Collaboration is an Inside Job (Article #1)

Have you ever found yourself wondering “How can I keep up with all of this?” You
have 35 emails to reply to, 12 voice mails and three meetings scheduled
for the day. Then a close colleague pops into your office and asks for
your urgent help.

There is no denying our society is changing
rapidly. One of the most obvious and life-impacting areas is our
workplaces and work practices. A senior manager in the
social services lamented to me recently the amount of email he had to
deal with each day. I asked him what was the most stressful part,
without hesitating he replied that he missed the ‘authentic connection’
with other people. He felt severely stretched between the three
channels, email, phone and face-to-face meetings.

These three channels are presently in a three-way
struggle for our attention. No matter which channel triumphs we are
still frequently left feeling as if we are losing ‘authentic
connection’.

Virtualization

We all realize that the quality and quantity of
connection in the work place is shifting rapidly. But is
communication-technology and the associated changes in the workplace
really enabling us to be more effective? This process could be referred
to as ‘virtualization’. The virtualization of teams and
groups is changing the way we achieve our team and individual
objectives. It began when we developed language (or earlier), then the
emergence of the Guttenberg press, followed by radio, telephone and
most recently the internet and email technology.

My definition of ‘team virtualization’ is any
process that is introduced or expands to replace more traditional ways
of communicating with other people. For example when phone calls
replaced some or all face to face conversations, or when
teleconferences replaced some or all physical meetings.

Interestingly the challenge of how we connect to each other has inspired the creation of a foundation – the ‘Peer2Peer Foundation’.
Created by Michel Bauwens, the P2P Foundation is a meeting place for
people interested in exploring peer-to-peer communication alternatives.
This foundation is small but growing fast as the challenge of
virtualization continues to grow.

Two Kinds of Growth

In his book ‘Chaos Point: The World at the CrossroadsErvin Laszlo states
that our species is changing in how it develops. He claims that we are
moving from an era where the three “C’s” of conquest, colonization and
consumption are giving way to connection, communication, and
consciousness. Laszlo claims that these “C’s” constitute two kinds of
growth and that we are presently transitioning between the two.
Connection and communication are on the up swing, for sure.

The proliferation of cell phones and internet
access is making sure of that. What is not so certain is the shift in
consciousness that we also need to make. The question I hear so often
in my consulting work is “How can we continue to embrace technological
changes and maintain ‘authentic connection’ with both clients and
colleagues?

Obviously there isn’t an easy answer to this.
However, one of the most useful assumptions we can adopt is that
building a highly collaborative work environment is everyone’s job. It’s
first an ‘inside job’. But how do we do that? A list of some of my
solutions to this tricky question can be found in an article at this
Blog.

Below are ten ways to increase collaboration in the workplace:

1. Raise awareness of the importance of shared
assumptions. Assumptions cause us to run on ‘autopilot’. Individuals
are not the only ones who operate this way; teams do it too.

2. Check your own assumptions before and during
the project planning phase. Your own assumptions will effect how you
interact with others and deal with the inevitable challenges of working
with other people.

3. Intention is the keynote. Just as a team’s
attention is important – so is your own. Intentions have an eerie way
of manifesting into reality.

4. Encourage team members to find out about each
others’ roles. The more they know about each others’ perspectives, the
more likely they will empathize with them when the going gets tough.

5. Establish a reward system for innovation and
creativity. Ensure that rewards are equally available for ideas and
innovations that don’t work as for those that do.

6. Plan to use all of the experience in the team.
Think of the years of life experience represented in a room of 15
people with an average age of 35. It represents over 500 years of life
experience.

7. Celebrate your successes along the way.
Celebration acts to reinforce the progress being made. When it done at
the team level it empathizes the importance of the team process in
reaching desired objectives.

8. Invest resources in your own learning and when
possible encourage others to do the same. Continuous improvement is
only possible when individuals and the team as a whole are embracing
continuous change with continuous learning..

9. Real change only comes when people change how
they behave as well as think. This is just as true for the workplace.
Never was it truer that we need to be the change we wish to see.

10. Model what you want to see more of. Providing
our colleagues and clients real-life demonstrations of collaboration at
work is the strongest incentive and inspiration you can provide to
others.

There are things you can do to change the level of
collaboration we experience within your team. Of course there are no
‘silver bullets’ that will create over-night results. By taking collaborative intelligence as a principle to live by you can change how your team operates. That’s why I say collaboration is (first) an inside job.