“What tool is best for collaboration?” I was asked this by a colleague at a previous company one afternoon. “Some people are using Yammer and another group I know is on Slack. Which do you think is best for collaboration for our organization?” My first impulse was to answer her question with the name of a suitable solution – IT professionals are problem solvers first and foremost - but years of experience kicked in and I instead asked, “Why?” As a CIO, it’s likely that you generate the most value for your organization not by the introduction of one software package over another or helping to select the right ERP or migrating workloads from on-premise to Azure. No, your greatest benefit to the organization is asking, “Why?” “We need to collaborate more,” she said. “We’re too siloed, there’s too much inefficiency. We could get more done if we were worked better together, like a team.” “What would feel like collaboration to you,” I asked. “What would that look like?”
The Association for Intelligent Information Management (AIIM.org) has a great conceptual framework for collaboration that suggests the following elements:
- Awareness: We become part of a working entity with a shared purpose;
- Motivation: We drive to gain consensus on problem solving and development;
- Self-synchronization: We decide as individuals when things need to happen;
- Participation: We participate in collaboration and we expect others to participate;
- Mediation: We negotiate and we collaborate together and find middle ground;
- Reciprocity: We share and we expect sharing in return through reciprocity;
- Reflection: We think and we consider alternatives, and
- Engagement: We proactively engage rather than wait and see.
So, what does that mean? A collaboration team coalesces around a shared purpose. Perhaps a new initiative, a project, a proposal, a problem that needs to be solved, a customer that needs to be closed. The organization draws together the team of people who are best equipped to achieve this purpose. The collaboration team is composed of individuals who have their own great ideas about how the purpose should be achieved, but a collaboration team isn’t a place where individuals fight to make their ideas win the day. No, collaborators listen to the views of others and synthesize an approach that combines the best each team member has to offer. It doesn’t mean there isn’t disagreement or argument, but at the end of the day, most – not necessarily all – of the members of the collaboration team agree with the approach. Self-synchronization means the collaboration team decides on its own timeline schedule and milestones. In actual fact, the collaboration team probably has externally imposed deadlines assigned to it, but is free to manage its own work schedule and plan, given it meets those deadlines. The collaboration team requires that the members of the collaboration team, well, collaborate. That means being brave enough to offer a view, a perspective, an idea that the rest of the team can consider, adjust, accept or reject. It’s understood that putting yourself out there is a bit risky, but one should be able to do it safely within the confines of the collaboration team. As mentioned earlier, the collaboration team will negotiate within itself to come to decisions that the team can achieve consensus on. It bears repeating that consensus is not unanimity. The notion of reciprocity is the other side of the participation coin. We participate because we know that our team members will reciprocate with their own participation. Reflection is a promise to consider each idea thoughtfully. Thoughtful consideration makes it easier for members to participate – they know they will be taken seriously. Finally, members of the collaboration team engage proactively. They are there in the collaboration space, tossing out content, providing feedback on others, conversing, sharing.
I knew that our organization’s work style didn’t match up to these elements. We tended to work independently, sharing content with just a few folks in our immediate groups when we shared at all, too busy to introduce other voices into our work. This is not uncommon. In fact, it’s more common for organizations to find reasons why collaboration can’t work for them: we’re too busy, we’re too complex, we’re too simple, we’re not automated enough, we’re too automated. In the end, it’s a decision the organization takes, a decision to try to extract the most value from the organization by harnessing the sums of all the parts rather than focusing on or nurturing individual performance. In fact, teams will always do better than individuals.
In my next blog, we’ll look at how Microsoft Teams can enhance organizational collaboration.