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Your Company Needs A CCO. Now.

We are all told that team work is a critical key to team success. For those fortunate enough to witness successful team work first hand, we can certainly attest that if you can pull it off you will have some truly extraordinary results. However, successful collaboration is not only a top priority for organizations, but also it’s becoming more complicated. So how does a company help foster an environment where productive team work is the norm?

With all the recent advancements in mobile technology having large, geographically dispersed teams are quickly becoming the norm. Despite all the advantages of these teams, there are some growing concerned that need to be addressed. With more and more employees telecommuting, it’s becoming extremely difficult to build team trust. In an attempt to solve this issue, about two years ago the Harvard Business Review came up with an answer: the Chief Collaboration Officer.

According to a recent Fast Company article, by implementing a Chief Collaboration Officer “the most critical of business strategies [will now] have a dedicated individual toiling to make collaboration part of the daily doings of the company.” Interestingly enough, despite the growing need for someone to fill this role – whether it’s by establishing a new role or adding it to an existing role – “there’s only one CCO in the US.”

Todd Etter, one of the founders of the multimedia financial-services company, the Motley Fool, has held the title of Chief Collaboration Office since 2010. Given that according to a Fast Company article last May, that this is the only company to have such a role, it’s safe to say that the Motley Fool is no ordinary company. They have made it a point to stick with a core philosophy of “enhancing productivity through unconventional practices.” We’ve all been in a situation where you are working on a team project but the easiest route is to just do it yourself. However, Tom Gardner, Motley Fools’ cofounder and CEO believes, “it’s often not the best idea.” That’s where the idea of a Chief Collaboration Officer comes in.

Working Alongside vs. Collaborating

Todd Etter says there’s “a big difference between working alongside other staff members and actually collaborating.” In one you are only giving the pretense of collaborating and in the other, you are successfully feeding off one another. In a recent Foolympics, Etter created a puzzle based off guest speaker Michael Lewis – author of Moneyball and The Blind Side. So you’d think in an event like this, Lewis’ team would be the slam dunk. However, Lewis’ team ended up coming in dead last. “Etter says it was likely because the team hadn’t worked together before and weren’t quick to provide feedback and challenging positions.”

Balance is Important

Another important skill that helps foster productive collaboration is brainstorming. “Brainstorming is a two-way street,” says Etter. Learning how to both create and listen is an important skill to create successful collaboration. Etter believes that “‘Brainstorming is more than just throwing it all out there. Otherwise you have 30 ideas and picking one may hurt you,’ says Etter. Instead try to figure out how to riff off two or three. ‘That’s fewer ideas but more conversation and thought about what is suggested,’ he says.”

Too Much Planning – More Building

Etter has found that “teams often spend too much time planning and not enough time building.” Instead of spending time developing the “perfect strategic plan”, sometimes the best way to get the job done is by going out there and just trying things. “Kindergartners are the most successful, Etter asserts, because they don’t plan they just start on the structure…Conversely, business school students fare worse because they busy themselves drawing up strategies and run out of time before the first strand is place.”

Whether it’s establishing the Chief Collaboration Officer as a standalone role, or adding those responsibilities into an existing role, it’s something that most of today’s firms should seriously contemplate. Teams are only going to become more dispersed, so learning to effectively and productively collaborate is a skill that isn’t going away any time soon.

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