Reflecting on the days when I was performing as an improvisational actor and leading a ragtag troupe in San Diego, I was reminded of the similarities between improv and effective business collaboration. Although it seems that there has been much debate about the merits of collaboration and how to best foster it within a business setting, inviting input from others and cooperating toward a common goal is precisely what our improv group endeavored to achieve during each skit.
Countless articles and studies have been published that endorse the concept of collaboration-friendly environments to move business goals forward. But it seems that a gap remains in effective execution. According to research shared by Queens University of Charlotte, “39% of surveyed employees worldwide say people in their organization don’t collaborate enough.”
Within our own organization, we’ve worked to promote collaboration and communication. Recognizing that we employ a cross section of people of different generations and experience levels, we encourage multiple points of view to be expressed without judgment and stress the importance of teamwork — both of which we feel are essential to effectively cultivating a collaborative environment. Our mission statement is inclusive as well: “To serve as a trusted resource partner to our customers, our community and our coworkers.” For us, it’s all about 24/7 collaboration.
The following are four key components of purpose-driven collaboration.
In my experience, filling a room with like-minded individuals seldom inspires new thinking. High-impact outcomes are more often the result of a variety of viewpoints, experiences, professional roles and personal interests.
Think about a situation when you were engaging in a healthy debate about a topic or striving to overcome a multifaceted roadblock. If each of the individuals engaged in the discussion viewed the variables the same way and had precisely the same purview, it’s likely that very little originality came from the dialogue. In fact, the time wasted on immediate agreement could have been easily avoided by having a single individual determine the course of action.
The very essence of debate and discussion require healthy discord. It is through such friendly conflict and differing opinions that a more comprehensive — and often decidedly better — solution can emerge.
Here are a couple of quick tips that I’ve found incredibly effective:
• Encourage diversity by welcoming all comments and suggestions.
• Strive to accept all suggestions openly and actually like them. In other words, listen without judgment, and constructively contribute to shaping the idea.
Inhibiting equality is something to avoid when assembling a group to collaborate. I’ve noticed that in organizations where one individual controls the entire outcome and therefore is the lynchpin in all decisions, true collaboration is seldom successful. The group may have a healthy exchange, but if the result is an autocratic rather than democratic decision, unity and self-empowerment will likely be stifled.
I’ve found that for successful collaboration, each idea presented (and every individual attending the collaborative exercise) must be given equal weight. Make sure to create a judgment-free zone without fear or repercussions. Bringing a team together only to implement a class system is counterproductive, demoralizing and ineffective.
Although there is no single formula for running a successful collaborative session, don’t overlook the importance of keeping it focused and highly motivating. To maintain energy, collaborations often require physical activities (whiteboard or sticky note exercises, small group discussions or standing for a bit or stretching). Depending on the goals of the session, maintaining a high level of energy and engagement throughout can produce far better results.
If interaction is not included as part of the group’s collaboration, then the question is, “Why couldn’t the same result be generated through an email exchange?” I believe the difference is emotional involvement — in the case of email exchanges, I characterize them as highly transactional in nature. In a group meeting, emotional engagement invariably occurs, which typically produces a highly motivated and driven team.
The final key component of collaboration is mobilization — in other words, taking the outcome of the collaboration and putting it into action. Answer a series of simple, logical questions at the conclusion of any collaboration: Who among the group will be held accountable for which identified activities? What is the time frame for the completion of activities? When will the group reconvene or be informed of progress? How will the newly developed plans make a difference within the organization or externally as they affect customers or partners?
Collaboration without an action plan is merely a conversation. Driving results demands action, and answering the crucial questions above is of paramount importance.
The combination of these four components can result in healthy collaboration that will be worthwhile for any size organization, in any setting. Collaboration is largely an art rather than a science, and it’s an art that deserves concerted effort and pursuit by groups striving to move beyond roadblocks, achieve new results and establish new goals.