Creating an Environment for Powerful Collaboration

By: vibethink

March 28, 2014

The Miseries of Poor Collaboration & Advantages of Good Collaboration

It’s 3pm and you’re called into the conference room for a collaboration workshop with your full team. When you’re struggling through that post-lunch food coma, trying to finish up all your work for the day, the last thing you want is to take part in another dreaded spitballing session. Your meeting yesterday began with ten people talking at each other across the table, interrupting each other, and ended with a heated debate between the two most vocal employees championing their own ideas while everyone else sat sullenly in defeat. No conclusion was reached aside from the need to have another meeting today. Of course.

You’re thinking that it might be better to bypass any sort of group collaboration and take some time to write down a list of ideas on your own. Before you swear off team collaboration for good, however, consider the benefits of differing perspectives and the collision of ideas that Steven Johnson champions in his video “Where Good Ideas Come From.”

Purpose of Effective Collaboration

Collaboration makes ideas better. It brings together individuals with different backgrounds and skill sets to work toward a single solution. This is the idea behind multidisciplinary or cross-silo collaboration. With several individuals from different parts of the company tackling a problem from different angles, unexpected ideas can be generated, tested, and optimized. As Isaac Asimov writes in The Robots of Dawn, “A knotty puzzle may hold up a scientist for a century, when it may be that a colleague has the solution already and is not even aware of the puzzle that it might solve.”

Tim Cook’s Characteristics of Great Collaborators

– Not political or bureaucratic
– Not credit-seeking
– Wicked smart
– Appreciate different points of view
– Care about their ideas
– Realize they need help from others to push their ideas further

Collaboration at Vibethink

At Vibethink we work to create a space for effective collaboration. We utilize the following techniques to make sure our workshops are effective and result in action steps:

Capturing Ideas on Whiteboards
To make sure everyone is able to contribute and ideas don’t get lost in the discussion, we gather around one of our many whiteboards and write them up on the wall. With dry erase markers, sharpies, and Post-Its in hand, we give our ideas physical forms that can be referenced at any time.

Building Upon Ideas
Visualizing ideas up on the whiteboard then allows us to combine the best parts of each idea to create the solution that meets our goal for that particular project. To build upon ideas and provide constructive feedback we work to use “and this…” language instead of “but this…”

Mutual Respect
Respect is crucial in collaboration sessions. If the opinions and skills of each participant aren’t valued, then you can’t expect full participation. Listening to each other and truly understanding the different ideas that are being discussed allows our meetings to be productive and have the whole team feel valued.

Unique Backgrounds
Having different perspectives allows you to tackle problems from all sides. Everyone is exposed to different experiences in life and the more diversity you can have in a collaboration session, the more ways there are available to solve a problem.

T-Shaped Team Members
We look for collaborators who have a hunger to learn more about general information across multiple disciplines while specializing in a few specific areas of interest. This allows for well-rounded and informed team members who understand each other’s terminology and skill sets.


Further Reading on Collaboration:

Bloomberg: Smashing Silos
Silos can limit collaboration across disciplines. When hierarchy and formality come into play during collaboration, team members will not feel comfortable sharing their ideas for fear of receiving unwanted attention from the “higher ups”. Smashing those silos will provide a level playing field for collaboration in an open environment.
(the link previously in this post was removed because the site was taken down)

Inman News: The Most Rewarding Problems Require Collaboration
Collaboration software like Google Docs are fantastic, but they come with their own set of issues. Whiteboards provide a physical space for problem solving. The bigger the whiteboard, the bigger the problems you can solve.

Harvard Business Review: Eight Ways to Build Collaborative Teams
There are some interesting paradoxes when it comes to collaborating. The best teams for collaborating are large, virtual, diverse, and are made up of highly educated specialists. Unfortunately those same qualities make collaboration difficult as they may be less likely to share their expertise, learn from each other, or help one another.

White Paper: How the Workplace Can Improve Collaboration
Many are trying to tackle this issue of effective collaboration. The structure of a workplace can play a crucial role in making or breaking the collaborative nature of a team. Companies must think about how they want their employees to interact and structure the office space around that goal.

IntroHive: How to Create an Open Collaborative Workplace
With fewer face-to-face interactions occurring in the digitally connected world, silos can easily be created that hinder collaboration. Hold effective brainstorming sessions, create functional teams, and utilize one-on-one meetings with your employees to break through those digital silos.

Mindjet: 5 Pitfalls of Collaboration
While there are many benefits to collaboration, there are also several issues. There can be ambiguity with roles and purpose, information overload, and diffusion of praise or blame. Decide when it is best to use collaboration and when another option might be a better choice.

Agile Improv: Productivity and Collaboration In Person
The physical workspace is extremely important for creating a productive environment. Design your space around people, not workers. Think about creating several spaces: a more social space, flexible meeting areas, and quiet areas.

Elcom: Importance of Collaboration in Today’s Workplace
Using collaboration tools like a company wiki or instant messaging to get the whole team on the same page. Collaboration creates a happier workforce and represents an educated one. The tools also allow for connectivity even if the team is working remotely.

Cleverism: How to Collaborate With and Influence People Using the SCARF Model
ollaboration is an increasingly important skill to produce successful teams. The SCARF model teaches the best way to socially interact with members of your team in order to promote connection, cooperation, and ultimately higher productivity.