With a brainstorming session booked in four days coming, this subject is very topical and scarily relevant for me. I have booked a team to come together to brainstorm on initiatives for a client for the next calendar year. What have I done?
A collaboration session will be more successful if everyone has a chance, on their own, to think through problems and flesh-out ideas.
In “Collaboration Paradox” Ron Friedman, Ph.D., founder of ignite80 and the author of The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace, shows the potential problem and costs associated with collaborating.
- Collaborations create a sense of false confidence. Friedman sites a study in Psychological Science that found that when we work with others to reach a decision, we become myopic dismissing outside information and more confident in the output from the group compared to outputs from individuals. This confidence in the work of the group vs the work of the individual did not have any foundation.
- Collaborations create a platform for only the strong to be heard. Are you sure that all voices on your team are strong enough to make themselves heard? Do you have someone who will be attending who is going to shut down good ideas before they can be crystallized? You may end up only hearing from the stronger personalities and leave the others feeling defeated.
- Collaborations allow people to be lazy. For a lazy person, the best place for them is in a full day group session, surrounded by their peers where they can hide behind those that are eager, enthusiastic and prepared. Over time this type of meeting or process may actually breed lazy people. Those who come prepared start to notice that they are doing all the work and will start to do less while the lazy keep trying to hide. Soon you will have a room full of people who are just not interested in “collaborating”
Now the negative outcome from collaboration, like a heart attack, can be avoided and not all collaboration is a failure.
- Ask tough questions. While breaking down silos in the organization is an important goal, collaboration is not always the best option for the situation. Morten T. Hansen a professor at the University of California at Berkeley and at Insead, in Fontainebleu, France has studied this topic for 15 years and in his article for Harvard Business Review he states that the first thing you need to ask is “Will collaboration on this project create or destroy value?”
- Assign homework. A collaboration session will be more successful if everyone has a chance, on their own, to think through problems and flesh-out ideas. Also, if homework is assigned it will help dissuade those who are lazy from opting out of the thinking.
- Invite diverse skillsets and set expectations. Do not invite a room full of marketing managers to a session on improving client relationships and expect to get the best results possible. Nothing against marketing managers but you should have a cross-section of people from those who actually meet with customers to the customer support team that answers their phone calls; the product team that creates products for them. It really takes a village!
Inviting such a diverse group and letting them know why they are being invited to such a session will put everyone on the right path from the start and help achieve the best results possible. As Friedman states, “Collaborations are most effective when teammates complement rather than replicate one another’s abilities. Skill duplication leads to power struggles.”
Having a cross-section of people attending my meeting and having assigned homework to them gives me a glimmer of hope that we will be able to produce some great ideas for our client.
What have your experiences been with collaboration? Good, bad, ugly? What are some of the things you do to ensure your sessions are a success?