This blog focuses on how collaboration can lead to organizational success and the steps required to get there. Understanding how to establish a collaborative mindset is absolutely critical when looking towards growth.
Collaborative Strategies, Inc. has been doing research on all aspects of collaboration for the last 25 years. Our research on the factors necessary for successful collaboration has shown that although technology is an “enabler” of interactions, collaboration is first and foremost a collection of human behaviors.
What we found most critical are two things: a “collaborative mindset” and learning how to collaborate successfully. One of our assessment tools (TCEP), is a metric of how collaborative a team or organization is. This metric is subjective, but it does allow everyone to put themselves on the same scale, so comparisons of groups, teams, and departments, can happen.
One of the characteristics we are able to tell from these TCEP scores is if the team, group, or department has a “Collaborative mindset.” Often the behaviors found in an organization follow the behaviors of the leaders. We recently have a plethora of bad examples: Travis Kaplinik, the former CEO of Uber, Dave McLure former head of 500 Startups, The CEO of Equifax, etc. Do you think the employees at those organizations learned “good” collaborative behaviors from their leaders? If a team leader has a collaborative mindset, he can also infect his team with this mindset.
What Is the Collaborative Mindset?
Some of the components that make up this mindset include:
- A focus on “we” rather than “me”
- Looking at what is best for the group, team, or project
- Great interactions between team members (more below)
- Alignment of purpose or goal
- Willingness to continually learn
- Having an open mind, and willingness to hear from other team members, or experts
- Willingness to entertain multiple strategies at the same time
- Willingness to learn from past relevant experiences
- Not afraid of technology, and willing to use new ones to support interactions
- Understanding the proper collaborative tool for different types of interactions
- A willingness to enter into and work through conflicts
I have seen teams with almost no collaborative tools do great things, and teams with a plethora of collaborative tools fail miserably.
How to Support Good Collaborative Interactions
As a researcher, I often imagine how various collaborative behaviors could be measured. Often getting objective measures for collaboration is very difficult, as much of the value is intangible. In a thought experiment I hypothesized a metric that would be available each time we had a conversation an AR (Augmented Reality) scale of 1-10 would pop-up on each of our screens and we would rate each other on the value of our interaction (1= low and 10 = high). In this way we would get immediate feedback, and maybe able to learn better collaboration behaviors more quickly. Unfortunately, that tool has yet to be built.
What I have seen is a wide variety of techniques to help people adapt better collaborative behaviors, many of which I have used in the past. Lectures don’t work, even classes have little impact. What I found worked best, and had the greatest impact, were games or scenarios.
Earlier in my career, I was doing some work for General Dynamics, who was not only having trouble building a collaborative tool, but they were also having problems with internal collaborative behaviors. What I found worked best was a scenario-based collaboration game, loosely built on my experience playing D&D. Once we got the kinks worked out, it worked great, and I used the game (with different scenarios) for E&Y and other clients. By tapping into the players' emotions, helping them suspend their disbelief, and giving them a very different role to play, we were able to make great changes in how well a team could collaborate. This worked so well, that I had people come up to me, a decade later, when I was speaking at conferences, telling me they still remember the experience of playing that game!
Most people learn how to collaborate either by trial and error, or by watching others, and so they learn and perpetuate bad collaborative behaviors. For example: I tell most of my clients that it is bad to negotiate a contract over text... Yet every time I use this example a few people in the audience smile, acknowledging that they have either done this, or been the recipient of this. If asked Why? I explain that text does not convey emotional content, only factual content, and that negotiating a contract with someone is certainly an emotional conversation. Telephone, a video conference, or an in-person meeting is the best way to have such an emotional conversation, and one where tonal intonations can make a word mean something completely different. But most people,tend to be familiar with text, and so use that communication form in the wrong way.
Why Collaboration is so Important
So it really is worth helping groups and teams improve their collaborative behaviors. I have seen other consulting groups like EnTeam, who has a “Talking Domino’s” exercise for helping team members give clear and explicit descriptions, so their team members can put their dominos in the right formations. As well as a variety of other simulations, to aid in learning better collaborative behaviors.
We worked with a number of different teams at General Dynamics, and found that each team’s effectiveness was different. We found that teams where the collaboration was smoother, often had better performance (i.e. completing tasks more quickly, and higher quality output). Although there was no clear way to measure this, ver time and working with other organizations we found that teams that collaborate well are often are 20-25% more productive than teams that don’t. So it is really worthwhile to help teams adopt a collaborative mindset as it can really affect the bottom line!