How not to collaborate effectively

I’m in Stockholm. It’s crisp and bright in stark contrast to the current political uncertainty. It’s 15 years since I was last here, my first journey on Norwegian (I was impressed) and I am struck by how much technology and green issues permeate society.

My hotel is cashless and everywhere there are adverts reminding you of the technological advances born in this country.
Exiting the Central Railway station I see signs reminiscent of airports in the Middle East and other train stations in Europe as groups of young Arab men greet friends and family who arrive off the Airport Express or off trains from other parts of Europe. This is a country that has absorbed many nationalities: 1 in 6 people living in Sweden today were born outside of the country.
Why might you legitimately ask is this relevant?  Here’s why: when the predominant business language is English (a 2nd language for almost everyone) the potential for miscommunication and misinterpretation is significant at a time when the country (and company) needs effective collaboration and communication to succeed.
Its a theme I will explore more later.

declining personal values = declining business standards: discuss

Over the last 20 years I’ve run a portfolio of activities. I’ve watched (and winced) as clients run to stand still: they want product to satisfy the C suite; to prove they are making a difference; and are worth the king’s ransom many are now paid. But has it made us more productive? Are we/they better off?
At the same time I talk to friends who run SME’s in hospitality and catering who are unable to expand due to a reluctance of entry level staff to “put a shift in” and work unsociable hours.
A few weeks back I met the CEO of a business with ambitious growth targets. I was there as an invited guest for the opening of an office.  He spoke glowingly to the assembled throng about how proud he was of their gender / diversity policy and how his team encourages openness and transparency.  Ours was a detailed and informed conversation following which I was asked to put some thoughts in writing.
This I was happy to do – I was not looking for business but saw a chance to help a business (which employs people I know) to grow. It took me a couple of hours to pull my thoughts together and the key issues I highlighted (with some reading around them) were:

  • Silo working – offices work in isolation.
  • Failure to share ‘nuggets’ across the business.
  • How to maximise the impact of technology?
  • A need to sustain / enhance domain skills across the business.
  • Importance of creating a curated shared knowledge base that contains critical knowledge and identifies who has it or where it might be found if they +/or their team leave.

I sent an email and heard nothing. I checked /called a week later. “Yes we received it and yes it was helpful.” You could argue that’s the way business is conducted today. You only hear if people want something and once they’ve got it they move on mentally.

“collaboration, it’s not just about me”

Take a look at the first two bullet points above.  Now consider how effectively your organisation shares ideas, knowledge, anecdotes.  Does it “work out loud?” As 80% of people on social media sites often lurk preferring to observe rather than participate it’s no wonder that collaboration initiatives often fail after an early spike of activity.
Recently I worked alongside a friend and former colleague on an assignment that sought to incorporate Knowledge Management practices into a rapid business transformation. At one of the working sessions it occurred to me that you cannot encourage “Working out Loud” or “Paying it Forward” if the culture is “Ready when Right!”
Is this an issue of culture and behaviours or something less sinister and related to the 3rd bullet point? Today I ‘talk’ to contacts, clients, friends (and family) via WhatsApp, LinkedIn Messages, Facebook Messenger, Skype, Zoom, Email, Text and sometimes on the phone or over a coffee. It’s inefficient but its not just about me.The Brasilian company I spoke to on Monday this week preferred Skype to Zoom and to prepare answers to questions in advance so that was the approach we adopted.
Collaboration is about communicating and working in the medium at the pace people are most comfortable in.  I’ve seen IT silver bullets quickly lose their lustre because the community doesn’t get it. Too often its a solution looking for a problem.  My message: find an approach that works and a way to capture the outputs (if they are likely to be of value).

“…a tolerant multicultural society”

Back to the language theme. For many years I used to say how proud I was to live in the UK as it had done a pretty good job of assimilating many cultures and is now a “tolerant multicultural society.” Imagine my horror when many of my friends and family asked me if I’d be happy to be told that they tolerated me!
Over dinner last Friday with a couple of Englishmen we examined this and concluded its about the sentiment which is often missed when you are dealing in a 2nd language. You take it at face value and then dissect what was said after.
I’ve long argued that the British thrive on ambiguity. An example being “Brexit means Brexit” which my European friends are still trying to understand.
I’ve seen a similar trait when family members speak to their staff in Portuguese.  They expect an East European to get the nuances of what they have said.

It’s hard enough in a social environment, in business it can be damaging and costly.

and finally

Tomorrow I will be closing an event targeted at the Scandinavian Legal Profession. It’s full, over 200 attending most of who have come I imagine to hear about the potential impact of AI on client business and hence their bottom line. I am going to be looking out for great examples of collaborative working.

‘Freelancers’, orchestrated serendipity and the symbiotic relationship between virtual and physical space

I have just published an updated research note on Scribd. following the workshop I ran for the NetIKX community last week and wanted to share the findings here:

To succeed in the 21st Century organisations will need to be good at collaboration and co-creation and the research I’ve undertaken suggests some organisations are changing working environments and patterns in order to accommodate this. Are they doing enough to take their staff with them though or do their people merely see this as an attempt to cut cost?

a case for ‘Orchestrated Serendipity’

This has been a mantra of mine for some time. The RSA clip on reimagining work cites the example of people sat in open plan offices emailing colleagues sitting a few desks away.  Rather than promoting dialogue open plan has often had the reverse effect.

ADB Knowlelge Hub

ADB Knowledge Hub

Where I’ve seen organisations working well they have tended to look at workflows, people’s habits, made them an inclusive part of the process of change and communicated effectively. They’ve accepted that serendipity needs a bit of a push and have recognised that ‘ah ha’ moments often come from such serendipitous meetings and arranged space such as a khub to accommodate that. I often speak about how interactions to and from prayers in the Muslim world are often the most productive and why knowledge hubs and information centres are often situated in close proximity to refreshments areas.

Nelia R. Balagapo in May 2013 described how ADB had gone about the process of creating a physical knowledge hub.

The library reorganized its physical space to become a knowledge hub (kHub) to host book launches, meetings and forums of the COPs. In collaboration with the different departments and COPs, an average of four activities are held in the kHub weekly, including “Insight Thursdays,” a weekly forum where staff share insights on topics or issues of interest to ADB. Wireless Internet connection and videoconferencing facilities enable staff at regional offices to participate online in these forums. The introduction of these facilities, including a coffee shop in the library, contributed to the transformation of the library spaces into dynamic learning areas.

It seems our personal habits are changing too: this week it was announced that more and more homeowners crave for multipurpose ‘living’ areas that can accommodate, cooking, eating and lazing!

the rise of ‘Freelancers’

Knowledge workers are changing too, despite what Melissa Meyer said that all Yahoo workers should come to the office or quit! In a thought-provoking article How Freelancers Are Redefining Success To Be About Value, Not Wealth  Sarah Horowitz suggests that today in the US Independent workers make up a third of the workforce. By 2020, just six years from now, 40% of Americans will be working as freelancers, contractors, and temps. Here’s a couple of quotes that stuck:

…Freelancers are shaping the new economy. As flexible schedules and ubiquitous communication become the norm, the work-life balance that we’ve always struggled for is becoming achievable. As community and teamwork become more necessary than ever to thrive, the lonely, closed-off cubicle will make way for meaningful collaboration. And as the demand for healthy food and workspaces increases, industry will increasingly connect corporate profits and social good…

So if this phenomenon is growing how are we responding? I recall a presentation I gave in Houston in 1999 where I said that growth in the number of independent (non-salaried) workers was dependent on three factors:

  • supportive collaborative technology
  • a rise in physical meeting hubs
  • a change in the way financial services organisations assess the credit of non-salaried workers with irregular income patters.

All three now exist and so the key challenge is Trust (among peers as well as with direct reporting lines) as the Yahoo example would seem to suggest.

the importance of social and technology

I am a founding trustee (Knowledge Trustee) of a charity that aims to make better use of surplus food. www.PlanZheroes.org has no formal offices yet its governance process is all very formal and in the cloud. We hold virtual meetings and new volunteers are given access to all the materials and instructions they need to begin sourcing donors and recipients. As a knowledge hub for surplus food we perform a brokerage role helping to facilitate contacts between those who generate surplus food and those charitable organisations that make use of it.  All of this is made possible by collaborative technology, the rise of social media, which encourages and facilitates collaboration, a culture that is aligned around a shared vision and the availability of suitable meeting places in which to conduct essential f2f interactions that underpin social exchanges.

objects and the role of neutral space

Slide31One of my 3 takeaways is to use objects as a stimulus for dialogue and innovation.   The idea of neutral space is core: if you accept the premise that it is important to create hubs for interaction such as that illustrated at ADB then the same logic applies when looking at how to facilitate those interactions.

I saw a salesman use a very informal worksheet last weekend and wrote about it.  By using a worksheet (a neutral object) he was able to elicit valuable information that helped make a sale.

the symbiotic relationship between virtual and physical space

As often happens with the wonders of modern technology, a comment I made on a news item on the simply communicate newsletter entiitled working out loud at Deutsche Bank led to a really interesting exchange with Managing Director John Stepper.  John has achieved a lot using a Jive platform to encourage social collaboration and change the ways of working there. I asked him:

Hi John, I’d be interested in whether you paid attention to how virtual and physical space come together? I’ve just published on Scribd. an updated report on ‘when space matters…’ And one of the questions was whether virtual could replace physical! How did you manage to marry the two?

John replied:

Paul, I’m an admirer of well-designed spaces though by no means an expert. But I’ve written about how virtual spaces complement the physical (and systems) design: http://johnstepper.com/2013/02/23/the-best-office-design-for-collaboration-is-also-the-cheapest and

/http//johnstepper.com/2014/02/01/creating-places-we-care-about/

Do take the time to read his thoughts. If anyone has coined a more apt description of what many organisations have become then I have yet to see it:

We discarded some of the age-old principles of what motivates and engages people. Somewhere along the way we’ve forgotten we should be designing organizations for the benefit of the human beings in them.