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  • Writer's pictureHarvey Hillary

How to collaborate

Collaboration has become a buzz word in business. What’s clear to me is that ‘collaboration’ is a challenging behaviour to embed within an organisation and requires the commitment of senior leaders to make it stick. This article sets out 4 lighthouse examples of collaboration and looks to identify easy wins for your organisation.

Project work – MIT Media Lab

The MIT Media Lab is a research laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It’s not restricted to fixed academic disciplines and draws from technology, media, science, art and design.

I first came across the lab in the Netflix documentary Abstract ‘The Art of Design’. The episode of Neri Oxman fascinated me and demonstrated a lighthouse example of using collaboration between seemingly disconnected fields to innovate. In this case, the collaboration is enabled by project work and joint problem-solving.

Media Lab provides a wonderful example of what happens when you remove silos. Clearly articulate a problem and then allow people the freedom to explore that problem collaboratively with passion and freedom to innovate.

Enabling Project Work

· Clearly articulate a performance problem

· Invite a diverse group to explore solutions together

· Create spare-capacity to work on the project

Performance Parallels – Project Pitlane

A fixed mindset is often created by the four walls of your organisation. Limiting beliefs that ‘it must be done this way’ often prove unfounded when you identify similar challenges being overcome in other industries.

During the 1st outbreak of Covid19 – the healthcare sector was challenged by the limited number of ventilators and the inability of the supply chain to respond to the demand. This problem was compounded by the inflexibility of the sector to innovate and find a solution. Project Pitlane looked to deploy the spare capacity in Formula One to help respond to the NHS supply issue with a ‘novel’ solution. The Performance Parallel was the ability to design, machine and assemble components that required precision fabrication and zero-defect instrumentation.

Project pitlane not only delivered this capability in superabundance, but it was also able to deploy a rapid iterative approach in developing the CPAC device which was pivotal in the ICU treatment of Covid.

Performance Parallels – Learning from seemingly unconnected fields

· Explore the problem with an open mindset and identify other industries that share similar challenges, operating environments

· Invite Speakers from High-Performing Organisations, The Arts, Sports Teams, the Military, Academia, Engineers to your Professional Development Events. Ask them to speak on their challenges, the solutions they identified and how they deployed them. How their teams work, leadership, mindset, routines.

· Take employees from each level of your organisation to visit high performing teams and identify shared problems and follow the breadcrumbs

· Explore these concepts with your teams, identify the performance parallels and ask how can we utilise the same thinking in our world.

Team Meetings – Diagnosis Detectives

I’m continually surprised by how ineffective businesses can be at running team meetings. The fundamental flaw is often that meetings never move from ‘briefing’ to ‘discussion’ and when in ‘discussion mode’ the same people talk and rarely do others listen with an intent to collaborate.

In the case of a Multi-Disciplinary Team (MDT) Meeting, the objective is to provide a forum for exploration with a shared intent to solve the problem. At its best, the MDT should incorporate subject area experts from different fields of expertise.

The recent BBC Series ‘Diagnosis Detectives’ provided a valuable insight into how MDT meetings are facilitated in medicine. The format requires an initial ‘current situation briefing’’ by the facilitator. There is then an opportunity to ‘check-understanding’ by asking questions with the intent to clarify. The ‘ideation’ stage allows for individuals to contribute their recommendations based on their field of expertise. The magic is where the interdisciplinary dialogue takes over and together the Team developed a planned course of action.

This meeting model may have originated in medicine, but we also see it deployed with great impact in Elite sport and Engineering.

Multi-Disciplinary Team Meeting – collaboratively exploring a problem

· Create diversity in your meetings

· Use a facilitator or develop this skills set within your team

· Brief Current situation – Check-understanding – ideation – explore the planned course of action – commit to action and agree on who is leading

Corridor Conversations – Google

There is a lot of truth in the saying “a problem shared is a problem solved”. I truly believe that the best ideas come from the most unlikely of places and companies like Google understand this. Their office culture promotes “casual collision” between employees. For Google, this is paramount in demonstrating how collaboration promotes creativity and drives production.

Form my own experience, the café sofa has been responsible for more groundbreaking thinking in Olympic Sport than any meeting room. In these cases, the killer question was often “why do you do it like that”, followed by “why can’t you just….”. This insight falls into two categories; stating the obvious we can no longer see at the coal face and the insight of the ‘Naïve Expert’.

The trouble is that we are creating a culture that actively discourages casual conversations that might lead to breakthrough thinking. NDA = ‘No-one Dare Ask’.

Tap into hidden knowledge within your organisation – create corridor conversations

· Seek out hidden knowledge in your team but asking about their interests and projects they have worked on in their career.

· Share challenges with as many people as you can. You can convey the problem without disclosing confidential information.

· Ask what people in other department are working. There may be parallels and opportunities to collaborate and share knowledge

In conclusion

If we look at collaboration at ‘Culture’ level we will struggle to influence change. By encouraging and practising the behaviours that support collaboration it is possible to create immediate opportunities for change. So what are you waiting for: Champion project work, identify performance parallels and apply their approach to your field, create diversity in team meetings and deploy a multi-disciplinary approach to problem-solving and create opportunities for corridor conversations to tap into the hidden expertise in your organisation.

If you would like to encourage collaboration in your organisation why not contact Harvey on LinkedIn

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