I was asked to comment on this article sent to me by a friend whom I respect a lot

I thought I will add my bit to collaboration in my own way and in some indirect way states my position on this.

A ideal state for collaboration in an organizational context or any settings can be thought of as a relay race, where you expect the others to do their bit , hand over the baton and you do your bit. However this is never the case. If we extend this a bit, you always have the feeling, that you are always waiting for the other guy to hand over the baton or you have completed your sprint and waiting for the other person to complete their sprint.

So you would be typically familiar with this responses when you ask ‘What is happening’

“I am waiting for …..”

“I have done. They have to …. ”

I may be brutal here, but the single biggest impediment to collaboration are soft factors and the foremost factor is ‘The other person is a moron’. I have done my bit is never a good state or answer to make any collaboration successful. While in a relay race, the rules of the games are that way, the rules of successful collaboration in an organizational context are different.

I am elaborating on what we as individuals in an organizational setting and what organizations can do as well. I am going to list just two things that we should possess as individuals for collaboration to succeed.

They are

  • Reach Out
  • Call Out

Reach Out

The word is mutual respect. If you are in an collaborative setting, respect the other person. Always believe they are out to doing their best, despite their constraints and limitations just like we are . Everyone likes to contribute and no one can afford to remain indifferent to consistent reaching out. I know this is more philosophic than actionable, but if you are in a collaborative setting and if you feel someone is lagging behind just ask this

“How can I be of help or do you need any help. We need to get this done “?

Language can be a powerful force-multiplier.  Just hold your judgement and prejudices and follow this in any collaborative setting for next couple of months. You may not see a great change immediately, but you will notice that holding back your judgement and being seen as an ally can be effective in the long run. This is not a strategy that will deliver you overnight results, but will get you towards achieving sustainable results in the long run.

Call Out

This is in direct contrast to ‘Reach Out’. Sometimes you are so decent, that you never say which is the weakest link though you are aware of the weakest link or you identify the weakest link in such a way that everyone feels that it is the strongest link. You should keep in mind when you are calling out continued non-performance or repeated slippages in commitment, you are calling out the incomplete results rather than the individual or team in question. While you need to take every kind of people when you are running, you can only go so far if you decide to take along everything. At some point , you need to pause , evolve a different path for others who are not keeping up repeatedly. Please do not think you are hurting the team or individual if you are calling out, you are just giving them opportunities to get better. Personally, I have been called out many times by my leaders and peers and my first reaction would be ‘Oh , I am doing so many things and these people are thankless. I need to type my resume and get out.’ But my better sense prevails and I see the merit in why these people are calling me out. They just want me to get better and I have been thankful of people who have called out my non-performance’

So if this sounds confusing, here is a tip.

  • Reach Out – For individuals/teams who are committed, capable , putting in the effort and lag behind occasionally.
  • Call Out – For individuals/teams who are despite the capability , do not put in the effort and lag behind consistently.

How can organizations help

  • Shared Purpose
  • Empowered Leader

Shared Purpose

I think what gets everyone together is a sense of shared purpose. The purpose itself is immaterial, but  consistent messaging of ‘Why we are doing, what we are doing’ and ‘How you are contributing towards that’ is a simple way to keep teams engaged and motivated.  Typically I have seen this succeeding when there is ‘One Purpose’ and everyone working towards that one ‘Single Purpose’. The whole DNA of the organization is re-wired towards that purpose. In some sense organizations want to spread their risks and have some ten themes are so in a year to achieve. I strongly feel  organizations should remove all noise and go high intensity on just one ‘Theme’. The ‘Theme’ itself can be of the organization’s choosing, but the success rates are high if everyone is aligned to that specific ‘Theme’ in everything we do. Ten cross functional teams, doing twenty collaborative projects, makes for a good dashboard, but dilutes everything. A collaborative effort succeeds if everyone is aligned on that ‘One Single Thing’ and I am afraid this comes from the ‘Very Top’. If I as a leader cannot eliminate the noise and help the teams focus on what is the ‘One Single Thing’ I want to achieve, I cannot blame for the commotion around me.

Empowered Leader

I remember one incident in my early days as an engineer, when there was a demo scheduled for the next day and as you would expect nothing was working. The CEO walked the floor and asked ‘Who is Responsible ?’, each one of us were looking at each other.

Most collaborative efforts are that way. I personally believe  collaborative efforts are successful, if there is an empowered leader, who is co-ordinating the effort across all organizational boundaries. Many a times a leader is pronounced, but except the title of ‘Steering Committee Leader’, they cannot do anything and if a leader is not able to do anything, it will be seen through by everyone and the collaborative effort is set up for failure. When I say ‘Empowered Leader’, organization should ensure that everyone is aware ‘Where does the buck stop’ ?

I have a very biased view on incentives.

If I am entering every collaborative effort is ‘What is in it for me’, in my view it is trade and I am afraid that is not a school of thought that I will personally entertain.

I am from the old school and I strongly believe that we will emerge successful when we stay committed to a path and purpose that brings out the best in us. I am ok with the rewards and incentives, but they are not the ‘Driving’ factors. The ‘Driving factor’ is the purpose which makes me believe that I am a small, but significant contributor towards something bigger than myself!

I do not know, if this answered my respected friend, but it helped me spill out what I believe.

I rest my case with a quote by David whyte from Crossing the Unknown Sea

“If we are serious about work we tend to find ourselves apprenticed to something much larger than we expected, that calls more of our essence than we previously imagined, something seemingly raw and overpowering”

I trust the organizations that employ us to give us that much needed context to get serious about our work and craft.

Enjoy Maadi (Have Fun)