When we talk to the leaders in organizations about what work will look like in the future, we hear a lot of similar concerns. They worry about the culture of their organization, and how remote and hybrid work will change things. There’s some concern—although far less than at the beginning of the pandemic—about task completion. Will people have the energy, focus and ability to get their “work done?” The biggest uncertainty, though, is about how their people and teams will collaborate with each other.
What are our assumptions about collaboration?
By definition, collaboration is “the action of working with someone to create or produce something.” That’s a pretty decent working description, and it reveals some prejudices as well as some opportunities to rethink what it means to you and your team.
The tricky part of that definition is probably “working WITH someone.” To many people that means being together. Companies looking at hybrid work are using that to mean it’s critical that teams physically get together, as they believe that’s the best way to jumpstart idea sharing and collective wisdom.
Certainly, good things can happen when people get together. But is physical proximity the only—or even the best—way to achieve great outcomes? On the plus side, it’s probably easier (or at least feels more natural) to build relationships and inspire positive, even fun, energy in-person than over Zoom. But companies such as Paylocity and Bluescape are growing exponentially with no physical office space and a workforce that is not only fully remote, but global.
Is trying to recreate the past limiting your future?
Believing that people need to be physically together can create opportunities but also some challenges. A lot of the things we’re doing now are designed to mimic the dynamic of being in the office together. That sounds great, but acting as if things are the way they were in the past may be limiting your team’s creativity and collaboration. Too many meetings, constant interruptions by IM and email, added to the need to be constantly connected and “on call,” are just some of the things team members run up against.
And, if you think about it, in-person collaboration has its challenges. Certain personalities dominate the discussion. Some voices may not be heard or valued as clearly as others. In the interest of “maintaining team harmony,” conflict is sometimes buried or denied, and the desire to reach a conclusion by lunch time as well as just getting caught up in the excitement of brainstorming can lead teams to settle for solutions that might not be as good as they thought.
What’s required for successful collaboration?
While no one solution is right for every situation, it’s time we take a harder look at what “working together” means. Without looking at the method or place you use, let’s examine what collaboration requires:
- Clear definition of the desired outcome
- A chance for private discussion and brainstorming
- Equal access to the information needed to create good work
- Valuable contributions from all team members (it doesn’t mean everyone will speak during the meeting. By definition it doesn’t even mean there will be a meeting)
- Small group discussions and information sharing
- Objective assessment of ideas and data help overcome bias
- Time to think and process apart from the rest of the group
- Synchronous discussions that can clarify answers as well as build on ideas
- Asynchronous contributions—if you’ve ever left a meeting and THEN thought about an idea or objection when it’s too late, you know how important this can be to achieving a quality outcome
Be open to new methods and modes
Looking at this, it’s clear that we make some assumptions about what needs to happen. For many, the idea of synchronous, live meetings is the best way to achieve all of these desirable goals. But is it? Are we leveraging technology to share and capture information? Are focused, shorter, quick discussions better than long all-hands meetings if the goal is quality output?
The goal is to work (mentally) together to achieve an outcome. Being in the same room might be part of the solution, but many teams are discovering there are other ways to achieve quality outcomes.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership. Wayne and Kevin’s follow-up book, The Long-Distance Teammate, offers a roadmap for success not just for leaders, but for everyone making the transition to working remotely.