K Street Newsletter :: Directions

April 2017    |    VOLUME 15, ISSUE 4

Collaboration Overload

Particularly in the last ten years, companies have been trying to develop more collaborative ways of working in order to stimulate creativity and innovation. However, there's a growing body of evidence that some have taken it too far; the organizational burden of meetings, email, social networks, and other collaboration tools is becoming a drag on productivity. When a company tries to increase "collaboration for collaboration's sake," it's sure to run into problems.

Encouraging collaboration is still a good idea, and this article suggests that overload is really a sign of a deeper organizational problem. That means it can't be addressed on its own. Executive mandates aimed at reducing the number of meetings, for example, are only treating a symptom. Ultimately, overload is a factor of organizational complexity. The more complex the organization, the more interactions its workers require, and those necessary interactions are what drive the number of meetings and emails. People don't send emails because they're email-happy, they do it because they need to seek advice, get permission or otherwise stay connected. The key is to simplify the company's operating model, by looking at things like structure, governance and accountability. The right operating model can significantly reduce wasted collaboration, and let workers spend their time in more productive ways.

Faster Learning

Most companies understand that in today's knowledge economy, the key to sustainable business advantage is being able to learn more quickly than the competition. However, many managers tend to think of learning in fairly narrow terms, associating it with training or mentoring or performance reviews. Taking a broader view, learning is really anything that helps a company understand how to reach its desired outcomes. Learning organizations are those that have built the kind of feedback mechanisms that will let them learn naturally, all the time, as a part of their normal business process.

One way to do that is to shorten the loops that support real-life learning. Learning happens when a team forms an idea, gives it a test drive and reflects on the outcome. That's how the team moves the ball forward, and learning can stall if too much time passes between the initial idea and the final assessment. That's what's behind the rapid prototyping protocols of agile software development. It's also a good idea to develop forums for team learning, like the after-action reviews used by the US Army. Finally, it's important to let feedback systems evolve over time, since it takes time for people to trust the data and use it to address underlying issues.


Street Smarts 163: Leverage corporate culture.

If you come across business articles on corporate culture, there's a good chance they'll speak to the importance of changing it. The starting assumption is that a company's current culture is flawed in some way, and that success depends on fixing it. Perhaps it needs to be more innovative, or more collaborative. More accepting of diversity or more willing to recognize workers' contributions. More customer focused. What these leadership advisories miss, though, is that changing an organization's culture is virtually impossible if you take it on directly. You can't do it wholesale, or quickly. You need to work within the existing cultural framework if you want to bring about something new.

That's why we liked this set of 10 guidelines for organizational culture change. It starts with the principle of making the most of what you have, and ends with a reminder that cultures need ongoing management and tweaking. It also has a great statement to define just what we mean when we're talking about corporate culture: "The self-sustaining pattern of behavior that determines how things are done." Cultures are constantly evolving, but that evolution can be guided toward a desired outcome. If you're interested in understanding how culture can work in your organization, the article is worth reading.


On the other hand...

While some companies are fighting the problem of collaboration overload, others are struggling to deploy the right mix of tools to maximize collaboration. A recent survey suggests that many workers want more immersive ways to interact with their teams and better systems to help solve business problems. It was taken in mid February at the Integrated Systems Europe conference. Almost 90 percent of the participants believed engaging with information in a more immersive and interactive way would be a positive development.

It's a tough nut to crack, though. The survey also showed that while workers wanted more sophisticated tools to support collaboration, they also acknowledged that technical problems with their current platforms were a common source of communication breakdowns. New users sometimes find the interface confusing, and bandwidth problems can constrain the full use of a platform's feature set. Technical delays in initiating meetings was cited as a problem by 42% of the respondents. What's also needed is the kind of seamless connectivity that can support small, informal groups, since the best ideas often surface outside of a formal setting. A telepresence room can be a great addition to a company's facilities, but it will always be a limited resource.


Business Trips?

You may feel this belongs on the farthest fringe of the business world, but an organization called Entrepreneurs Awakening is leading members of the start-up community on 10-day tours of Peru, built around the drinking of a psychedelic beverage called ayahuasca. It's said to deliver a new sense of clarity and perspective, and the participants hope it will give them both more confidence and better business insights. Founder Michael Costuros claims the program lets people connect with their true selves, and its business aspect encourages participants to contribute to the success of each other's ventures by advising, networking or even making cash investments.

You can read some glowing testimonials at the Entrepreneurs Awakening website, but Costuros cautions that not everyone in the ayahuasca retreat business has been properly trained, and may not ensure that people are prepared from a diet and prescription drug perspective. Administered poorly, it won't deliver the desired results and can even leave participants traumatized. Approach with caution.




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