5 Rules For Succesful Collaboration

EXPERTS PROVIDE ADVICE ON IMPLEMENTING COLLABORATIVE TECHNOLOGIES ACROSS WORK GROUPS.

Up to 77% of Elearning! Magazine’s audience is currently using or planning to  implement a collaborative technology or social network for business. With the addition of these new technologies, people and business processes need to be changed. Five high value rules are shared by the authors of the book titled, “42 Rules for Successful Collaboration.” Trust, accountability, people and process rules top this list

RULE#1 TRUST IS NOT ENOUGH!
By David Coleman, Collaborative Strategies

For many years, I thought trust was critical for collaboration or for distributed teams to be effective, but then I began to understand that trust was just not enough. I can easily think of situations where people on a team or committee did not trust each other yet worked together for a common goal. Just look at any standards committee for a good example.

What I came to realize is that for collaboration to be successful, trust does help, but understanding the “local context” of your team members was even more critical. “Local context” means understanding the framework or mental models that the other team members are using for interactions with you. This includes: the organizations they are in; the country culture; and family and individual characteristics. Without an understanding of this local context, poor communication and missed meanings run rampant on distributed teams; especially teams with members from “high-context” cultures (like Japan) when they are intermixed with team members from “low-context” cultures (U.S.).

A good example of this occurred when I conducted some classes on collaboration in
Japan a few years ago. The classes went well, and when I got back to the U.S., I e-mailed my main contact in Japan to discuss some unresolved issues from the training. I also wanted to introduce them to others in the U.S. who I thought could benefit their business. I made an online (e-mail) introduction and assumed everything was proceeding. But that was not the case. My contact in Japan was not even replying to my e-mails. Finally, in frustration I called my contact in Japan and asked what was going on.

Now, I come from New York and have been told I can be rather straightforward —
part of being from a low-context culture. However, my contact in Japan was from a
high-context culture, one that avoids conflict. He had enough trust in me to tell me that the introduction was being ignored because it had gone to the wrong people, and they lost “face” by it. Once I sent the e-mail to my contact’s boss and asked permission for the introduction, things went a lot better. The boss “saved face,” my contact was allowed to e-mail me again, and the introduction was made.

How many times has something like this tripped you up when working on a geographically distributed and cross-cultural team?

I almost always recommend to my clients that the first team or project meeting should be in person (then it is much easier to do the electronic collaboration that follows), because it helps all the team members understand the local context for each other. This in-person visit, although expensive, should have some social experiences thrown in, as they help to speed up understanding (and possibly trust) of the other team members. I found that taking the time in the beginning to learn about and know each of the other team members paid off in spades later on. Also the agreement on clear team processes and interactions at the beginning of a project also really paid off. Yes, both of these help to develop trust, but more than that, they give you an understanding of those you are working with, which is even more critical when you collaborate at a distance.

RULE#2 MEASURE FOR THE MOST EFFECT
By Stewart Levine, Resolution Links

Collaboration as a human behavior can be both complex and interactive, and it is hard to develop metrics that measure collaboration attitudes, behaviors and outcomes. Below are some options to look at different metrics that can be applied to drive collaboration.

>> Creativity and Flexibility Reigns: Given that the territory is new, there is no off-the-shelf manual that will tell people exactly what to do and what will work. You are limited only by your own creativity and thoughtfulness.

I have seen teams that have instituted so many new behaviors that joining the team is like entering into a new culture. They have not only their own patterns of interaction, but also their own words and terms.

The old Hebrew proverb, “Man plans and God laughs,” surely applies. Nothing seems to go according to plan, and you have to be flexible to be successful. Team members leave, new ones arrive, resources are lost and found, and unexpected issues always come up.

>> Metrics for both Process & Productivity: It is axiomatic that what can be measured can be changed. This also applies to collaborative behaviors. Every project needs to develop objective metrics for determining success in terms of desired outcome and in terms of the process used. The objective is to have measurable criteria to which you can say “yes” or “no” in terms of results achieved and efficacy of the process.

The way we dealt with the manager of an IT group at a large clothing manufacturer and retailer was to have him go through a rigorous training in communications skills. Because the manager of this IT team was technically oriented, he was great at working with machines and computer programs, but not so good at working with people. Because of his technology skills, he was continually promoted until he was one of the youngest team managers in the company. But like the “Peter Principle” formulated by Laurence J. Peter, he had “risen to his level of incompetence,” and one of the best ways to improve team productivity was to help the manager gain new and much-needed communication skills.

Virtual collaboration requires that we make our communications about content take the place of the subconscious verbal and auditory cues we get when interacting with someone face to face. Best practices show how being flexible and creative in your interactions, being able to measure some of the outcomes of the interactions — and providing adequate training both on the collaborative technologies and processes — can power your team to high performance.

RULE#3 ACCOUNTABILITY, THE NEXT STEP
By Gabriel Blanc-Laine, QTask

You just spent two hours in a long, drawnout meeting hammering out the details of
a complex multi-year project. There were eight people in the meeting, and a few others on the project team that were not in attendance. The project manager ran the meeting and also took notes about who was to do what, and why. A week later, you are still waiting to be assigned specific tasks for the project and can see from the Gantt chart that the project manager has posted various milestones for the project.

Months go by. The project is a year late in finishing and over budget, but your company has released a new widget into a very competitive market. After a few months, customers have started reporting that in certain circumstances the widget has blown up. Unfortunately, the widget has hurt several people and there is now a class-action law suit being initiated against your company.

The project team is called together, and this time the meeting is chaired not by the project manager but by a corporate lawyer. He is asking questions like, “How did you decide to do this? Was this tested adequately? Who released the widget into production?”

Unfortunately for your company, you do not have a complete project or collaboration record, so it is hard to determine not only what happened and by whom, but who is accountable. If the lawyer can’t figure out how the decisions were made (there is no record of project conversations and decisions), this law suit may bankrupt the company.

This type of distributed team collaboration happens on a daily basis. It is hard enough to work with team members in different cultures and on different continents, never mind documenting everything on a project that is late and over budget to begin with. The last thing anyone wants is more overhead from a new collaboration tool, and if asked to use such a tool, many on the project team will resist. So in order to keep a complete record (documents, conversations, decisions, tasks, etc.), the collaboration tool has to do much of this behind the scenes and not require any additional work from the project team.

In today’s complex business environment, collaboration is critical — but accountability is even more critical. In order to provide a complete record, it would mean that the underlying database for the collaborative tool would have to link everything to everything else and there can be no silos of data that are not connected. There are very few accountability, but because of situations likeWeb 2.0 products that support this level of the one outlined above, this more traceable level of collaboration is becoming a requirement for doing business. Accountability is critical for both transparency and trust within any team, and if done right, can also increase productivity and cut costs.

RULE#4 PEOPLE AND PROCESS FIRST
By David Coleman, Collaborative Strategies

Collaboration technologies are not a silver bullet, but a magnifier: If things are good, it can make them better; but if they are bad, these technologies can often make things worse. Technology is the most tangible and visible part of electronic collaboration (computer- mediated collaboration). Whether it is a SaaS (software as a service) and part of “cloud computing” or traditional licensed software, the technology is the focus of about 80 percent of the conversations I have with people who are trying to figure out how to be successful with collaboration. The other 20 percent of the time, I get to talk with them about people and process. But this is completely opposite to what it should be. It should be energy and attention go into the people and process issues rather than the technology 80 percent of the time, because 80 percent of the time, this is where the problems crop up (and only 20 percent of the time with technology).

I am aware that without the technology, we would not even be having these discussions. I am not saying to ignore technology, but rather understand what your problems and pain points are around collaboration, and then pick a technology once you have defined your problem, the population it affects, and a plan for solving the problem.

For example: I interviewed a sales manager last summer. He complained that his company was losing more proposals than normal. I asked him how many proposals they wrote a month and how many they expected to win. He said that they did about 10 proposals a month and expected to win four or five, but lately (over the last few months) they had been winning only two or three proposals each month. Furthermore, the average amount paid on each proposal they won was $0.5 million, so losing two proposals a month was costing the sales manager about $12 million a year in revenue (that is a lot of pain!). His reasons for losing proposals were getting them in late and not being able to find appropriate expertise to work on the proposal.

I saw this as a collaboration problem, but the sales manager saw it as a sales proposal problem. I first streamlined the proposal process, then tackled the expertise location problem by applying an online community tool. This tool enabled people to create extensive profiles and linked keywords and their work product to make expertise location easier.

RULE#5 MOVING BITS, NOT BUTTS
By Joan Vandermate, Polycom

It is easier, faster and more costeffective to move information rather than people. Face-to-face (F2F) interactions are still critical, of course — especially at the beginning of a relationship — for establishing trust and team dynamics. Video conferencing technologies, which are becoming as easy to use as a telephone, are now being incorporated into everyday business communications. Desktop and room-based video systems called “telepresence” rooms have helped many organizations eliminate much of the travel required for meetings, saving travel time and costs while boosting productivity.

Many companies have instituted travel restrictions. Below is a list of several ways video conferencing can be used to not only cut costs, but to increase the transparency and participation that are integral parts of the Web 2.0 philosophy.

>> Entertainment 2.0: It used to be that finding talent for commercials, TV shows and movies required months of in-depth researching and back-and forth travel
between wherever you found the talent and the directors in New York City or Los Angeles. It used to be that an actor’s ability to convey human emotion and motivation was so critical that it could only be done F2F. But high-definition, interactive video conferencing has forever changed the casting business.

>> Head Hunting 2.0: Using HD video, recruiters today can interview many candidates through video and only select the top two to three to fly to meet the hiring company in person. This not only saves time and money for the interviewing company, but often provides a positive experience for those being interviewed and makes more talent available to the hiring company.
>> Transparency in Civil Government: Video has come to government in civic matters, too. Recently, New York mandated that its state agencies post videos of their public meetings on the Internet. This is just part of the transparency that is a hallmark of Web 2.0 technologies, and it’s starting to be demanded by civilian populations that want to know (in detail) what the politicians representing them are doing.
>> Medicine 2.0: The modern health-care system requires a tight orchestration of people, processes and technologies … yet it remains an intimate, trust based human interaction. “Telemedicine,” or the use of HD video technologies instead of personal visits, allows doctors to see patients regardless of location, yet with the intimacy of an in-person visit.

About Authors: These authors, as well as others, contributed to the book titled “42
Rules for Successful Collaboration.” The book is divided into three sections: people, process and technology. To learn more about the book, visit:
www.tinyurl.com/elearning01.

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