Posts Tagged decision making

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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The importance of diversity to collaboration

When forming a group to tackle a project, most teams follow a simple script.  The core constituents draw up a list of the skills and knowledge they think they’ll need to be successful, and then they start calling acquaintances that have the appropriate attributes.  In many cases, though, the way that people build networks can be self-limiting.

Marshall Van Alstyne, a Professor at Boston University and an expert on information economics, made an observation on this phenomenon while describing to Computer World some of his important research:

…there’s evidence that the diversity of social networks really matters, not just the number of people. People have a tendency to build social networks by talking to people like themselves. That’s fine, but it doesn’t increase information diversity. You need to talk to people who aren’t like you. That’s not always easy, but it will increase the diversity of the information you have access to.

So, while building your social networks you should make a special effort to look for people who are different from you and actively seek to diversify the pool of people with whom you regularly communicate.  By doing this you will increase two important components of a successful networker: betweenness and reach.  Marshall used this diagram to illustrate:

Betweenness And Reach
Constrained vs. Unconstrained Constrained vs. Unconstrained

Illustration courtesy of Marshall Van Alstyne.

But having different information is only part of the equation.  A diverse group of individuals will not only possess more diverse data, they will also have different perspectives on the challenge itself, as well as differing cognitive styles that guide the the way they understand and solve abstract problems.  This diversity, leveraged correctly, can increase the collaborative quotient of the group.

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What’s your view of collaboration?

Practically every executive I meet with these days wants to talk about collaboration.  The interesting thing is, in most cases it quickly becomes clear that what they really want to discuss is optimising delegation.

While moving from “command and control” to “communicate and collaborate” is the stated goal of many leaders, you don’t see very many of these actually relinquishing command.  Most think they are collaborating when in fact all they are doing is spreading the responsibility more widely.  And in that case, to quote an old expression, “Unless you’re the lead dog the view never changes.”

One of the potential benefits of improved organisational communication is the power of democratising the business. Today’s use of collaboration as a buzzword is eerily reminiscent of the “empowering the worker” jargon of the 80s.  A lot of companies talked about it, but only a few led the transformation and capitalised on the benefits.  To those few the strategic advantage became huge.

So it’s interesting to talk to business leaders today and hear them talk about change, and it’s fascinating to discuss new technologies and innovative business process, but at the end of the day, more often than not, the real transformation of their organisations will only occur through a careful self-analysis by these executives, and an actual commitment to personal transformation.  Because unless they are truly willing to trust the team they’ve built, and distribute not only responsibility but authority, it’s all just academic.

What does collaboration look like to you?

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Second Life and team effectiveness

The folks at Leading Virtually are getting ready to release the findings of some primary research they did on group effectiveness, and the preliminary results are discussed in a post from last week.

The research had two main parts.  One evaluated the impact of critical and supportive communication on the effectiveness of group problem solving, and the other sought to determine if virtual world technology, such as Second Life, would impact the tone of communication.

Not surprisingly, groups that experienced higher levels of critical commentary, that is to say more disagreements with team members’ ideas, did not perform as well as the groups where exchanges were generally supportive.  The inference here is that teams that can adjust their methods of communication to be less overtly critical can effectively raise their collaborative quotient.

This works because less confrontation and disagreement increases the cohesiveness of the team, ultimately improving their ability to reach consensus.

As far as the impact of Second Life at influencing the tone of communication, well:

Suffice it to say that Second Life was not associated with higher incidence of supportive communication or lower incidence of critical communication relative to instant messaging.

This is interesting to me.  I would have thought that the generally impersonal nature of instant messaging would result in more terse and direct communication that would skip the niceties and tend towards the critical, a manifestation of keyboard courage, if you will.

Still, I don’t care how well rendered the avatars in Second Life are, they give the impression of cartoons.  I find it hard to take a business meeting seriously when I’m sitting across the table, not from Barb and Simon from engineering and accounting, but from characters who favor Lara Croft and the Juggernaut.

But I mean that in the most positive way.

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