You’re Doing it Wrong: Collaboration Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Filed Under Mind Mapping

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Arwen Petty

by
May 8, 2013

It’s collaboration month here at Conspire, so we’re bringing you lots of food-for-thought to mull over: rules for modern collaboration, ways to make the most of a collaborative environment, and how the expanding reach of project management practices ties in with synergetic companies. Keeping with this month’s focus, it’s time to talk about collaboration mistakes that are coming to light as the tech industry places higher priority on team outcomes over individual successes.

Hearing What You Want Isn’t Collaboration

Generally, we talk about collaborating in terms of making the right connections, building teams, and encouraging communication. Great places to start, but all it takes to kill cohesion is willfully ignoring ideas that don’t precisely fit stakeholder agendas. Collaboration is sort of like the physical manifestation of brainstorming; and what’s the first rule of successfully conceptualizing in a group? There are no stupid ideas. Which means the team can’t shut down or shut out suggestions that are unexpected or that might require fleshing-out — otherwise, you may as well not be working together at all.

We’re Not All on the Same (Web)Page

BYOD practices aside, not everyone uses the same tools when they work together on a project. Maybe it’s not a big deal — for example, some folks like to use unread email as a sort of checklist, but their colleagues might prefer to jot down handwritten to-do’s. That’s probably not going to change, even if they’re also using a task management system. But often, people make the cavalier assumption that everyone they’re collaborating with is already making use of the same stuff.

The immediate solution could be to lay down an edict about which devices or programs are “allowed,” and that might work for a minute. But beware — people generally work the way that they do because it’s the most effective way for them to get things done, and you could simply be asking them to disrupt their processes or duplicate them. That definitely doesn’t mean you shouldn’t encourage the team to at least perform project-specific tasks using one method, but be prepared to train individuals, answer questions, and most importantly, demonstrate the value of the tools you’ve chosen.

We Told You to Go Away, But Not That Far

In my last post discussing rules for modern collaboration, I talked about how in general, managers and other higher-ups should keep their hands out of the pot when teams come together to collaborate. Still true, but that doesn’t mean wash your hands of the project entirely until the deadline hits. People need motivation and reassurance, and in fact, recognition for a great idea or a job well done is often cited as the #1 driver behind effective, passionate employees. According to the Harvard Business Review, employees who “receive support that helps them overcome obstacles [are the] most positive and their drive to succeed is at its peak.” Peer support is important, but endorsement from stakeholders is validating and fuels ambition. Unfortunately, leaders often have quite a lot on their plates, and can forget how important checking in and acknowledging progress really is — if you’re part of the C-Suite or even a department manager, remember to let your team have its moment in the spotlight. It’s more important than you think, for morale and business return.

Don’t Be Anti-Social

According to BT Group, the main trend emerging from the state of collaboration today is the social enterprise — a world where previously just-for-fun communication platforms are either being used for business purposes, or spawning stand-alone, in-house social tools like Yammer. You’d think that the value of these would be pretty obvious; after all, finding and engaging customers or employees where they already are isn’t a new concept. But the untapped possibilities are surprising. From a 2012 McKinsey & Company report:

“The average interaction worker spends an estimated 28 percent of the workweek managing e-mail and nearly 20 percent looking for internal information or tracking down colleagues who can help with specific tasks. But when companies use social media internally, messages become content; a searchable record of knowledge can reduce, by as much as 35 percent, the time employees spend searching for company information.”

In terms of collaboration, that means more time spent doing, and a lot less time figuring out what you should be doing.


For more on common collaboration mistakes, check out this Slideshare presentation by Chess Media Group’s Jacob Morgan.

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