’s a decision better made elsewhere, get it off your agenda.
For tips from Fast Company on how to stay productive during days of endless meetings, click here.