One helpful way to consider collaboration is in terms of levels, stages, and optimization. The three levels of support are high level (between organizations), mid level (within organizations) , and face-to-face (between people doing the real work). I will suggest to truly collaborate company-wide, which will include your business partners, you need to address and implement support at all of three levels of your organization’s system which includes all the people and non-people components that make up your business world.
A great place to start is with Harvard Business Reviews feature edition Collaborate.
Level 1: In the first article of this feature edition, Are You A Collaborative Leader? Herminia Ibarra and Morten Hansen wonder how great CEO’s keep their teams connected. This is the high level view. As written, the “Idea in Brief” is that leaders must have a style that can harness the power of connections, replacing command-and-control styles with collaborative styles. These collaborative leaders do the following:
- Make global connections that help them spot opportunities
- Engage diverse talent from everywhere to produce results
- Collaborate at the top to model expectations
- Show a strong hand to speed decisions and ensure agility.
Level 2: A second article, Building a Collaborative Enterprise by Paul Adler, Charles Heckscher, and Lawrence Prusak, addressed the mid level needs of a successful company-wide collaborative skills implementation. They speak of four keys to creating a culture of trust and teamwork.
- A shared purpose
- An ethic of contribution
- Instituting interdependent processes
- Create a collaborative infrastructure.
Level 3: I will add and emphasize the third level of support necessary, the face-to-face support. To affect performance, organizations need to help their employees continually learn how to make better decisions and build buy-in in their day-to-day work. Good decisions with poor buy-in are a waste of time. As is buy-in for weak decisions. To promote the better decisions and buy-in, organizations have to help employees learn to think in a wide variety of ways to consider and select the best ideas to turn into good decisions and buy-in.
My experience suggests structured dialogue tools and techniques promote or provoke collaboration by guiding the thinking of a team to focus on building a great decisions in such an interactive way, that the team simultaneously builds buy-in. As mentioned in the second article, “people support what they help create”. The work in the meeting rooms is responsible for the decisions and buy-in that actually generates the results available from productive collaboration.
Collaboration Stages in level 3 - Optimization
Many organizations suffer from artificial harmony, an underdeveloped thinking that emphasizes overly polite and professional discussion and behavior instead of productive communication processes that generate robust dialogue, learning, and significant business results. “West Michigan Nice”, “Minnesota Nice”, or “Where Ever You Live Nice” hampers innovation and growth by restricting the depth and breadth of ideas that get discussed.
An organization’s success depends on the number of great decisions, based on great ideas, implemented throughout the organization by leaders and employees. These decisions are often made in meetings. These decisions are often resisted by meeting participants who have other points of view. With the different points of view, there is disagreement. Some call this disagreement conflict. While there are a number of kinds of conflict, and some of it (interpersonal for example) may be harder to address, much of the conflict endured in organizations can be the source of business success with a change in thinking.
In my general reading and discussions, it seems most people think of collaboration as merely gathering people or resources in one place, real or virtual, and then doing work. And doing work in the way they know how, which is often the same way that generated the frustration that encouraged them to collaborate. You don’t need to settle for this.
It is helpful to consider that when you have disagreement and conflict, you more importantly have alternatives – different ways to solve a problem, design a widget, make a decision. Having alternatives is a good thing, a great thing. What’s often missing is the team’s skill in knowing how to deal with the conflict, how to deal with the options, how to deliberately and objectively discuss all the options and then decide.
You can learn to adopt a productive, competitive way to think about and deal with conflict – an important revision to many leaders’ operating system about how they think about generating and selecting options. You can learn about three stages to developing the thinking around conflict and options that support effective decision making teams:
Co-exist - Unaware and undeveloped: This team spends time avoiding conflict, smoothing the edges, playing nice, but gossiping about poor accountability among teams throughout the organization. This team does not know how to turn unproductive conflict into productive business success. This team often allows one member to make the decision, to “win”, and the rest just go along with reservations. One decision with poor buy-in and poor support.
Cooperate - Aware but underdeveloped: This team includes members who have read and heard management gurus tell them the benefits of functional teams, good meetings, etc. These team members want to turn unproductive conflict into productive business success. But the management gurus fell short in showing them HOW to do this, and as a result the team remains hopeful but underdeveloped. This team often works to make the decision everyone agrees to and can live with, to “compromise”, and settle for a C-, tie, not-so-bad decision. The thinking in this stage produces a possibly better decision with improved buy-in and support but short of what’s available.
Collaborate - Aware and developed: This team includes members who have read and heard management gurus tell them the benefits of functional teams, good meetings, etc. But significantly, these team members have had the benefit of learning HOW to see conflict as options, AND have learned HOW to use approaches and tools that depersonalize issues and guide a team’s thinking to promote the learning necessary to turn unproductive conflict into productive business success. Here, the best idea wins. This team knows how to do the work to make a decision the team more enthusiastically supports. The thinking in this stages produces a decidedly better decision with decidedly better buy-in. Different work, corralled egos, less interpersonal angst, more data, better results, and say it, more fun
Please consider the attached PDF five seminar series to develop collaborative leaders and teams in your organization. Whether you’re rebuilding a team, or improving a team, these skills are invaluable.
In these meetings participants will sit at team tables, or stand, facing a series of flipcharts (workbench) where the ideas (written on Post Its) for each meeting topic are placed as the participants generate them. Participants are focused on each issue, engaged in idea generation and consideration, and up on their feet often to present ideas and reconfigure the flipcharts. The tools and techniques are fundamentally great questions, that answered by the team, generate the learning necessary to make progress.
1. Good Thinking Series – Part 2: Collaborate – includes about 50 collaboration tools
2. Good Thinking Series - Associated Videos
3. Upcoming public seminars: (for more information please call or write as listed below)
- Ann Arbor: University of Michigan: Strategic Planning, October 1, 2015; Scenario Planning, October 8, 2015
- Ghana: World Class Strategic Planning, October 19-21, 2015
- Singapore: Process Improvement and Strategic & Scenario Planning; November 3-6, 2015
- Chicago: High Performance Teams and Strategic Thinking & Decision Making; November 17-20
5. Call or write 616-392-2634, firstname.lastname@example.org