Tag Archives: Dr Andrew Jacopino

Collaboration? What’s in it for me? (Part 2)

In the previous article I described the benefits and the challenges of being collaborative including the effect of Collaborative Overload described by Rob Cross, Reb Rebele and Adam Grant in their 2016 HBR Article Collaborative Overload.  The question is what do we do about it?

Unfortunately, in the unusual times we live in require all of us to be more collaborative through familiar and established means (e.g. phone calls and emails) to newer means (e.g. videoconferencing such as  Zoom, WebEx, Microsoft Teams, etc. and collaboration tools such as Google G Suite, Slack, Atlassian Jira, Microsoft SharePoint/Teams, etc.).  While many of us collaborate in order to achieve the outcomes expected of us, this is underpinned by the fear of “I have so much of my own work to do but what if I don’t collaborate?”.  With global unemployment leaving entire market sectors and economies in ruin is now really the time to be seen as “uncollaborative” and “not a team player”?  With many working from home and increased availability for ‘catching-up’ increases the likelihood and severity of collaborative overload.  So what is the solution?

As with many things it is about balance.  Balancing the need of the individual to complete their own work (their output) with the collective need to collaborate to achieve the organisational outcome.  It is about setting both individual and collective objectives.  In a previous article (see Inputs, Outputs and Outcomes – Part 1 and Part 2) I discussed the differences between being individually accountability for an output while being collectively responsible for an (enterprise) outcome as one method for distinguishing between these two perspectives.  Here “Enterprise” refers to the collection of organisations and individuals that are collectively responsible for delivering the enterprise outcome.  The enterprise may be tightly defined and managed through commercial documentation, or loosely organised through an unwritten understanding of individual roles and responsibilities in delivering the enterprise outcome.

Just as important as setting and reporting on individual and collective performance is organisations and managers publicly encouraging, rewarding and celebrating those who achieve this balance.  

As way of a sporting example, Article VI(E)(10)(a) of the Collective Bargaining Agree (CBA) between the United States Major Baseball League (MBL) and the player’s union outlines 6 factors that may be considered in making a determination of the player’s value as follows:

  1. the player’s “contribution to his Club (including but not limited to his overall performance, special qualities of leadership and public appeal)” in the preceding season (often called the platform year);
  2. the player’s “career contribution”;
  3. the player’s past compensation;
  4. the salaries of comparable players;
  5. any “physical or mental defects” of the player; and
  6. the Club’s recent performance, which can include “[l]eague standing and attendance as an indication of public acceptance.”

As you can see value here is a balance of individual (player) and collective (Club) performance and over the longer term recognising there may be short-term ups and downs.

Unfortunately, for many organisations, this is rarely the case.

So my suggestion for those wanting to incentivise collaboration is to encourage, reward and celebrate those who achieve this balance by assessing value as both individual and collective contributions. By highlighting both requirements we are making it clear that individual success is not enough; rather success is defined as a combination of both individual and collective success.

To finish my story I started with, the person from my former company was fortunately very collaborative.  He not only succeeded personally but helped others in the company succeed regardless of location or position resulting in a “champion team”; and who doesn’t want to be a part of that!

Collaboration? What’s in it for me?

I don’t know why you play a team sport and not be concerned about making your teammates better and helping your team win games. That’s the only thing that really matters, and if you’re the best player, surely you’re going to have some effect on the game’s outcome.

Larry Brown

Having watched the finals of many sporting events I am reminded of the question of whether you desire a “team of champions” or a “champion team” and how this relates to collaboration.

One approach is to set, recognise and reward individual performance objectives with the expectation that this will lead to the achievement of overall, or collective, performance objectives.  I remember as a new member of a consulting firm celebrating the individual with the highest billable hours for the year and all wanting to be that individual perceived by all as both individually and organisationally successful.  But at what cost?  Was this reflective of overall company performance?  Did the individual help others find and complete their work?

Unfortunately, as highlighted in the 2016 HBR Article Collaborative Overload by Rob Cross, Reb Rebele and Adam Grant, they found roughly 20% of organisational champions don’t collaborate; they achieve their individual performance objectives but fail to assist others in achieving their objectives.  But what is the alternative?

Instead, we can set, recognise and reward both individual and collective performance objectives similar to the much guarded but often described Google Page Ranking algorithm.  Here, it isn’t simply about how often the webpage is accessed, but also examines how other pages are linked to / from these pages.  That is, a relative measure of the usefulness of this page in the eyes of others.  Similarly, many sports such as rugby league and union, Australian Football League (AFL), American football, soccer, basketball, etc. don’t simply measure goals or points, but also track players assisting others in the team.  But how do we identify and reward the top collaborators in our organisation?

Given the move to virtual collaboration there are a range of tools that can identify and track those who are central to the collaborative process.  Indeed a colleague who led a blue-sky research team within a very large organisation stated they had the capability to mine the corporate email and instant messaging system to highlight who had the greatest impact both in terms of formal (e.g. senior managers, executives, subject matter experts, etc.) and informal (e.g. the locally acknowledged ‘go-to’ individual for solving problems) influencing.  So the ability exists.  The question is more whether we (1) want to know who these people are and (2) have the ability to reward them for their role in organisational success.  In many cases this may damage corporate hierarchies with some organisations (and individuals) not be ready for this.  Indeed, former Goldman Sachs and General Electric (GE) chief learning officer Steve Kerr once wrote, “leaders are hoping for A [collaboration] while rewarding B [individual achievement]”.

However, being collaborative is a double edged sword.  Just as we help others and the wider organisation achieves better performance through more innovative approaches, it leaves the helpers significantly less time for focused individual work, careful reflection and sound decision making.  The effect was dubbed Collaborative Overload by Rob Cross, Reb Rebele and Adam Grant.

In the next part of the article, we’ll describe some practical steps of how you can address these challenges and deliver both individual and collective success.

The Key to Successful Collaboration

The continued changes in how we work, both individually (a move to individual contracts sometimes referred to as the “gig economy”) and organisationally (companies focused on their core strengths and outsourcing the rest), has resulted in the critical need to work collaboratively with others.  Whether it be designing a new product, delivering a service or even responding to tender, harnessing the strengths of each participant is critical to collective success.  Unfortunately, simply having the desire to collaborate is unlikely to result in success, especially in new relationships formed for a specific purpose.  Long-term, successful collaboration requires other ingredients to ensure success.

In her article, Collaborating with Someone You Don’t Know, Rebecca Zucker proposes the following 5 questions for starting a successful collaborative relationship:

  1. Do you understand both the collective and individual goals for the collaboration?  By understanding individual and collective goals, we help communicate why we are collaborating.  Without goal alignment, we may end up working at crossed purposes resulting in wasted effort, frustration and potentially failing to deliver our goal.
  2. Do we understand our Individual Strengths and Weaknesses?  Once we have a clear understanding of the goal, it is essential we understand our individual strengths and weaknesses.  This allows the strengths of each participant to be collectively focused on delivering the goal, while mitigating individual weaknesses.  Importantly, and while potentially confronting for some, we need to recognise that the public identification of individual weaknesses is not an attack on the merit or worth of an individual or organisation.  Rather, it highlights individual areas of strengths; the reason why they are critical member of the team.
  3. Have we Clear Roles and Responsibilities?  Once we have a clear understanding of the goal and our strengths and weaknesses, it is essential we define the individual roles and responsibilities including activities, deliverables and timings.  As part of establishing the roles and responsibilities, it is important that we include any prescribed workshare expectations and boundaries to avoid future conflict.
  4. Have we Established our “Ways of Working” together?  While many individuals and organisations will appear similar in their approach and operation, each of us will have specific and unique “ways of working”; that is, preferred ways of collaborating.  For example, some may prefer face-to-face meetings (in person or virtual with the aid of video), while others may prefer written communication via email.  Some may prefer the formality of routine of regular, scheduled meetings with set agenda, while others may prefer to be more organic simply contacting when and where the need arises through calls or instant messaging.  It is not important which approach you use, but rather that each of the participants understands the “way of working” of the others, and that this taken into account when working with each other to avoid frustration and delay, but instead maximises collaboration.
  5. Are we Checking the Health of the Collaboration?  Finally, we need to define the regular, scheduled “health checks” to not only ensure we are all on the right track to deliver the goal, but also the health of the relationship, including giving positive and constructive feedback to each other.  This is important, especially in new relationships or relationships that have formed organically over a period, in order allow each participant to routinely catch-up and highlight areas of both positive and negative feedback.  In my experience healthy business relationships are underpinned by regular and open communications between all participants.

Having seen and been a part of many collaborations, I believe that Rebecca Zucker’s 5 questions are an excellent starting point for both existing and new collaborative relationships.  Indeed, I would recommend all those in collaborative relationships take the time to check their response to each point since addressing each will result in a higher chance of success.  Afterall, that is why we collaborated in the first place!

Happy 2020 Holidays to all the Collaborative Contracting Blog Readers

To all our readers, we hope that despite the unexpected and hard year we’ve all endured, that each of you have an opportunity to have a break and a bit of downtime over the next few weeks.

So sincerely, here’s wishing you all the joys of the season and happiness all throughout the upcoming year.  We have all earned it!

Happy holidays!