Monday, February 15, 2010

Collaboration: A mantra that makes work play!

 “Collaboration is a process through which people who see different aspects of a problem can constructively explore their differences and search for solutions that go beyond their own limited vision of what is possible.”  from:
The last one month or so has been a “learningful” one for me—experiential as well as conceptual. Incidents and events have forced me to reflect.  I have (more correctly, still trying to) unlearned and relearned and have gleaned an insight of myself, my expectations, and perceptions that I hope will serve me well.
This learning is closely related to Collaboration (my favorite word as people who know me will recognize).  
I think most knowledge workers approach work from two perspectives.
One where we see what we have to do daily as our commitment and call of duty towards projects, clients, team, and the business. These are the fixed/assigned tasks that are more often than not part of our KRAs, are top driven, and we have little choice over them,  especially if we are working for corporate organizations. These require discipline in execution and delivery, sincerity, dedication and also a passion for excellence. An ability to innovate in the implementation adds to one's self satisfaction. However, most often, these are short term tasks with short-term goals that we want to get done with so that we can focus on what really inspires us, what signifies long-term goals in self growth and learning, and where we feel our contribution can actually make a difference.
This second aspect makes work meaningful and much more than the work we are paid to do. Work becomes play! Work becomes exciting, invigorating, stimulating! And one of the key sources of our personal learning. When this happens, we forget those late nights, the backbreaking hours in front of our laptops, the late, and sometimes missed lunches! We look forward to the brainstorming sessions, to connecting and collaborating, to that feeling of involvement and of doing something together that matters—to each individual and to the team.
The second aspect of work also gives rise to innovations and is the seat of collaboration. This is the place where complex ideas take shape and patterns emerge laying down the road map for the future.
I have always been a sucker for this kind of work opportunity. Who isn’t? When such opportunities arise, I don’t much care whether I will get a promotion or an increase in my salary, whether I have been in office for 8 hours or 12. It is immensely fulfilling just to know that I can contribute to my work in ways and areas that matter to me most.
However, one of the endeavors that should have been the flagship of collaborative effort failed—not from that perspective of the outcome—but from my personal standpoint. The venture failed to involve all team members and thus demonstrate the true spirit of collaboration.
Here’s an excerpt from the post Anecdotes: Putting stories to work that comes close to the kind of endeavor this team was trying to put forth.
“Team collaboration often suggests that, while there is explicit leadership, the participants cooperate on an equal footing and will receive equal recognition. An example is a six-member team working together to develop a new marketing strategy in a month, with a defined set of resources.”
Because the venture was so close to my heart, the lack of involvement left an impact that remained with me and called for an analysis.
Today, I was going through posts and articles to research for a paper on Collaboration, Networking and Social Media—some of my passions—when I chanced upon this article. Pure serendipity!
I have quoted liberally from the article to substantiate my points. I would recommend to all that you read the original one. I have taken those points that discuss Team Collaboration. The paper also examines Community Collaboration and Network Collaboration.
The highlights are mine and indicate what ultimately, for me, became the points of disconnect in the overall effort.
  • Common purpose or goal
  • An outcome that is valued
  • Pressure to deliver (a due date)
  • Complex problems that a single person could not resolve on their own
  • An explicit process for getting things done (no ESP required)
  • Clearly defined roles
  • Knowledge of each other’s work, communication and learning styles
  • An admiration of the skills and abilities of fellow team-mates
  • Enough resources to do the job but not so many that the team loses its resourcefulness
  • Regular social activities to build trust among team members
Leadership is a keystone for establishing supportive collaboration cultures, especially in teams and communities. This is based on how leaders mainly embed their beliefs, values and assumptions in the fabric of their organisation. There are six main behaviours that leaders display that mould the organisation’s culture.[3]

  • What leaders pay attention to, measure, and control on a regular basis—are they paying attention to collaborative strategies and behaviours from team, community and network perspectives?

  • How leaders react to critical incidents and organisational crises—are they sacrificing long-term goals for short-term fixes which sabotage collaboration? Does fear of connecting to the larger network keep them from tapping into it?

  • How leaders allocate resources—are they investing in the collaboration capability? Is it attentive to all three types of collaboration?

  • How leaders express their identity through deliberate role modelling, teaching, and coaching—as our leaders collaborate, so do we!

  • How leaders allocate rewards and status—are your leaders rewarding individual or collaborative behaviours? Or both?

  • How leaders recruit, select, promote, and excommunicate—are collaborative talents sought and nurtured?
The excerpt above shows that it is not enough to expect collaboration without setting in place a mechanism that enables it.
However, the incident has taught me a few things about myself that I am grateful for.
At the cost of sounding egoistic I have realized that like most experienced knowledge workers, I don’t appreciate being informed, I have to be involved. Most managers and management make the mistake of conflating information with involvement. They wrongly assume that if somehow information has been conveyed to a team member, s/he should rightfully feel involved.
Just turning the famous quote by Albert Camus a little to reflect what I, as a knowledge worker, feel about work:
Inform me, I may not listen…
Instruct me, I may not comply…
Involve me, I will be there right by your side…

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