Collaboration – Skills or Software?

Recently, I was scouring for written words on collaboration skills – aside from the unreadable psyche studies little focused on those skills.  Instead, I found articles on collaboration software.  If my experience teaching college students on how to work together using a wiki is any indicator — students first need  direction and guidance in the fundamentals.  And, I have found this just as true in the workplace, when I train employees and managers.

How do you convince students, employees, managers, now honed to work independently on their computers, to collaborate?

First – Give them a Reason to Collaborate!
Experience shows that collaboration not only works for solving problems, implementing changes and confronting the complex issues, collaboration produces better results

Better  than: the individual acting alone with his computer searches or mulling her ideas without other input.  Better than the group dominated by a single point of view or torn apart by opposing goals.

While there are individual geniuses that change the world with their ideas and inventions, most of us are confronted with more mundane problems and issues.  Often our solutions will affect groups — their thinking, their reactions, and their feelings.

Second – Describe Consequences of Collaboration Failure.         Consider this typical problem:   You must make a system change to improve your service for your customers.  Any change creates a ripple effect for managers, employees and customers.  Who hasn’t sat on the other end of a system change and asked:  “Who’s the jerk that thought this was a good idea?”

For example, I recall the anguish of a very large system conversion at the bank.  The story details helped students and trainees understand the cost and problems of  collaboration failures.  “Bank tellers could not tell customers exactly how much money was in their accounts at any given time for a six week period! The teller line became a battle line where customers screamed at them on a daily basis.”  None of my students or training participants wanted to join that firing line.

Third – Show Benefits of Collaboration.
Collaborations  start with freely sharing perspectives, viewpoints and ideas.  Key word here is freely.  Effective collaborators do not start with censuring or critiquing  others.  They start with a willingness to see the problem, issue, or challenge from a new, or a different, or unusual perspective.

Humor helps.  My experience — teams and groups that have a few good belly laughs at the beginning of their collaborations: develop longer, more creative lists of ideas;  come to solution consensus more quickly and more positively; and accept/appreciate more varied viewpoints.

Short term benefits? Collaboration ensures that someone thoroughly reviews all potential technical problems, that someone one checks on service impact (step by step), that someone one creates and verifies quality of new rules,  that someone plans and minimizes disruption to all and that every someone has a say and is committed to the changes.

Long term benefits? Collaboration takes time – initially!   However, after individuals and teams have honed their collaboration skills, time is less of an issue.  Why?  Collaborators get how to work together – get how to share ideas – get how to build on each other’s points of view – get the importance of commitment.

Fourth —  Identify Skills needed to Collaborate    In my earlier example, that  chastened  bank conversion team met and dissected the failure they had experienced.  They realized that they needed to work together differently in the future – and drew up ways to initiate action, make decisions and communicate more effectively.

They identified specific collaboration skills:
Ability to listen effectively and completely, even when:  you have a better idea, or you think the suggestion is a lousy idea, or you dislike the person, or you have another meeting…

Ability to make connections between ideas, even when the ideas: seem unrelated, or cause disagreement, or lead to more complex issues, or make everyone laugh…

Ability to draw out constructive thoughts and opinions from others who: rarely offer comments, or veer too often from topic, or lack confidence, or have trouble articulating, or don’t want to participate, or disagree for the sake of disagreement.

Ability to summarize key points that: build a complete picture of issues, or acknowledge all participants’ ideas, or point to gaps in group thinking, or lead to basis for consensus.

Ability to change your mind when you recognize better ideas and solutions that may: differ from your own, or add new perspectives, or alter your long held opinions, or made no sense in the beginning but have that something extra…

So before you go hunting for the right Collaboration Software, make sure that your Collaborators have honed the right interaction skills !!!!

About mcgntr

About Ann I was lucky and grew up in the beautiful Berkshire Hills of Western Massachusetts surrounded by the arts, industry, literature, and family. I had a great education-- undergraduate work at Caldwell College and my masters at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where I began business life as Training Assistant. Returning east, I continued in the training profession, and ‘fell’ into Human Resources - first, Recruiting and Employment, Director of Human Resources and finally Senior Vice President, Human Resources and Training. I bowed out of the corporate world with the white collar layoffs in early ‘90s – and started a new venture McGill Enterprises: HelpQuick Human Resources Advisory & Training Services. I have enjoyed great opportunities - publishing 3 training books, mentoring HR professionals, creating a wide variety of training programs, writing scripts, and becoming an adjunct professor.
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