Three ways to move from CIO to ‘chief collaboration officer’

Or speed it up through a productivity blitz, aka ‘hackathon’

Collaboration simply means working with others to achieve or produce something. But it has become a bit of a buzzword. Senior executives tout notions of embracing collaboration by reducing functional silos... but the reality is: It's hard work.

Making collaboration work is tough. There are a heap of things that get in the way – our existing workload, time and geographical barriers, hierarchy, bureaucracy and protocol, varying permissions, email burden, communication delays, and so on.

But should we give up on the notion? Never! Here are three ways, you can get collaboration moving in your organisation (and one shortcut to speed things up).

Identify the specific behaviours you want to see more of

The first thing we’ll want to identify is the specific types of behaviours we want to see more of. And to do that we’ll need to use behaviour-based language, referring only to things that can be directly observed and measured.

‘More communication’ isn’t a behaviour. ‘Updating sales pipeline with new updates on the day they occur’ or ‘ensuring regional counterparts are included in project discussions’ are examples of more specific behaviours. To do collaboration right, you’ll want your team to establish a list of the specific behaviours that underpin collaboration — the things you want to see more of.

This activity on its own is a very good way to enhance the shared understanding and functionality of a team.

Map out the pathways

Once you’ve mapped out the desired behaviours, the next thing you’ll want to understand is: what gets in the way of this behaviour?

Most people want to collaborate and do good work. But then stuff gets in the way. Your job is to find out where this friction is.

Which brings us to our next step.

Make it super-easy to collaborate

Sometimes friction exists because there is a lack of any alternative structure. Our inboxes and meeting agendas get clogged up because there is no alternative, other than getting on the phone.

Senior executives tout notions of embracing collaboration by reducing functional silos... but the reality is: It's hard work.

Dr Jason Fox, author, The Game Changer

Sometimes a 'third space' needs to be created, to harbour discussions and nurture the progress of important, non-routine projects. The things that don't fit into the normal box of 'business as usual'.

It's here that CIOs play a critical role in exploring, piloting and implementing collaborative project-management platforms. This doesn't have to be an expensive custom build – there are some very cloud-based solutions available that can handle enterprise volumes. Of course, you don't do this all at once – you play-test and experiment. And it makes sense to collaborate on the challenge of making collaboration easier.

But sometimes it’s not simply a case of removing the friction at work, redesigning processes or investing in frictionless communication platforms. Sometimes you need to create space outside of the usual system to really ramp up collaboration.

If in doubt, hack it up

Software companies are quite popular for arranging 'hackathons' to enable intense collaboration. And this is something that’s catching on in more traditional organisations.

Hackathons (or 'hack days', 'productivity blitz' or whatever you want to call it) are usually conducted with diverse teams and run over a very tight period of time — usually in the order of 24 to 72 hours. Here, nearly all barriers to collaboration are removed, and people are free to solve challenges collaboratively.

Hackathons require a clear challenge with expert facilitation and support to pull off effectively. They require good scheduling well in advance, and are best served with a unique shared space to work in. Things get messy – think: pizza and post-it notes. But the volume of collaborative work achieved in three days in a hackathon of intense, frictionless collaborative work could easily outweigh that of a 30 to 90 day period of work under normal conditions.

It’s all about changing the game to make work work better.

Dr Jason Fox is author of The Game Changer (Wiley).

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