With teams becoming more distributed (geographically), and hybrid meeting becoming the norm, collaboration is more important than ever. Yet, aside from learning to share toys in kindergarten, we get very few collaborative skills in our formal education. With teamwork becoming the norm, and more contractors or consultants on teams, collaborative skill improvement is both a unique and effective way to turbo-charge team performance.
Initial Research on Collaboration
I once went around asking people in all sorts of organizations “if they were good collaborators?” To a person, they all said yes. Fortunately, I did not believe them. But this is the crux of one of the biggest problems in collaboration that no one wants to talk about. The fact is, that there is no one methodology for collaboration, it is situational and that most people make poor collaborative choices every day without even knowing it, and believe they are still good at collaborating.
This is not a problem that better collaborative tools can solve. God knows, there are over 2000 solutions in the marketplace today. It is a behavioral issue, and one most vendors of collaborative (software) solutions want nothing to do with.
In June, I did a straw poll calling about 40 people. Many were management for collaboration software vendors, 100% of them saw and agreed to this problem, yet only 2 of the vendors thought they could fix it through better technology. Aside from those two, everyone else acknowledged the problem, but no one had any idea about how to fix it.
There is an old Einstein quote that says something like “You can’t think your way out of a problem with the same type of thinking that got you into it.” I agree with Einstein and don’t think another collaboration tool is the way out of this. Rather, since I look at collaboration holistically (people, process, technology, and space), I am looking at a behavioral solution to this problem. This is what my new company TeamSkillsPro is for.
What Is Your Level of Collaborative Skill?
The atomic unit of collaboration is an interaction between two people. But those interactions, and the skill to know what to do in each situation is something that has to be taught as a skill and requires the use of judgment. Skills can be taught, but judgment comes with experience. Our goal is to create realistic online scenarios composed of “plays” (a series of steps or decisions for a specific purpose or goal), by practicing these plays within a specific work scenario online, it is our hope that the online skills will transfer to real life situations, and through enough of these scenarios, players will begin to discern what is the best collaborative decision to make in any work situation.
How to Develop Collaborative Skills
I Define collaboration as a series of interactions between two or more people for a specific purpose or goal. The chart below shows how I differentiate “collaboration” from many of the other terms used for it.
Now that we have a good definition for collaboration, it brings up a number of questions. First, how do you measure it. Second, how do you determine how good your own collaborative skills are, and third, how do you make your collaborative skills better?
Collaboration itself is a behavior, so it takes a behavioral metric to measure it. Our research shows that people do try to have metrics for meetings, but they are really Meta-metrics (i.e. How many people in the meeting, how long did the meeting last, etc.) and provide easily measurable but not very valuable information about a meeting. Second, only about 40% of meetings, even have this level of metrics.
It is hard to create a behavioral metric, especially one that is objective. Many years ago I created a more subjective metric for collaboration called TCEP (Technology, Culture, Economics, Politics) which was based on my experience working with large organizations, and the four factors that had the most to do with collaborative success. We are currently using this metric at our TeamSkillsPro.com website to give you an idea of how collaborative your team is. Once you have a score (admittedly subjective), we can compare it against other team scores, and with thousands of these, the metric becomes less subjective and gives a better idea of the level of skill your team has currently. This is a quick way to get a rough read on what your team’s collaborative skill level is.
How Do You Get Better Collaborative Skills:
As with any other skill you need to practice. Whether it is throwing a football to a receiver, or running through tacklers, all football players need to keep their skills sharp and learn new ones. New skills are often introduced in the form of a play. We define a play as “A coordinated pattern of moves that achieves a specific outcome.” Plays are small changes in behavior that sometimes require new skills.
Like football, the same is true in collaboration. It is unfortunate, but we often get more training in football in our developing years than collaborative skills. We are basically taught to share our toys in kindergarten, and sometime in high school you get to play on a team (sports), extracurricular activities (Chess team, Debate team… ok, I guess I am revealing my geek roots here).
We don’t get much more instruction in collaboration, even in business schools where it is critically necessary. From my experience, collaboration is a “hands-on” activity, and one of my most successful consulting assignments was when I created the “Business Transformation Game” by taking my experience in Dungeons and Dragons and applying it to a business role-playing game that used a variety of collaborative tools, and encouraged the players to work together to solve the challenge the scenario posed.
20 years later the technology has changed, but the lessons I learned haven’t. The best way to learn new collaborative skills is a hands-on approach, but this time it is for teams, and each “play” helps them learn a new collaborative skill, or practice a skill to increase effectiveness.
As stated earlier we start with helping you score your team’s level of collaboration through the TCEP metric.
Once you have your Team Collaboration Score (TCS) you move on to play the free scenario, where you get some background information and have to make a choice about how to interact with your team (collaboration). Each step of the way you need to choose which type of collaborative tool is best for each type of interaction (we are technology agnostic, so we only talk about general categories of collaboration tools, not the specific tools themselves)
We will also support “Time Scoping” in the scenario, which allows you to go back in the scenario, and see why the choice you made might have been good, but not the best to get your team moving forward again.
By now you should get the idea of the scenarios and plays. Based on our experience, we are not trying to change any major business processes, or require you to use any collaborative tools you are not already using. A series of plays in Football can enable you to score a goal, in our simulations you can score a badge showing you have skills in that particular area i.e. Document Collaboration:
There are many potential team scenarios we can develop from getting a software development team back on schedule to driving decisions in a meeting. By making the simulations business relevant, and dynamic, (they change based on your teams’ variables), we believe that collaboration skills learned online can be transferred to the workplace and improve team performance radically!