Friday May 29, 2015
Nobody likes meetings, but we’re all big fans of collaboration. After all, collaboration makes us more productive…right? It ensures the best ideas get heard…doesn’t it? It guarantees the best possible end result…or does it?
In this awesome article, Ron Friedman attacks the “belief that’s practically gained universal support within the business community: the idea that collaborations fuel success.”
While he acknowledges that some of the world’s greatest ideas have come from collaboration, he argues that collaborations often yield weaker results than work done individually.
I want to share my thoughts on collaboration. It’s a valuable tool for getting the best results out of a small business team. But I think most businesses use collaboration incorrectly.
Here’s how to do it right.
Watch for Common Collaboration Problems
Ron Friedman cites a number of scientific studies in his article, which show that collaborations can lead to big problems, including:
- False confidence
- Increased pressure to conform
- Introvert discrimination
- High cost of time spent collaborating
Having worked with hundreds of small businesses all across the country, I completely agree with his perspective. But I think businesses run into those problems because they’ve lost sight of what collaboration truly means.
Fully Understand the Purpose of Collaboration
Most people think “collaboration” just means “people working together.” But on its own, that’s not a recipe for anything special.
Remember group projects in school? Those activities were supposed to teach us to collaborate. Instead, they taught us how to make five people spend a week on a project that one person could crank out in a few days. It’s a classic example of people working together, but not actually collaborating.
Collaboration should result in:
- Healthy skepticism
- Weighing diverse ideas
- Increased personal investment
- Hearing all voices
- Dramatic time-saving
Notice how those are all the opposites of the collaboration problems I talked about earlier? Here’s how to ensure collaboration in your small business gets you the good kind of results.
Decrease Your Reliance on Meetings
Meetings are the collaborative activity that we know are hurting us, but we don’t seem to be able to break free. I personally have no tolerance for meetings, and so I’ve devoted my career to creating tools that let me run a business without them.
Businesses absolutely need free-flowing information and frequent communication. But that doesn’t mean face-to-face conversations. At AllProWebTools, we communicate priorities, to-dos, project status updates, and much more through our tasking system. Employees come in, check their tasks, and work from the highest priority items down.
Employees can also pass tasks around the office, to ask for input, help, or approval. We’ve found that this empowers independent, as-needed collaboration. It works a lot faster than structured, meeting-based collaboration.
We also rely a lot on our timecards, which keep track of exactly how employees spend their time. Each time an employee changes tasks, they clock out and write down what they worked on. Their manager can then scan their notes at the end of the day. A meeting only needs to happen if there’s a problem.
Our culture of transparency is the final aspect AllProWebTools that lets us live without meetings. All tasks and timecard notes post automatically to a live Workflow Timeline feed. It works like a social media timeline, but all the updates are about the business.
Everyone can see what everyone else is working on, without interruptions, just by scanning the Timeline. Again, this lets employees collaborate independently, only offering input when they have something to contribute.
Create Teams with Intention
Group projects in school didn’t work because the teams were usually random rather than planned. The teacher didn’t take the time to carefully assemble teams based on each member’s strengths and weaknesses. That’s where you as a business owner can set yourself apart.
Collaboration isn’t multiple people doing the same thing. It’s multiple people, each working on different things, towards a common goal. The best collaborations are made up of people with very different strengths and weaknesses.
Find ways for your employees to complement each other, rather than both working on same thing. Each team member should be doing the part of the job that only they could do.
This means that you need to clearly differentiate roles. It also means that you need to rely heavily on the communication and workflow strategies I already mentioned. At AllProWebTools, we lean on the tasking system and Workflow Timeline to keep track of who’s working on what, and how far along they are. It lets everyone focus their time and creative energy on the things they’re best at, without losing sight of the big picture.
Increase Accountability for Individual Roles
Working independently is very important. There are certain types of work that can be done in a group, but I agree with Ron Riedman when he says, “Most of the heavy creative lifting happens when we’re by ourselves, working on our own.”
He advocates using meeting time to exchange ideas and give feedback, rather than to actually get work done or generate ideas.
This also improves everyone’s individual investment in a project. It prevents the phenomenon known as “social loafing.” When an individual is part of a group, they have a tendency to do less work, relying on the rest of the team to carry the project. That’s “social loafing.”
If everyone on the team loafs just a little, you lose a lot of productivity. That’s why it’s my philosophy that projects should be broken down into tasks, which individuals are responsible for.
I’ve built the AllProWebTools software to let me run my business this way, and I’ve seen incredible results in the businesses who have adopted this model. If you want to get more out of your team, look into finding tools that enable you to get smarter about the way your team collaborates.
What do you think about collaboration? How do you make sure that collaborative time doesn’t cause any of the problems I listed at the beginning?