Archive for the ‘Collaboration’ Category

collaborationI’ve been thinking the past few days about something that’s bothering me.  As someone whose work the last several years has focused primarily on promoting and managing the use of collaborative tools inside the enterprise – specifically SharePoint (2008-2011) and our enterprise social network (2010-present) – I think I’ve finally come to a realization I don’t like.  There is nothing earth-shattering about the conclusion and, in fact, I’ve had the thought before.  This time, however, there are more years of background and experience behind it to give it weight.

First, some background…

We hear regularly about the need to collaborate more in companies.  It’s true that improvement in this area is an ongoing need in many organizations, so I’m not picking on my company here.  Over time, though, it seems that companies attempt to answer the question “How can we collaborate more effectively?” with a series of attempts to throw more tools and portals at the problem rather than address the more likely, weightier hindrances to collaboration which are personal and interpersonal.

In response to recognition that better collaboration is needed, typical responses include: create a task force to study the issue, install a new platform such as SharePoint, install an enterprise social network, upgrade the virtual meeting tools available, create a custom portal that gathers data and resources from various platforms, research other companies’ platforms and tools, etc.  Depending on who is involved with such solutions, the proposed recommendations can be rather predictable.  As someone who spent most of his adult career in IT, I can assure you that if you have mostly IT people studying the problem, their proposed solution will be another software install or development project.  That won’t solve the problem.

While there is great value in having the right tools for collaboration in a company (and I recommend having any of the above that help accomplish the business goals), at what point does leadership inside a company stop and ask “Why are we still not collaborating like we think we should?  We’ve introduced all these tools into the enterprise year after year, yet we find our collaboration lacking.  Why is that?”

May I suggest the following to any company that finds itself in this situation:

You already have all the tools you need to collaborate.  What you lack is the will, leadership and culture to do so.

If people want to collaborate, they can do so with or without the latest tools.  Give me a group of people eager to collaborate but with no technology in hand, and we can do a fantastic job of collaborating with nothing more than time spent communicating with one another while taking notes on pencil and paper.  However, if you give me a group of people unwilling to collaborate or who do not see such collaboration modeled by their leaders or who are not rewarded for such collaboration intrinsically or extrinsically, then no software installation or upgrade in technology is going to change that attitude and make it happen.

For collaboration in an enterprise to become the norm, several things need to be true that have nothing to do with technology:

  • You must have the right people on board.  Let’s face it – not everyone is inclined to be a team player.  If that’s the case, find a role for them where they can be a Lone Ranger, or let them go if they are unwilling to change their attitude and behavior.
  • Collaboration must be modeled from the top down throughout the organization. It can’t just be talked about.  For example, do leaders involve others in the decision-making process, or do they hand down edicts that foster resentment?  Are employees being told (mandated) to collaborate better, or are they being shown how to do so by example, experiencing the benefits first-hand?
  • Time must be allotted in projects for such collaboration to happen.  Anyone who has ever succumbed to the thought “If I want it done right, I’ll just do it myself” isn’t going to be inclined next time around to work with others on a similar task.  That may sometimes appear to be a quicker solution, but it’s rarely the best long-term solution or what’s best for the enterprise.
  • Successes at collaboration must be shared for others to want to share in that same kind of success.  That takes intentionality and time.
  • People need to experience the “What’s in it for me?” results, either via internal satisfaction or external recognition and reward systems built in to ongoing evaluation methods.

Until companies address the people and time matters above, the same problem will continue to be identified year after year – “We need to collaborate better” – and the same worn out and ineffective response of throwing another tool or portal at the people will waste time and money to little avail.

Don’t misunderstand my point.  Having great tools available can facilitate such collaboration.  When tools are used well, they can help reduce the time it takes to complete projects.  The social interactions possible via some tools can result in more innovation and success, but the mere presence of the tools cannot guarantee that success.  Social tools such as enterprise social networks, raise the bar of what is possible in an enterprise that recognizes the value of “working out loud” and collectively solving business problems.  But they must have many champions within the company at all levels to be adopted and used to such potential.

We can do better, but we will only do so when we choose to do so.  Cultures can change, but it takes a while, especially for large organizations.  It will take unrelenting determination from those who understand the value of the desired end result.  People at any level can make a positive difference and be a leader, modeling collaboration.  You don’t have to be in a management role to be that kind of leader.

I’m committed to modeling and promoting a culture of collaboration where I work.  What about you?

Related reading: “Is Social Business All Talk and No Trousers?

thriveThis is the last in a five-part series covering the five corporate values of my company, Humana:

Today’s subject: Thrive Together.  What does that mean and how can we live that value?

If we consider the word “thrive,” it brings to mind definitions such as growing, prospering, making progress, and flourishing.  It’s more than just maintaining one’s current state.  It is reaching one’s potential – the fullness of one’s capacity.  It suggests that such growth and prosperity happens in an environment that nourishes and allows room for growth, one that does not unnecessarily and unnaturally constrict such progress.

Most of us hope to thrive in many areas of our lives.  By combining the word thrive with the word together, however, the picture shifts from individuals focused on their own prosperity to one in which the whole group moves in a united direction for the good of all.  It is not a select few doing what is in their own self-interest; it is working in tandem with others in mutually beneficial ways to accomplish more together than we can separately.

To quote a small booklet from my company, to thrive together means that “we focus on shared success by breaking down silos, inviting collaboration and mentoring others.  We believe in, and act with, positive intention to create an environment of trust and integrity.”

So where do I fit in this picture?

It is vital that my personal way of working with others daily needs to include being trustworthy and demonstrating integrity.  I can’t just talk about a value; I have to model it.  I need to reach out to others to include them in decision-making, as well as be responsive to them when they reach out to me.  I must collaborate and cooperate with others willingly because I understand that each person involved has something important he/she brings to the table to help accomplish our business objectives.  I can’t horde areas of responsibility and lord over them like a king in a castle.  Even “my” role at the company isn’t truly “mine.”  It is the company’s and I am a temporary steward of that role and its responsibilities, beholden to the company to do what is in the best interests of the organization and not my own self-interests.

Fortunately, I am in a perfect role at work to help foster the breaking down of silos and building in their place a culture of communication, collaboration and cooperation through my role as the community manager of our enterprise social network.  Thriving together requires open, continuous, honest, and transparent communication.  There is no better way of facilitating that among our company’s associates than through our enterprise social platform.  That is the place where everyone is equal, where everyone’s voice can be heard, where anyone can strike up a conversation with anyone else at any level of the organization at any time about any subject.  That is the place where issues can be addressed, problems and roadblocks called out, model behavior praised, questions asked and answered, and business solutions crafted from thoughtful conversation held by engaged associates throughout the company.  As of our latest upgrade last week of the Socialcast software we use, it is even the place where projects can now be planned, managed, tracked, discussed and documented by the teams involved.  I stated at a conference in 2010 that my goal for our enterprise social network was to change the way communication happens at our company, and three years after the launch of that platform (to the very day today, May 10), we have made much progress in that direction.

I have worked with enough people personally at my company over nearly ten years to be absolutely convinced that the vast majority are dedicated, thoughtful, caring, hard-working people who want to do the right thing in the right way.  Sure, I’ve run into some that don’t fit that description and some who seem to be more concerned with thriving individually than thriving together, but they are the exceptions rather than the rule.  So I believe it is possible that we can live out this value of Thrive Together successfully in the years ahead, especially given the current example and focus of leadership.

Most people eagerly mimic the positive examples of their leaders and others they admire.  When top leaders model such values on a daily basis, the values become more than buzzwords.  Being value-focused can and should become a way of life that shapes our company’s future.  It requires moving from the awkward beginning of talking about values and learning about them to actually living them naturally because they become a part of who you are personally and corporately.  That takes time, but it can and will happen.  It requires that the values be broadly understood and accepted, not just handed down from above.  It requires regularly interjecting into discussions simple reminder questions like “How does this fit with our value of …?” so that we stay on track to make good values-based decisions.

I’m proud of the direction of my company.  I’m thankful for our excellent top leadership and for the countless great colleagues I have the pleasure to work with every day.  I’m genuinely excited about the significance of our focus on these five values and what they will mean to our culture over time – not just internally as employees but in the impact on the consumers we serve and the shareholders to whom we are accountable.

We can and we will Thrive Together.  It will take intentional, constant effort, but it will be worth it.

For most of my 8.5 years at my company, I have not had others on my teams who shared the same responsibilities I had. We may have had the same title (as in the case of my first team for six years), but that’s where the similarity stopped. On my second team, for example, I was the only “Business Consultant” with responsibilities like I had. That was a little lonely at times when people made the false assumption that I was the only one who could or should do certain things, regardless of how much else was on my plate or how little may have been on the plates of others at times.

This week, as a member of my third team in those 8.5 years, we brought on another person in the same role I have been in since December. It was my privilege this week to help mentor her, let her shadow me as I did various things, and help her get acclimated to what we will be doing together. It was such a rare treat for me to have a peer to bounce ideas off of and from whom to solicit ideas. It was great to have another pair of eyes to proof what was about to be posted to our company’s Facebook and Twitter feeds before hitting that button. It was wonderful seeing initiative in someone else and creativity in ways that will complement what I bring to the table.

I’ve not had in many years a coworker to really compare myself to in terms of output, workload and productivity. Now I do. Now I’ll find out as my coworker gets up to speed whether I’ve been doing the work of two people all along or if I can accomplish more by changing some patterns. We’ll help make each other better at what we do.

I’m crazy about everyone on my team. It’s extraordinary. But there’s something bonding between the two of us in the same role helping each other out that automatically relieves some pressure.

Wherever you work, I hope you have someone who is the picture of leap year lesson #48 – You need someone at work to relate to.

I’m usually very careful about proofing what I write before publishing it. While only a few dozen people read this blog daily, the pressure to be accurate is just the same for me as when I prepare an email weekly for nearly 18,000 people.

Last week my manager and I had a discussion about the important of proofing content before it is published. I assured him I’m very careful about it. And then, you can guess what happened. Two days ago I published something on our corporate Facebook page with a typo. I had read it several times. I had gone through our internal process of sending it to others to review and approve and everyone did, even though the typo was in what they saw as well.

It was an easy typo to miss. Instead of typing “heart” I typed “hearth.” The mind sees what it expects to see in reading and not always what is actually there. The good news is that I noticed the error, deleted the post and replaced it with a correct one a few hours later before too many had the chance to see it (except my eagle-eyed manager who did see it).

I had the opportunity to be on the other side of a similar issue today when I was informed about a problem with a public post on someone else’s Facebook page. But when I went there what struck me was not the issue brought to my attention, but a much more significant problem that others involved hadn’t noticed. We passed on the info so they could address it.

The point of the two incidents is that we improve our chances of greater success and fewer errors if we have another person check our work. A fresh pair of eyes often sees something the original eyes do not. This works in the printed word, in physical labor, in plans for the future and reports of the past. That’s a good thing, though potentially humbling and even embarrassing.

Be grateful for that other pair of eyes who can help you do better quality work. Leap year lesson #34 is Four eyes are better than two.

Let’s Have a Collaboratory

Posted: November 22, 2011 in Collaboration
I ran across a word that was new to me a few weeks ago on a company’s blog. The word was “collaboratory.” I didn’t know if it was a real word or not, but the mere sound of it sparked an idea I’d like us to consider at my company.

Here’s my thought…
Just as another prominent area of our company has periodic events to showcase or discuss topics relevant to their work, what if the team I serve on sponsors and plans a “Collaboratory” event for 2-3 days next year? What would that look like? Here are some ideas for sessions and emphases:
  • We could showcase collaboration efforts from other stand-out companies both in terms of process and technologies, perhaps with speakers in person or virtual from those companies to tell their story.
  • We could feature presentations by associates throughout the company sharing their collaboration efforts. An open application process prior to the event would allow for people to submit proposals to tell their collaboration successes with the most innovative and impressive examples granted time to share.
  • Include open dialogue on what our company does well regarding collaboration, where we struggle, and brainstorm ideas for how we can improve.
  • Form a team of volunteers to be given a collaboration problem/challenge early in the event and have them present by the end of the event a proposed solution that includes process, participants and technologies.
  • Include one or more keynotes of worthy guest speakers – internal or external.
  • Provide guidance regarding best practices (or better yet, “next” practices) in collaboration.
  • Have people walk away with recommended resources for further exploration on the subject.
Such an event is in the idea stage right now and needs to be massaged by many people, not just those on our small team. But it seems worthy of pursuing.
You can’t just tell people to collaborate and expect it to happen successfully. We all need to learn from those who are doing it well and to be challenged to let creative juices flow that, together, spark new ideas we would not have imagined separately.
By the way, one of my colleagues, Stephen, had the good sense to look the word up and he found this definition for “collaboratory” in Wikipedia:
a center without walls, in which the nation’s researchers can perform their research without regard to physical location, interacting with colleagues, accessing instrumentation, sharing data and computational resources, [and] accessing information in digital libraries” (William Wulf, 1989)
Are other companies doing this? Are there good examples of such events already taking place that you can point me to? What ideas do you have to make such a collaboratory a worthwhile, engaging, and informative experience?