May 2017 | VOLUME 15, ISSUE 5
Today, many business problems can only be solved by teams of experts from different domains, so it's essential to develop effective ways of working together. We understand this at some level, but many people still resist the idea of collaboration. As described in this article, it may seem inefficient, risky and politically dangerous. Will your own contribution be devalued if you throw in with a group approach?
The best way to understand what collaboration is (and isn't) is by getting direct experience on a few collaborative projects. That way you can see first hand the return on the effort. Collaboration is not just a leadership style, but a way to engage with people outside your formal control to accomplish a common objective. Collaboration is not about consensus building, and clear accountability is one of its most important principles. But it is about networking, since two of the biggest barriers to effective collaboration are a limited understanding of other people's expertise and a lack of trust in their ability. Be willing to invest in your network, and seek out well-connected folks who can help you build bridges to new domains and new parts of your business. Look for projects where you can make a contribution, and that will help you develop the skills for leading a collaborative project of your own.
Tools for Working Together
Last year was a busy one for the workplace collaboration market, with both established players and start-ups going after a piece of an increasingly valuable pie. If you consider this market to include enterprise messaging, file sharing, social networking and video conferencing, it will be worth some $8.4 billion by 2020. The demand is being driven by the increasing proportion of younger workers, who have grown up with online tools like Facebook and instant messaging. They expect the same kind of functionality on the job, to help deal with the communication burden that comes with an over-reliance on email.
Software vendors are also integrating functionality in various ways, to deal with the problem of app fatigue. If you need to log in and learn how to use multiple single-function apps, it can undermine the value proposition and discourage adoption. Many vendors are also providing open APIs that make it easier for their products to communicate with other tools, even if they're not expanding functionality on their own. The free team communication tool called Ryver can connect to over a dozen products, include workflow tools, project management programs and cloud-based file sharing. This article is an excellent overview of collaboration technology, both where it is and where it's going. Technology alone isn't the answer, of course. But it is part of the solution.
Street Smarts 164: Be a better writer.
You'd be hard pressed to find an organization that wouldn't like to improve productivity. Depending on the business model, higher productivity may mean the difference between success and failure. If you're already working with narrow profit margins, maximizing the productivity of your work teams is essential. According to a recent survey, 21% of small business owners feel investing in productivity enhancement is a good way to boost growth. Employees are expensive, so every manager wants to make the most of them. And for that matter, employees want to get more work done in the same amount of time, too. That's where raises come from.
You don't usually see writing skills as a potential contributor to productivity, even though other surveys reveal that poorly written communications can be a real time waster. Sometimes it's manifested in content that's too long, so it doesn't get read. Sometimes it's because content is poorly organized or simply unclear. Writing well is a skill that can be learned, though. And remedial writing workshops might be more valuable for your organization than the latest and greatest productivity app.
Infographics: Breaking it Down
From time to time, people ask us if we do infographics. The answer is yes. In fact, while infographics are newly trendy, the idea has been around for hundreds of years. One of the things that led us to Knowledge Management as a trade was an interest in "information design," as beautifully explored by Edward Tufte. With the right insight and skill, you can pack a tremendous amount of information into a single image. The famous graphic of Napoleon's retreat from Moscow, drawn by Charles Joseph Minard in 1869, includes six different variables in one integrated display (latitude, longitude, temperature, time, troop strength, and direction of travel).
What makes the best infographics work is their simplicity. You can't make them too dense, and can't fold in too many disparate elements. So we recommend this post, that breaks down the theory of infographics in a very straightforward way. It uses the Star Wars franchise as a metaphor, attributing its success to the simplicity of its basic narrative. The writer concludes that infographics are here to stay, because they let you communicate many things in a visually compelling way. They're more likely to be shared on social media, and people will almost always favor graphically enhanced content over blocks of text. Just don't overload them. And of course, if you're looking to build one of your own, drop us a note!
Escaping the Silo
Management textbooks are universally critical of organizational silos, but they're still the typical structure in most businesses, governmental agencies and non-profits. In silo-based models, managers are more likely to hoard knowledge and avoid sharing resources between departments or business units. Instead, they work to build whatever they need internally, something that's inherently wasteful. It also means that management's attention is focused inwards rather than outwards, which gets in the way of understanding the competition and anticipating market trends.
Breaking down a silo mentality needs to start at the top, and many managers work to perpetuate a silo model even when preaching against it. They may even accuse their colleagues of causing the situation without realizing they're a part of the problem, too. This article suggests that a process audit managed by an external facilitator can be a good step forward. Once the managers are on board, you can build transverse teams lower in the organization, and the lower you go in the hierarchy, the less resistant people will be to change. It's the old Knowledge Management truism: people want to share knowledge and feel connected to others. You don't have to lead a revolution, you just need to light the fuse.