Would you like to work in a more collaborative environment? Studying improv, generations and various sources it appears the keys for collaboration are diversity, equality and focus. That is, it takes effort. The more we focus on these three items with an intention towards collaboration, the more likely we will be able to create an environment for effective collaboration. Let’s take a look at all three.
When we use the term diversity, we need to explore three levels. These are our primary visible attributes, our secondary below the surface characteristics and our tertiary that we are not aware of unless we dig a little deeper.
Our primary visible attributes include race, age, ethnicity, physical abilities, sexual orientation and class. These are elements that we can evaluate for ourselves and ones that we quickly judge others by when first meeting someone. Not that all of these are necessarily visible, but we tend to make judgments based on what we see.
Our secondary below the surface characteristics tend to be things like religious belief, nationality, geographic location, marital status, parental status, education, income, work background and military experience. Once again, we generally cannot tell these without someone offering additional information, but that is not always the case. For example, a wedding ring on the left fourth finger, often called the “ring finger” is likely to indicate someone is married, but that is not always true. However, if someone is simply walking down the street usually it is not possible to determine their religious preference or married status.
The point is diversity having been defined by these three levels is an indication of our own and others diversity. The question is, how diverse is your workplace when we interact with each other? Do you welcome all comments? Do you encourage others to speak up? Is your work environment inclusive of others? The more we explore ours and others diversity the greater the likelihood of understanding. By accepting others and their insights we open ourselves up to additional ideas and potential collaboration. By accepting diverse ideas, it is possible to expand ideas and have a better, higher quality result.
Now let’s take a look at equality.
Neuroscientists present us with the SCARF model. SCARF stands for status, certainty, autonomy, relationship and fairness. David Rock pioneered the SCARF model originally in 2008. Since then this model has gained widespread acceptance regarding how people interact with each other in various domains. The more these five domains are equalized between parties the better the relationship.
In general, a more autocratic approach typically does not encourage nor allow for unity or self-improvement. This techniques of having a class system can actually be counterproductive, demoralizing and ineffective if the intent is to try and promote collaboration.
Rather, self determination by sharing ideas equally goes a long way towards collaborative decision making. This is hard to do without practice and intent. Our natural tendency is to control and make our own decisions. However, with patience, practice and encouragement this technique can be very useful to promote collaboration on decisions.
The third element is focus.
We are easily diverted into many areas. We can fill our day with many activities and then wonder where the day went. When we focus on something and dedicate time to the task, it is possible to really apply energy to the activity, take constructive action and deliver results. Let’s take a look at energy, action and results.
When trying to promote energy keep in mind that activities, interaction, stories and fun are all ways to keep the energy level high. When the energy is high this tends to promote greater interaction. Having participants work on various activities together with team building techniques promotes collaboration. Emotional involvement is the key. It is not possible to build the same level of collaboration when addressing issues on email for example. Although there are techniques to encourage interaction in virtual sessions. For example, having an ice breaker at the beginning of a session is one way to encourage everyone to be on time for the virtual meeting and to set the stage.
When participants are told ahead of time that they are being brought together to address a specific issue, concern or idea they can go into the session with the idea of focusing on that activity individually and as a group. Simply having an agenda, a topic, a goal and an intent to focus on the issue goes a long way towards encouraging collaboration. Some questions to ask beforehand are:
Why are we doing this?
Who is accountable?
How much time do we have?
Is this a one-time meeting or part of a longer process?
Who is taking notes for minutes?
What is expected of participants?
When are we meeting?
Where are we meeting (is the space conducive to collaboration and are appropriate resources there)?
What resources are being supplied (videos? YouTube? Flip charts, markers, white board, post its?)
An action plan is needed. In short who will do what by when as a result of this session?
In the end, what is the final product expected to look like? Begin with the end in mind. Is the final product a white paper, a power point presentation, an actual prototype, or something else? Although science may be applied, collaboration is really an art. Keep that in mind with respect to the process. Keep an open mind.
So, there it is. Explore your own and others’ diversity. Encourage diverse thinking. Keep an open mind. Avoid hierarchies. Encourage those in authority to say for the purposes of this process “I am just another team member” and then to play that role. Equality of ideas is key. Focus on the problem. Use techniques to raise the energy level. Be proactive and be encouraging. Stay focused on the problem. Encourage diverse thoughts, fun, interaction and participation, but also keep the end in mind. There is an expectation as a result of the process. If these items are well thought out and encouraged you are far more likely to have an encouraging environment and the chances for success using collaboration are significantly enhanced.
To read more about this topic, check out this Forbes article.