A quick pan of today’s software and productivity market reveals a number of collaborative solutions. This software will allow you to collaboratively manage projects, this software will let you edit video together, while this software will let you manage your social media activity together, etc. For all the bells and whistles of working together, before you dive into a multi-person project, are you sure you’re maximizing the outcome by first laying the proper groundwork?
By working collaboratively, individuals are able to tackle big challenges and solve complex problems in ways that would be impossible if attempted alone. Very few great things have been built alone. Jobs had Wozniak, Proctor had Gamble, Simon had Garfunkel (ok, scratch that). What all three of these examples, and countless others, have in common is their use of collaboration to achieve the very best. But before getting to the top of their game, each of these groups, whether they knew it or not, focused on three key factors in determining their need for collaboration:
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A key question to ask at the very beginning of the collaboration process; is this project feasible? Does it make sense to bring more cooks into the kitchen, when only one is truly needed to make the sauce? By having more than one person ultimately responsible for the outcome, is it actually possible for multiple hands to work on a project or workflow? If yes, then you’ve already established some ground for travelling down the collaboration highway.
But hold on…we can get multiple parties working on this project, fine and dandy, but who’s deciding which work assignments are allotted to whom? In most cases this will be determined by each individual’s area of expertise, but you shouldn’t always take this as absolute truth. During your collaboration sessions, you just might find out that Jim from the user interface team has a keen eye for spotting buried errors in heaps of code. Ultimately, a team leader, project manager, whatever you want to call it, should be appointed to the collaboration setting, providing the ultimate guidance over the final outcome. Without this crucial decision, you’re rapidly on the road to “design by committee” which effectively kills what’s best about collaboration.
Once you’ve decided and qualified that a project would achieve a better outcome if fit into a collaborative setting, it’s time to take a look at just how you’re going to achieve the desired outcome. What makes this collaboration stand out above other collaborative projects you may or may not have worked on in the past? Why would working on this project benefit from group collaboration, rather than simply assigning team members individual tasks and then assembling the product at the very end? And perhaps most importantly, what unique advantages will arise from this collaboration that keep all parties interested and fully functioning across its lifespan?
To answer any of these questions, it’s important to know who the team players are, and what they bring to the table. Have you seen examples of Jane and Jake’s work together? Did John work on a similar project that if just given the right access, could have made Jane and Jake’s work even better? By working together, can all parties benefit from each other’s experience, ideas, and points of view? If yes, then add another tick to the “Let’s collaborate!” checklist.
We’ve all got a million things to get done today, tomorrow, by the end of the week, etc.. In a collaboration setting, what is the value of the output vs. the value of the input? Before jumping into a collaboration setting, it’s important to determine the efficiency of the project. What is the final outcome? How long will it take to accomplish this? How many various company personnel and resources, and for how long, will this involve? And perhaps the most crucial question to ask in an entire collaborative process; how much time, money, and effort will be involved with project breakdowns, schedule delays, and reworking of concepts?
This may be collaboration’s biggest stumbling block, as it is most often the hardest to predict. At one point or another, we’ve all waited on someone. Whether it’s waiting on the approved copy from marketing, or the widgets from Toledo to arrive, collaboration depends on multiple parties delivering their assignments on time. Sure, delays are to be expected, and may sometimes have unintended upsides, but it’s the mitigation of wait that you’ll want to examine before going full collaboration throttle.
Once these three factors are weighed and determined to lean in collaboration’s favor, the next process that will need to be implemented is a workflow that can be easily and accurately measured. By definition, a workflow is a series of steps (or tasks) involved in achieving a desired outcome. Having an established series of events and/or actions that lead to a successful outcome should be easily and readily accessible and comprehensible to all parties involved. This workflow may then be monitored for efficiency, and appropriately modified during the workflow to increase efficiency.
The beauty of an established workflow is that it not only makes the boss happy because s/he can monitor it, but it also provides all collaborators with a clear roadmap as to what needs to get done, and who’s going to do it. Through a properly designed workflow, work assignments, task sets, and reporting can also provide a greater sense of autonomy for all those involved, as they are no longer receiving marching order directly from the boss, but rather from peers on a agreed upon plan of action. Note to all managerial staff: If you’ve given your team the green light to work on a collaborative project, and signed it off – stay the heck outta the way. There’s nothing worse than being granted self-government, and then have it stripped away through micromanagement. Besides, if you’ve signed off on a collaborative project where your employees know the end goal and are striving towards it; don’t you have something else to be doing?
The delegation of complex and important tasks cannot only be empowering to employees, but also allows management time to push boundaries and visions even further. From brainstorming to the final outcome, all parties involved should have a clear and common goal, accountability for their actions and results, honest and open communication without fear of reprimand, and partnership behaviors that are rich with trust and confidence.
As with any project, a collaboration project should be followed up with a round of post-project feedback loops. Here, both management and participants have an opportunity to voice their opinions on what worked well, what didn’t work so well, etc. By analyzing the outcome of the project in conjunction with this valuable feedback, you’ll be able to spotlight proficiencies to build upon, and improvement areas that can deliver even higher levels of efficiency in your next collaborative project.