Effective collaboration is challenging to say the least. As collaborators we often want to reach consensus with all participants before moving forward or we focus on driving a personal agenda and lose sight of the primary goal. Ultimately, we collaborate to make the best decision with the information and expertise available in order to reach toward a goal. In other words, there must be a result when collaborating. To reach a result, we must know what we're striving to do with a clear, concise and attainable goal that aligns people together. There must be some time boundaries to keep people focused on how best to reach the goal and on making progress. Finally, there needs to be responsibility and accountability for the decision that's being collaborated on.
In my previous post I talked about The Wisdom Hierarchy For Collaboration in which I used a somewhat goofy example of how different people may react to a potential situation based on the stages of the DIKW hierarchy. It led me to think about what goes into effective collaboration, what the stages are, and how to represent them. The figure below is my attempt at defining and displaying the stages of highly effective collaboration and I look forward to feedback.
For the purposes of discussion, I'm assuming the goal has already been defined and those accountable for reaching the goal designated. Let's look deeper into the seven stages of highly effective collaboration:
- What does it mean to me? A goal needs to be met but what does it and the proposed decisions mean to you? Since you've been identified and included in the process, you're a stakeholder. This is the time to determine what your role is in this collaborative process. Perhaps you just need to be informed of and weigh in on progress and ideas. On the other hand, the impact may be so great to your organization that your responsibility as a stakeholder is significant. Regardless, identifying the impact and contributions your team can deliver is crucial. Collaborate with members of your team and existing knowledge management systems to set the stage, collect ideas, understand risks, and requirements.
- What does it mean to others? Consider the impact such a decision will have on other groups and organizations. What may be best for your group, may not be best for other groups. Collaborate with the leaders of these groups to understand how an action on your part may affect them. At the same time, expect to be called upon to collaborate with other groups and hear their proposals and provide feedback and insight as to how such decisions might affect your organization.
- What is the best course of action? After speaking with experts in your area, experts and stakeholders in other areas, and knowledge management systems you should be in a position to recommend the best course of action. The best course of action must take several factors into consideration and may not exactly be what an individual group wants, but should represent the collective.
- Decide on plan of action. This is where accountability is critical. During the earlier stages, major stakeholders with different levels of responsibility worked together to share their perspectives and learn other perspectives as they relate to the decision at hand. There will probably be several recommended actions to take and somebody in a position of authority will need to make the decision on direction and implement the plan of action. This could be a group of invested stakeholders but in avoiding collaboration by consensus, it's best to have a single source of accountability.
- Communicate plan and details. Make sure everybody is aware of the plan and the actions they're responsible for executing. Each stakeholder that participated in recommending a course of action will probably be responsible for some piece in the plan of action. They should be transparent in communicating to their immediate teams what the individual roles shall be and what part they play in reaching the larger goal. In many cases tasks of the plan may cross organizational groups and individuals will have to work across these boundaries to properly complete tasks.
- Monitor and collect results. Determine metrics for success and monitor them appropriately. Communicate the metrics to the teams, providing them with a barometer for success. If the results are not as expected it may become necessary to revise the plan of action. This means on-going collaborative efforts across individual teams. Milestones should be set and met through the results collected.
- Analyze and document. With the on-going collection of results you can analyze and document into a knowledge management system for historical information and future planning. Did the plan meet it's objectives? What hurdles had to be overcome? How were they overcome? How might the same results be achieved differently? The important thing is to learn from the process and results then apply that knowledge to future cases of a similar nature. Ideally, shortening the time required to make and implement a plan of action based on a particular situation.
Collaboration is an activity. The compilation and sharing of information and expertise to drive toward a common objective. Communications is how people and devices collaborate. As you go through the different stages of effective collaboration different communication tools will be required. The easiest would be a meeting room with recording capabilities and everybody able to attend in person. However, in the environment of business today, office locations are dispersed, mobile and home office workers are on the rise and expertise may be found outside the enterprise. Consider the requirements users in a collaborative environment will have in terms of devices, applications and capabilities available to them. Provide a workspace built upon an architectural foundation that supports open standards and interoperability, together with a set of shared services and state of the art applications that provide a consistent and superior collaboration experience regardless of device, content, location, or interaction style.