Successful collaborations need focused effort

Collaboration is a key competency for today’s enterprises and yet despite the fact that the Internet is awash with a myriad of different collaboration solutions many teams still struggle to be effective and most projects continue to fail by at least one metric.  

 Many people assume that collaboration comes naturally – provide people with a tool and off they go, unfortunately it’s rarely that easy. Despite the fact that hundreds of books have been written about how to help teams collaborate and how to successfully manage projects, many team leaders lack a simple framework to help them assess the scale and nature of the collaboration challenges that their teams face. Once the challenge is understood teams need practical guidance on where to focus appropriate process and technology improvements.

One approach is to look inwards at the team and the complexity of the task to assess the level of challenge according to four categories (see fig 1).  The first and probably the most important, is the degree of – common ground – shared by team members, teams with a lot of common ground collaborate more naturally together and common ground becomes increasingly important as complexity increases. 

Where you set the dials for complexity and common ground will dictate the relative importance of technology and process readiness. Understanding nature of complexity and the areas where common ground is lacking (the focus of this article) will help you to home-in on the types of technology and process tools that you need to make your team a success (a future article).

The application of this approach is best illustrated by an example; in this case a typical corporate strategy team which is undertaking a regular yearly review cycle. Their review is not particularly urgent, but is complex (see fig 2) because of the interdependence of different tasks, the need to innovate to stay competitive, the number of decisions still to be taken and the need for different stakeholders to negotiate.

The team lacks common ground (see fig 3) in quite a few areas but the fact that they don’t all know each other, will be working virtually across multiple time zones and will need to work both on and offline will be a particular challenge to them given the complexity of their objective.

Initially the team should focus on building the relationship and trust between team members, probably push for a kick off using a professional video conferencing session and concentrate on well facilitated audio conferences while the team members get to know each other. Common access to information will be very important, so the team need to ensure they use an information sharing/discussion system that is available to everyone, is asynchronous and works well off-line, these characteristics are essential and can be achieved even with disciplined use of email and conference calls.

If the team wants to push the boundaries they should consider a web hosted team room with off-line support and also routinely recording their meetings; this will make it easier to create focus, manage information, engage new team members and involve specialist contributors.

Longer term the team members should consider Instant Messaging and Blogs, as these will allow members of the team to get to know each other much better, help them understand each other’s challenges and perspectives and extend the strategy review process throughout the year. 

A refinement to this simple framework is to consider how the needs of the team will evolve over a projects lifecycle, teams need different processes and tools during the storming and forming phase than during the performing stage for example.

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

3 Responses

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  2. Anonymous says:

    I’m looking for a reference to the “N stages of team formation” I forget the proper names, but they could coloquially described as

    Butt Sniffing, chest beating …false concensus, storming and forming true concensus, … Performing.

    Does anyone know the real names? Thanks

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