Posts Tagged collaborative quotient

Being heard above the herd

Anyone who has spent time around cattle knows the sound.  The herd lets out quiet moos as they move along in order to reassure each other.  The constant lowing serves as an affirmation to the group that things are going fine and there’s nothing to be alarmed about.

Next time you’re in a functional meeting at work, listen to the tone of the team.  Chances are you’ll hear the same monotonous stream of affirmation, only in the human tongue.

“Great idea.  Still making progress.  Should have those numbers by Friday.  Got the room booked and the speaker set.  That’s a great message, let’s get the slides finished.  Mooooo.”

How do you make yourself heard above the herd?

First, unless you want to start a stampede, it’s best not to be an alarmist.  To be clear, there might be times when a good, old-fashioned scream is called for, but those times are few and far between.  It’s much more likely that a carefully reasoned appeal to the group will result in action more appropriate than getting everyone overturning their chairs and clawing for the exit.

As with most forms of communication, content is king.  Don’t talk just to be heard; have something useful to add when you speak out.  Give careful thought to your contributions and frame them in a logical way.  Present your comments in a complementary way.  Affirm progress while providing legitimate incremental value.

And here’s an important but often overlooked point.  Always attempt to provide the group a way forward — don’t just toss out objections, no matter how valid.  Trapped cattle react unpredictably and you don’t want to get trampled.  My boss used to say, “Don’t come to me with a problem unless you have a suggestion to solve it.”  Good advice.

Collaborators move in herds.  Figure out how to keep your contributions positive and valuable and you will raise not only your collaborative quotient, but that of the entire team.

And you might just win a blue ribbon at the state fair to boot.

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Please hold for the next available friend

Last week my wife called for customer support on one of our gadgets.  After a brief wait she was connected to an agent and started the ritual.  Somehow during the rote recitation of name, rank and serial number the topic of location came up, and it was determined that the agent lived and worked in a tiny town right down the road from our ranch.  Neighbors!  Serendipity changed the whole tenor of the call from bored desperation to an entertaining bit of human interaction, and cemented our relationship with the vendor.

Working as a support agent can be a trial.  First, every person that calls has a  problem or they wouldn’t be on the phone; let’s face it, nobody ever calls a support agent just to say hi, have a great day.  And although each customer that calls has a problem that is important to her, she just one of dozens of depressed or upset customers the agent has to talk with during his shift.  Take that toxic environment and stir in a myriad of inflexible rules, regulations and metrics that overlay the exchange, and you have a recipe for disaster.

It’s tempting to want to use technology to measure every aspect of employee performance down to the micron, but don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees.  As my wife’s experience shows, it’s sometimes the things that are impossible to measure that provide the greatest value.  Every interaction with a customer, no matter how trivial, is an opportunity to increase customer loyalty and, as we all know, it’s much less expensive to keep a customer than to find one.

Make your agents feel like the important part of the team that they are.  Work hard to give them not only responsibility but accountability for increasing the value of their interactions.  Set out to raise the collaborative quotient of the contact functions and create measurements that reflect the flexibility necessary to make that leap.

When was the last time you had a good experience with a contact center and what made it special?

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I could have sworn

I had a call scheduled for this afternoon at 1:30.  I’m in Texas, and the person who scheduled the call isn’t.  I’m certain she knows where I am, because the sole purpose of the call is to discuss my current location.

99 times out of 100 I verify time zone when scheduling meetings and calls.  In the world of global business it’s a necessity.  This time I didn’t because I assumed the issue was understood.  1:30 came and went and the phone didn’t ring. Our collaborative quotient plunged dangerously close to zero.

George Bernard Shaw once said that “The greatest problem in communication is the illusion that it has been accomplished.” Isn’t that the truth?

It’s been noted repeatedly that collaborative success is greatly enhanced when all of the underlying assumptions are addressed early on in the engagement. Let this serve as a lesson to us. If an assumption is important to the outcome, address it – even if the data in question seems obvious.

Has something like this ever happened to you?

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Put me in, coach

We spoke about the ways that technology can streamline business in an earlier post, Picking up the slack.  In that article, I talked about the periods of free time that technology process optimisation creates.  It might not seem like you have a lot of extra time at work during these days of economic turmoil, but a careful analysis of your schedule might reveal otherwise.  If, upon reflection, you find that you have a few extra minutes here and there, you may have uncovered an opportunity for a win-win situation with your employer.

If there is a project or solution at work about which you are passionate, consider volunteering for additional responsibility.  I know is sounds crazy, but the great thing about challenges that interest us is that there always seems to be enough time in the day to work on them.  Align your passion with the opportunity for increased personal growth, and the appreciation that your employer will have, and you’ve created a great way to be more productive while feeling better about work.

There are just a few important things to keep in mind.  First, don’t let your current responsibilities suffer; your employer expects a certain level of performance, and it’s important to meet these expectations above all.  Second, be specific about what you are volunteering for; set proper, realistic goals and do your best to achieve them.  And finally, be prepared for the possibility that others in the office might not appreciate your extra effort; don’t get caught up in negative workplace energy or react to jealousy.

Staying positive, creating opportunity and increasing your collaborative quotient by finding places to harness your professional capabilities while expressing your personal passion is a great way to stay ahead of the game.

Have you tried this?  What was your experience?

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Measuring employee performance in collaborative environments

Employee performance measurement was relatively simple in the world of command and control management.  No to be overly simplistic, but basically your manager told you what to do, and when review time came around you were measured on how well you did what you were told.  Think of it this way, in the old days tasks and “action items” were delegated and it was easy to set milestones and measure individual achievement.

The metrics used in this environment were generally well-defined quantifiers that were direct descendants of the production economy.  Employee performance was most often tied to revenue or profit, project status, process or other quantifiable metrics.  Unfortunately, these metrics tended to focus on the accomplishments of the past, not the future potential of the individual or the organisation.

In truly collaborative environments it’s a bit more tricky to measure performance for a variety of reasons.  First, entire processes are changing as the organisation adopts new ways of working.  And when things are in flux, as they often are when healthy collaboration is occurring, it can be difficult to recognise not only who has responsibility for tasks but for entire initiatives.  So how do you keep all that straight?

Here’s the nub: collaboration does not necessarily mean unstructured.  There is a need for process, not only around collaborative decision making but also in the tracking of objectives within the collaborative work flow and the overall effectiveness of the organisation.  Without clearly defined assumptions, responsibilities and goals, leading a collaborative effort can be a lot like coaching kids soccer.  You’ll have 10 people within 5 feet of the ball kicking wildly, but there won’t be a lot of progress made.  So set some ground rules and find a good coach.  But don’t let measurement of these processes form the basis for employee evaluation, as that would put you right back in the trap of measuring something other than desired results.

In summary, don’t resort to the same set of measurements that were appropriate for the manufacturing of widgets.  Take some risks.  Use your performance measurement system to foster and encourage creativity and risk taking, and don’t be afraid to adopt qualitative not quantitative measurements.  Consider that the collaborative quotient of your organisation is linked to the interactions of your people, processes and information systems and give thought to what optimal performance of these interrelated systems might look like; then set your measurements to encourage that state.

For example, the employee performance measurements of the future might contain qualitative measurements of things such as size and relevance of social network, participation in initiatives, innovation index and overall impact on organisational health.

How do you see employee performance measurement evolving?

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Who is your complementor?

Who is your complementor?  No, not your complimenter, although getting praise is often fulfilling, it’s not enough; who is the special person that adds the most value to your life’s purpose?

Remember the episode of Star Trek where a transporter malfunction split Kirk into two entities, Good Kirk and Bad Kirk?  That’s an over-dramatisation of the issue that faces all of us.  Some people are good at a lot of things, but no one is good at everything.

The old proverb “Behind every great man there is a great woman” is rooted in truth, but too limiting.  Today it would be more appropriate to say, behind every great man is a great team, but that statement is way too broad.

The next step on the road to greatness is to find the one person that can add the greatest value to your purpose and vision.

Are you a great brainstormer but face challenges in implementation?  Then find a partner who is gifted at operations.  Do you excel at math and finance but have issues with the abstract?  Then seek a creative genius as your partner.  Do an objective self-analysis and then keep your eyes open for that special person who’s skills fit together with yours like two pieces of a puzzle.

But, and this is a big but, you have to find someone that shares your vision and who you can trust.  Someone who, as in Top Gun, will never leave his wingman.  Find that person and wonderful things await.

Have you found your complementor?

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What’s your social score?

Late last year, Business Week talked about an experiment at Google to rank users of social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter based on connectedness, frequency of communication and influence.  In the article, the value of influence-ranking using Google’s patent-pending technology is examined in the context of advertising, but such a system has other potential applications in business.

As I previously mentioned, maintaining a large number of healthy, diverse relationships is one way to improve the collaborative quotient of an organisation.  Companies are looking  to innovative ways to measure the effectiveness of collaboration and its impact on success.  Some companies are finding value in charting the relationships between individuals and creating maps that help to visualise the density and relative value of social ties within the sphere of business.  In a conversation at Knowledge Infusion, Jason Corsello recently talked about the potential for adding a “social index” to employees’ performance appraisals as a way to track and presumably stimulate collaborative behavior.

In Forbes this week, Joshua-Michele Ross muses on the rise of the social nervous system and gives a number of examples of how a massively connected society could improve such things as EMS, political effectiveness and virus (disease) forecasting.  All of these examples show the potential for technology to increase visibility into communication and presumably improve effectiveness, but towards the end of Ross’ article, the privacy alarm begins to sound.

As Ross puts it, “In a social nervous system there will be increasing pressure to be connected 24/7 to the hive mind that is Facebook, Twitter and so on. Those who do not connect, share and collaborate will have a hard time in business and in social life.”

We’re already seeing some employers using credit reports to evaluate potential employees.  Do you suppose that in the not too distant future companies will be calling a network reporting bureau to obtain your social score as well?

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Those who can’t do… collaborate

Remember the old chestnut, “Those who can’t do teach?”  Well that fable might have a new twist.

How many of you have worked with someone who talked a good game but never seemed to be around when the hard work was being done?   It’s a fairly common phenomenon, and made all the more irritating when the boss doesn’t seem to notice.

Fortunately, in a structured environment these types generally have to expend more energy hiding than it would take to just get the darn job done.  Unfortunately, in a chaotic environment, where roles are less well-defined, there are more opportunities for these types of folks to game the system.

Moving from meeting to meeting, team to team, it’s easy for someone to look busy, seem engaged, and actually deliver nothing.

Cecilia Weckstrom talks about her experience with what she describes as an unmatched level of commitment and its negative effect on collaboration in a recent post, What Makes Collaboration Work; however, it’s a detail in her anecdote which is most telling.  She says that when asked why she didn’t do more projects with a coworker she “had to think… long and hard before (she) realised the answer,” and that the cumulative impact of her having to put forth the lion’s share of effort “was reduced collaboration.”

Sometimes what is causing a reduction in the collaborative quotient of a team isn’t obvious and, while Cecilia takes care not to imply that her coworker was trying to avoid work, someone looking to take advantage of a team will seize any opportunity to do so.

Companies experimenting with a transition to collaborative process would do well to watch for this behavior and take swift action to curtail it, as it can be very corrosive to trust and effectiveness.

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A room with a view – of collaboration

Herman Miller has impressed me time and again with their thought-provoking publications and research, and an article they wrote entitled Making Room for Collaboration is another fine effort.

I like the article, not just because it begins with an observation from a report the Economist Intelligence Unit wrote for my old team:

In a recent survey of 1,656 executives from 100 countries, a majority said that it is vital to the future of their organizations. The survey results found that “increased collaboration will be a defining feature of the company of 2020. Executives expect to see a lot more collaborative problem-solving inside and outside their firms, and clear majorities intend to create employee incentives to encourage collaboration across functions (79 percent) and with external stakeholders (68 percent).” — Foresight 2020: Economic, Industry and Corporate Trends

I like it because it takes an often overlooked component of the business productivity puzzle — environment — and puts it in the heart of the collaboration experience.  Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the applications, rules and cultural aspects of the collaboration puzzle that we forget that something as seemingly trivial as the placement of the water cooler can throw the whole corporate engine out of balance.

Creating a workspace that captures the intent as well as the spirit of the team, and meets the needs of the individuals, can help unlock group potential.  I’ve worked in offices where the space planners’ vision of shared workspace clashed so completely with personal preference and cultural needs that the group worked about as well as a set of bamboo jumper cables.  Another office had a mix of personal and public space that was unintentionally so seamless and natural that the team ticked like a fine pocket watch.

The role of physical proximity is also discussed.  In the article, Professors Gary and Judith Olson of the University of Michigan are quoted as saying, “Collaborative work at a distance will be difficult to do for a long time, if not forever. There will likely always be certain kinds of advantages to being together….We will find uses for [present and future collaborative technologies], and descriptions of collaborative work in the future will enumerate the emergent social practices that have put these technologies to useful ends. But it is our belief that in these future descriptions distance will continue to matter.”

Isn’t that the truth?

What about you?  Does your work environment help to raise the collaborative quotient of your team, or does it impede your shared effectiveness?  Tell us about your office and how it impacts your collaborative success.

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Stop deciding and start doing

Foghorn Leghorn, the cartoon rooster of Warner Brothers fame, once observed of his young protégé, “You’re doing a lot of chopping, but I don’t see any chips flying’!”  So it can be for some collaborative engagements.

One of the critical stages of a collaborative effort is the formation of the overall goals and intended outcomes.  In a healthy effort, this part of the process can get quite lively with a lot of discussion and perhaps even argument.  Still, there comes a time in the cycle when the team has to, to quote a colleague, “chirp or get off the twig.”  That is the time when discussion stops and action begins.

As each program is unique, the method by which this step is invoked can vary.  Environmental factors can help the team determine the best way to keep the engagement on track.  Proper attention to the timely evolution of the initiative is a critical factor of the teams’ collaborative quotient.

  • Consensus.  Some teams will arrive at a common, well-understood set of goals naturally.  This might happen when the desired outcome is obvious or when the synergies of the team are high.  In other engagements consensus might take somewhat longer to achieve.  Don’t turn this into a corporate game of Survivor, however, where the members of the team who don’t share the views of the majority are cast off.
  • Schedule. In a time-sensitive situation, the team can adopt a scheduled approach where the time allotted to each phase of the effort is planned.  In this environment the urgency of the deadline can serve as an incentive for team members to become more flexible in their assumptions.
  • Edict.  Despite the promise of a democratic corporate environment, some initiatives exist at the direction or leisure of an executive or board.  in these cases the higher-ups may invoke executive privilege and short circuit the decision process.
  • Opt out.  In rare cases the team might reach the corporate equivalent of the hung jury, with the individual members unable to reach a satisfactory decision.  Rather than embark upon a doomed project, the team might elect to start over with new constituents.

Decide how your project is to be managed early in the engagement and hold the team to the plan.

There is another important thing to keep in mind.  Once the engagement strategy has been determined, every member of the team has to commit in order to increase the potential for success.

What group decision strategies have you found to work best?

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