Can your employees perform together a team? Every organisation is facing increasing competition, and it has never been more important to encourage creativity in the office, to improve productivity and promote strong, supportive employee relationships.

Organisations that foster collaboration successfully are not only seen as the most attractive to work for, but you can also place a bet that they are the ones either leading their field or about to. Yes, your team and their ability to work creatively together CAN be your sustainable competitive advantage.

When done right, collaboration is about finding the right and diverse mix of people, collectively defining the problem and goals, and then collectively doing the work. It involves researching, listening, thinking, sharing, testing, doing more research, more thinking, more testing, and more sharing until you get to a strategy that has buy in and relevance.

Here are some of the key issues why organisations attempt to collaborate but are hindered along the way.

Problem 1 – Flies on the wall….

One of the hardest things to overcome can be the wall flower participant. The individual who might be new to the organisation, disengaged or simply does not feel safe enough to voice their ideas or an opinion.

How to fix it

Before the meeting think about the structure. Plan a structure that allow individuals to think and then have one on one discussions and build from there.

Set the session up for success. Open the session by acknowledging new starters or that some team members might be more familiar than others with the topic at hand and that is ok. Help people feel comfortable with the fact that the most important this is the discussion and it’s not about having all the ideas. In fact, it is more important to build on each other’s ideas rather than having one dominant idea creator in the room.

Look at the number of participants in the room. People are more comfortable voicing their opinions amongst a smaller number of people so if you have got a large group present a topic or question for discussion then break people up into smaller group of between 3-5. Any more than this and again you will find there is a place for people to hide and not speak up. In smaller groups its more like having a conversation and there’s time to capture everyone’s ideas.

Another way is the 1-2-4 All. This is when you propose an area for discussion and ask everyone to write down their own thoughts on a post it notes. One idea per post it. Then ask them to discuss this with some next to them (in pairs) then ask the pairs to join into 2 pairs so a group of four. Plan the time to what you want to dedicate. For example, a complex or important topic might look like:

5 mins individually
10 mins in pairs
10 mins in a group of four
Note: there will be a lot of ideas getting thrown around here so ensure you allow extra time for reporting back to the group.

Or for a faster more agile approach it might look like
1 min individually
2 mins in pairs
4 mins in a group of four
Then report back to the group.

Its important to note that if participants do not feel safe then any structure you put in place may only slightly improve the ideas.

Problem 2 – Nay sayers

Being critical to ideas upfront will crush them. Do not underestimate the terrible idea that may seem uncooked.

Most people are not confident in their ideas. It is just the way we are. Most of us have a screaming inner critic who is waiting to jump out of anything that comes out of our mouths so team this with an outer critic and any seedling idea will perish.

If you are not confident in, you alone finding a good idea then come up with some terrible ones first. Do a speed session where you are timed, and the main goal is to get as many ideas as you can rather than the quality.
Quality, well formed ideas come long after an initial collaboration session. Do you think the most innovative ideas in the world were formed from the initial lips to air moment? Hell no. Great ideas are built. They are formed, tested, deconstructed, and then reconstructed again.

How to fix it

Again, set the scene for the session and let everyone know that their main role is to create the ideas not to critic the ideas just yet. That will come later.
If the nay-sayers are still playing the devil’s advocate or taking over the discussions with negative views, then this is the time for the facilitator to interject. (Ensure your facilitator feels empowered enough to respectfully shut down a line of conversation or feedback.) Have a separate section dedicated to ‘parking lot’ where you can make note of the concern or objection and quickly move on.

This needs to be followed up quickly after the session with a repeating individual so they understand that their feedback is not helpful at that stage or you must decide as a working group to include or exclude that individual in early stage collaborations.

Problem 3 – No clear decision-making.

You have got a wealth of ideas and if you have created a safe place for ideas potentially you have had some hearty discussions as well.

The next phase is to then identify the areas for opportunity. You can do this by a dot votes system where everyone gets to select 3-4 of their own favourite ideas and select the most popular. You can then analyse the ideas by the most value to the business and prioritise them this way.

However, at some point a decision must be made on what the next steps look like, who is responsible and by what time does it need to be completed. The next steps might look like seeking feedback from others outside the session, present something to the board, test it with customer feedback or even give the team time to incubate which simply means to continue thinking about the ideas overnight and reconvene. Don’t leave it too long though. Incubating on ideas should not be done any longer than 2-3 days otherwise day to day roles take over and the next time you catch up it will feel like you are starting all over again. (This is the ultimate fail as you team will lose energy about the ideas and it will feel like re-work with no progress or clear outcomes.)

How to fix it

Ensure you have at least 20 mins at the end of the session to be very clear on listing the next steps, timelines, and responsibilities.

If you want to increase ownership and autonomy in the room, ask those responsible to either report back their findings as an introduction to the next section or even ask if there is someone else who would like to facilitate.

You may decide you need more information to help you prioritise your ideas and that is perfectly ok. Agree to gather the information and bring it into the next session. A great opportunity here is to think about how you can gather information external to the organisation. This is where true innovation is born. Talk to experts, gather market data, talk to customers, or end users or even different divisions in your organisation. To assist clear decision making back up any data with a human case study for evidence. As humans we love to get the facts but there is something more persuasive about learning about Joe who had a problem, came to your organisation and you helped in this way and that and he said this.

When we team a specific testimonial, feedback, or case study with data it helps us with emotional decision making as well as rational. Suddenly, the answer will become clearer for everyone involved.

The solutions I’ve outline here are all apart of the design thinking process which is a clear framework to assist collaboration, innovation and clear decision making. If you’d like to know more drop me a line.

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