Inside the Collaboration Crystal Ball: Four New Year’s Resolutions to Speed Up Your Organization

Organizations of all types enter 2013 with one key priority:  how do they move faster and execute with greater agility while still remaining flexible and adaptable to the rapid changes in markets? 

CEOs around the world are looking to collaboration as their top strategy to increase the speed of their organizations. Why?  Because collaboration eliminates the friction that slows organizations down – whether that friction comes from people or processes. 

The amount of friction in your organization is directly proportional to your ability to speed up your team.  Friction is sometimes purposeful, such as passive-aggressive behavior.  Other times friction comes from processes that create decisions without any clarity or a clear definition of success.

Here are four New Year’s resolutions for all leaders to curb their organizational friction and speed up their team’s execution with collaboration:

1.) Take a holistic view of collaboration. Collaboration does indeed deliver transactional value, such as Telepresence, which eliminates the need to travel.  But the transformative value of collaboration comes from looking at your organization holistically – by leveraging culture, process and technology in combination. My Cisco colleague Carl Wiese and I wrote The Collaboration Imperative with this end-to-end perspective in mind.  You can read a sample chapter of our book that here outlines this holistic approach to collaboration.

2.) Embrace the behaviors of a collaborative leader. Of all the strategies available to leaders to create speed in their organizations, none is more important than the behaviors of the leaders themselves. This is because nothing slows an organization down more than a culture of internal competition and the executive behaviors that encourage it. Collaboration encourages a culture of shared goals as it minimizes hoarding and competition by creating an environment that shares information, diagnoses problems, raises concerns, coordinates efforts and identifies possible initiatives and transition points – all which ratchet up the pace of an organization’s ability to execute. Read more about the four behaviors of collaborative leaders here.

3.) Invest in your collaboration persona. Leadership is how we “show up” every day in front of our teams.  But how do we show up as leaders in a world where work is increasingly done on a mobile phone or tablet, or using a video chat, web conference or Telepresence? This is one of the greatest leadership challenges of this hyper-connected world. As a leader you will need to know what I like to call your “collaboration persona” – that way in which your leadership style shows up when you’re not in the physical world. We all have to learn to be virtual stars in our own, authentic way.  You can learn more about how to understand and embrace your collaboration persona in this blog.

4.) Make clarity and decision making synonymous.  At each stage in the chain of decision-making in your organization, ambiguity looms as the enemy of clarity. In worst cases, ambiguity leads to conspiracy theories and people actually work against each other. In most cases, work simply slows down while people seek out answers. I’m convinced that most people don’t wake up in the morning trying to second-guess decisions. Ambiguity is your enemy as the leader of a team. You can transform your team’s natural curiosity into a powerful source of discretionary effort – all it takes is a little clarity.  Read here for ways to increase decision clarity on your team.

Good luck with your own new year’s resolutions.
Ron

Follow me on Twitter at @RonRicciCisco

 

GREAT WORK’s Michael Bungay Stanier Interviews Ron Ricci

by Michael Bungay Stanier of GREAT WORKS

For more than a decade, Ron has worked at Cisco as the vice president of executive and customer engagement to develop and nurture a culture of sharing collaborative processes. Ron’s work lays out in 21st century terms the increasing need to have global reach and connect with teams around the world. He is co-author of The Collaboration Imperative, a beautifully designed book that is very accessible, fun and engaging. In it, he weaves both his experience at Cisco as well as other organizations to understand and encourage new approaches to teamwork. In this interview Ron and I discuss his perspective on collaboration, including:

  • How to take a holistic approach to collaboration
  • The shiny object syndrome
  • Three meeting formats to help you stop wasting so much time
  • Understanding different decision-making styles

Listen to the audio interview here: http://www.boxofcrayons.biz/2012/12/ron-ricci-the-collaboration-imperative/

Why Collaboration Matters

 

I’ve yet to meet a CEO who didn’t want his or her company to move faster.  But how many times have you ever heard a CEO say – “My organization moves as fast as our markets do” or “I’m confident my company can adapt to any unforeseen market shift”?  Moore’s Law states the speed of a semiconductor chip doubles every 18-24 months; what if your people’s ability to change moved as fast?

Of all the strategies available to leaders to create speed in their organizations, none is more important than the behaviors of the leaders themselves. Ultimately executive behavior creates the culture of your organization; your organization’s culture is almost certainly a reflection of your CEO’s personality.

Nothing slows an organization down more than a culture of internal competition and the executive behaviors that encourage it.  We all know the challenges of organizational silos and the incentives that encourage myopic thinking. As leaders, we’ve experienced some form of passive-aggressive behavior from our peers. We all know the symptoms:  Teams protect information and assets to compete with other teams for budget resources; knowledge gets trapped in pockets that others in the company could benefit from but cannot reach. Budget gets wasted. All the while, markets move and new opportunities emerge.

I’ve been fortunate to meet and work with hundreds of CEOs, and here is what they want:  a culture of shared goals. A culture of shared goals minimizes hoarding and competition by creating an environment that shares information, diagnoses problems, raises concerns, coordinates efforts and identifies possible initiatives and transition points – all of which ratchets up the pace of an organization’s ability to execute.

In The Collaboration Imperative, my co-author and Cisco colleague Carl Wiese and I identify four executive behaviors of the collaborative leader.  These behaviors are the necessary ingredients to create a culture of shared goals, and eliminate or mitigate the types of human behaviors that slow organizations down.  The four behaviors are:

  1. Focus on authentic leadership and eschew passive-aggressiveness. For collaboration to succeed, leaders need to be authentic. Cisco studied which characteristics of leaders on collaborative teams are most important, and we found that the most critical attribute was a leader’s willingness to follow through on commitments. Being authentic involves two elements. First, as a leader of a team, department or business unit with people, budgets and resources under your control, you must follow through on organizational commitments.  Second, when there is disagreement about a decision, fight the instinct to make it personal.
  2. Relentlessly pursue transparent decision making In our experience, there’s a direct relationship between the agility and resilience of a team and the transparency of its decision-making processes. When you’re open and transparent about the answers to three questions — who made the decision, who is accountable for the outcomes of the decision, and is that accountability real—people in organizations spend far less time questioning how or why a decision was made. Think of how much time is wasted ferreting out details when a decision is made and communicated because the people who are affected don’t know who made the decision or who is accountable for its consequences.
  3. View resources as instruments of action, not as possessions. It’s hardly a new observation that people sometimes stockpile resources around their business unit or department, or are slow—perhaps even hesitant—to share those resources with other departments. There may even be incentives in place that discourage sharing. It’s easier, although never truly easy, to move resources around an organization when leaders tell their teams the process they used to make a decision about resources, the data and facts used to support the decision, and the tradeoffs they considered.  Fact-based decision making is your goal; it’s hard to keep resources squirreled away when the facts suggest otherwise.
  4. Codify the relationship between decision rights, accountability and rewards. Modeling the desired collaborative behaviors—showing your employees that you walk the talk—is the goal. But what happens when you’re not around? The more these behaviors are codified into an end-to-end system across your organization, the greater the odds of collaboration succeeding when you’re not there to reinforce cultural norms. The most important enabler of an accountability system?  Decision rights.  Who gets to make decisions in your organization is the center of gravity for accountability.  If you don’t have published decision rights, then accountability is problematic – everyone can point fingers at someone else.

The ability to create speed, flexibility and adaptability is the foundation of the modern competitive organization.  The enemy is internal competition and the denial and nostalgia that perpetuate it.  A culture of shared goals should be the mission.  There’s only one answer:  how you and your team of leaders behave.

 Q1: What mechanisms do you use to measure how adaptable your team is?

Q2:  Does your organization use a common vocabulary for decision-making?  If so, what is it?

Q3: Does your organization have a definition of a transparent decision?  If so, what is it?

Q4: What effective ways have you found to thwart passive-aggressive behavior?

Q5: What effective ways have you found to help people overcome nostalgia for the past?

Q6: How is your organizational culture a reflection of your CEO’s personality?

Authenticity Creates Trust; Trust Accelerates Collaboration

Collaboration is indeed the business opportunity of the decade, promising to energize your organization while making more effective use of your precious assets.  My Cisco colleague Carl Wiese and I wrote The Collaboration Imperative to help organizations “operationalize” collaboration and capture these gains. Our goal wasn’t to write a “theory” book, but rather one that drills down into specific actions, with concrete examples of how to put collaboration to work in the real world.

As Carl noted in a previous post, effective collaboration is a function of aligning culture, process and technology.  But how do you do that?   Here is a one example from that’s featured in Chapter Three of the book: Collaborative teams work best when they’re made up of people who communicate openly. Collaboration technologies, especially video, make it easy to reach people across an organization and around the world.  Anyone who has traded their economy-class airline seat in favor of a Telepresence meeting knows the powerful benefits of collapsing space and time with an engaging video meeting.  However, as we cross departmental, cultural and time-zone boundaries, collaboration puts our personal communication skills to the test.

As we increasingly interact virtually, we work more and more with people we don’t know or have a long history with; they may actually work in a different company and teams may come and go in rapid succession.  Establishing rapport – quickly – is one of the most important aspects of successful collaboration, and it starts with communicating authentically.

Do you know what your authentic communication style is?  Do your peers and colleagues know how you make decisions?  Can you quickly convey your strengths and weaknesses to people?  The more you share about your authentic style with your collaboration partners, the faster you can achieve trust with them.  Open communications starts with you.

Here is how to get started.  Click here to take a quick online assessment to discover your authentic communication style (Once on the page, click on the green “Take Survey” button”). This confidential assessment is a bit like the Myers-Briggs test and provides you with a customized profile of your unique communication style; it reveals how you naturally process information, and how you prefer to deliver that information to others.

Most importantly, the assessment provides a simple vocabulary to communicate your style to others. Are you conceptual or analytical?  An introvert or an extrovert? Do you prefer to communicate information in a linear or nonlinear fashion?  Complete this quick assessment to find out. Then ask your team to take the same assessment and start sharing your styles.

You’ll be happily surprised at how much friction can be removed from human relationships, especially virtual ones, when we simply share our authentic style with colleagues and begin understanding each other better. I’m convinced that 90% of human conflict in business isn’t personal in intent; it occurs because we all naturally make decisions differently. By sharing our authentic style of communicating and making decisions, you can diffuse a lot of unnecessary friction and built trust faster.

My authentic communication style is:  Conceptual, Deductive, Introverted and Non-Linear.  I’m best at brainstorming. I come to conclusions quickly. I gain energy by thinking on my own, and I can be unpredictable in where I take ideas.  Who are you?

Chapter Three of The Collaboration Imperative delves deeply into the this topic — I look forward to your feedback after reading it.