In a recent blog, I commented on the rapid development of “collaboration” both as a way of working and a way of learning. In this blog, I want to focus on the mechanics of making it work
1. Leadership from the Top
Collaboration simply won’t work unless there is genuine leadership from the very top of an organisation. So getting your CEO or head teacher on board is a key first step. That task is made so much easier if they understand how this new way of working will add value. Moreover, lip service simply isn’t sufficient. When I introduced Yammer into my last organisation, our CEO made a point of contributing every day and this sent out a very powerful message to everyone in the business.
2. Ownership Throughout The Organisation
You can’t force collaboration down people’s throats. Just as it needs to be led from the top, it needs to be owned by the organisation. If people are to commit to a new way of working, they need to understand what problems it will solve, how it will help both them and their teams perform more effectively, why it will make their work life more fulfilling. My approach was to identify some genuine evangelists and empower them to take responsibility and make things happen. That strategy was hugely effective, not simply as a way of implementing change, but of making it happen quickly and embedding it throughout the organisation.
3. Part of the Culture and Values
Collaboration isn’t something which can skim along the surface of an organisation. It has to be embedded deep within the culture and supported by an appropriate set of values. If openness, honesty, integrity and innovation are not contained within that value set, a collaborative culture is unlikely to gain ground.
In my last company, I knew that a collaborative culture would work because we had a set of values which clearly supported it. Moreover, those values had been developed by the people within the organisation – not handed down from on high on tablets of stone.
4. Social Networks Are A Great Facilitator but not the Total Answer
There are now a wide range of different Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs) available of which Yammer is probably the best known. Yammer was acquired by Microsoft last year so expect it to be integrated into Office at some stage. If you are unfamiliar with ESNs, think about them as a combination of Twitter, Linked-in, Google +, a smattering of Linked-In and maybe even a bit of Facebook, but ONLY available to the members of a specific organisation. They are therefore totally private (unless you choose otherwise).
If you are thinking of introducing an ESN such as Yammer, my advice would be not to ram it down people’s throats, but to adopt a “softly softly” approach. I found that within 6 weeks of implementing Yammer into a global company, we had almost 100% of our people using it – not because they had been told to do so, but because they gradually started to see the value.
It’s important to remember that ESNs are facilitators. They are a great way to stimulate collaboration but they are not the complete solution. Without the other building blocks in place, they simply won’t work.
5. Quick Wins Are Important
The best way to win hearts and minds is for people to see positive effects at an early stage. So quick wins are important. We developed an Innovation project and used Yammer not simply for people to log ideas, but for others to build on them and to evaluate them using a “like” system. Within a few weeks, we had dozens of ideas flowing around our relatively small (200 people) company and many of these were agreed and implemented almost immediately via our “just do it” policy.
6. Focus on the Skills
There has been a lot of talk in the blogosphere about “new “ skills required to successfully implement a collaborative strategy. I don’t buy that but I do believe there are a number of “existing” skills which need to become higher focus and practiced more regularly. Collaboration will take people out of their comfort zones and into working in new teams, many of which may be temporary, and working with new people, many of whom they may not know or whom in some cases, may not even work for the same organisation. I find that skills such as listening, questioning and giving feedback become particularly important in these situations.
Somebody once defined “listening” to me (and sadly they meant it) as “Waiting for the other person to finish speaking so that I can say what I want to say”. Real or “Active” listening is of course so much more than that. It’s about not simply listening to what someone has said but showing through body language and responses, that you have not only heard them but understood what they were saying and why they were saying it. In an era of conference calls, webinars and multi-tasking, it is skill which is often poorly used and one I will return to in future blogs.
Finally, I would just like to touch on the area of Emotional Intelligence EI). Again, it is a subject I will return to in the future, but I believe that the self-awareness, social awareness and relationship management, all of which form a key part of EI, are of huge significance in any organisation which values collaboration.
So effective collaboration is never going to be easy. However, I am convinced that it is worth the effort. The potential benefits both in education and business are huge, not just for the organisations in terms of resource management and productivity gains, but for the individuals involved. Collaborative work places tend to be more fun to be in and contain people who are far more engaged with the organisation. Not a bad starting point in my view.
Roger Francis is a Director with Creative Learning Partners Ltd, a new vocational training company formed by the senior managers and staff of MindLeaders Learning Services following the acquisition of the company by Skillsoft in 2012 and focusing on the delivery of Functional Skills