How to Improve Project Collaboration

Complex projects will involve teams from different parts of your organisation or from multiple organisations, some of whom could be competitors on a different project. It would be hoped that the common goal of project completion will encourage the different interests to work together to resolve any problems quickly so that the task gets done on time and to specification. Our experience has been that hope alone is rarely enough for effective collaboration to thrive.

“Although teams that are large, virtual, diverse, and composed of highly educated specialists are increasingly crucial with challenging projects, those same four characteristics make it hard for teams to get anything done. To put it another way, the qualities required for success are the same qualities that undermine success” Gratton and Erickson, Harvard Business Review, Nov. 2007 

If you want your team to work successfully  in a collaborative manner you will need to take positive action to embed the behaviours that will encourage co-operative and will  overcome the natural tendencies to privatize knowledge and to be competitive.

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You could put on a training programme but this can often be theoretically and not always applied in practice we find it better to make a number of live interventions once a project team has mobilised. Of course these interventions will only work if the culture of all the organisations involved are supportive to collaboration and if this is something that senior leaders consciously demonstrate during their work. If the culture is in place then our three easy interventions will help you as the project leader to drive the change you want so that collaboration becomes a key element to your project success.

Stage One: Establishing the Collaborative Team

This stage will involve a number of activities but a crucial element will be a face to face event. The value of face to face conversations are hard to fully replicate in other ways so unless it is just impossible  find a time and place to physically connect. The amount of time for this varies but often the 24 hour retreat – 13.00 – to 13.00 works well, as it provides time to connect socially as well as professionally.

This event is an opportunity for your team to work collaboratively together on a number of real challenges and tasks you need to do to kick off the project. This will include the following activities:

  • Setting the project vision – appreciating the different expectations of success can help your team to find “win win” solutions to challenges that they will face during the life time of your project.
  • Exploring Expertise- highly intelligent and skilled professionals often do not explain their expertise in an accessible manner and this can be a source of conflict when their expertise is not fully utilised later in the project. Providing time for your team to share and appreciate the range of skills and expertise they have will work much better than playing any number of “trust games”
  • Exploring Behavioural Expectations – this is a really important activity because it will involve you sharing your expectations of behaviours to support collaboration. You can use the results of this activity later on in project reviews to provide an easy forum for team members to address behaviour that is not supporting the project.

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Stage 2 – Project Team Collaboration Reviews

The number and timings of these collaborative reviews will vary but the critical element is that there is space provided to specifically explore collaboration and not just talk about the project goals and milestones. Sometimes these reviews are done virtually and sometimes a combination of virtual team meet ups and face to face sessions are used.

  • Reviewing the Vision – you can review the vision from the start-up session and ask the team to identify the activities that have directly addressed the overall vision for the project. You can explore alignment between the collaborative behaviours and the project vision.
  • Updating Expertise– sharing learning and identifying any gaps in knowledge, skills or behaviour will help your team make better use of its resources. A useful method for this are action learning groups. These give you a face to face or virtual space to explore learning from the project and identify any gaps in knowledge/skills.
  • Reviewing and resetting expectations – you can covert the discussion about behaviour in the start up to a quick “temperature” checking tool. Your team can self assess the levels of collaboration in the project team. You can collate the resut and share these with the team to help you all explore both successes and challenges in behaviours and agree a options to further develop your collaborative work.

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Stage 3 – Celebrating the Collaboration

A frequently overlooked intervention is an opportunity to review and celebrate your project collaboration . This can be done with a series of interventions, it does not have to be a face to face event. Some elements you will find useful include:

  • Reviewing the Vision– reflecting on your shared vision at your first project session and exploring how this differs from the project outcome. This is a great time for you to ask questions about the difference between aspirations and the realities of projects and to explore the impact of this mismatch
  • Celebrating expertise and skills – during the project your team  will have developed their skills and expertise so it is about providing a way of charting this growth in a shared format.
  • Reviewing behaviour – if your team are likely to bid for future work on collaborative frameworks then taking time to honestly reflect on the collaborative behaviours shown is a the best way to prepare your team to perform at even higher levels on the next project.
  • Recording the story of the project creating a story board of all the photos and key stages to your project can be a good way of celebrating your journey. This can be done easily using an on-line pinboard facility.

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The interventions outlined above are things you can do as the project leader. You may to engage a neutral facilitator to work with you so that you can participate in the discussions and leave someone else to worry about the process. Whether you work independently or with a facilitator you will find that giving this focus on collaboration will help your team avoid some of the conflict that can often set project team behind schedule.

If you want to have an informal, free chat with one of our team we have facilitators working across the  the UK and Europe and we can call by for a face to face dicussion or connect virtually with you to talk about improving collaboration

Christine Bell

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Powerful Annual Team Plans

Many organisations have an annual planning cycle in which teams work out together their individual and collective priorities for the year.  Team objectives and personal performance contracts negotiated with the boss, or worse, copied from the schedule the planners gave you, implicitly have low ownership by the team.

The best teams we have worked with break this cycle by taking a time-out to get the whole team together and answer questions like:

  • What should we be doing, given our purpose/role in this organisation?
  • How can we add more value for the organisation and our external and internal customers?
  • How can we work more effectively as a team to deliver great results?

One team at the oil company BP chose to do this through a facilitated process as part of their quarterly team meeting.  The objectives were to (i) generate collective ownership for an integrated team plan (ii) get team members to understand and connect with each other’s priorities (iii) identify owners for key tasks such as continuous improvement activity that did not align neatly with job roles.

A collaborative plan builds clear links for team members with the big priorities including measures of success.  Working collaboratively also provides the opportunity to get everything on the table, reducing delivery risks.

Making this Happen

Collaboration on a joint plan needs time away from day to day work. A facilitated workshop really helps this process and gives teams time to work on their behaviours and to explore their objectives in more detail.

The key to this is focusing on the team objectives first and being honest about the priorities and focus that will be needed for the team to be successful.

Once this is done then individuals can draft their own objectives so that these directly support the team objectives.

These are discussed in the team and individuals are accountable to the wider team for the achievement of their personal objectives.

For projects, alignment of objectives is even more critical especially if you’d like to involve the client, prime contractor and supply chain partners.  We recommend a workshop process that emerged from the work of Andersen, Grude and Haug and that they called Goal Directed Project Management.

It was later adopted by Price Waterhouse Coopers (PwC) and uses elements of systems thinking to address the co-dependencies, interdependencies and operability of complex projects.

http://www.centreforfacilitation.co.uk

 

 

 

 

Strategic Planning in a World of Uncertainty

In the UK there seems to be consensus on just one issue, uncertainty has increased since the UK Brexit vote on 23rd June. In our organisations, one key question is how to manage uncertainty and lead our organisations through the coming months and years?

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As the floods have taught us, nothing is predictable and stable!

Today’s UK situation reminds me of a business situation I experienced several years ago. During this period of uncertainty we ran a series of workshops using the ‘exploratory approach’ to Scenario Planning.  This workshops had a big impact on our business and helped us to move forward through the ‘fog’ with some confidence – we managed uncertainty.

The situation then, in early 1990’s, was that the company I worked for faced a high degree of technical uncertainty. The company was very successful in fixed cabled voice telephones. All around the world was changing rapidly. Desktop computing, mobile computing, mobile telephony, high speed data, wireless technology were all perceived as an opportunity, or threat, to the company’s traditional technology and product base.

Using Scenario Planning

I was part of the management team that addressed this, assisted by external facilitators, using the exploratory approach to scenario planning. People with differing perspectives worked together in workshops to describe 4 alternative, but possible futures. The possibilities were that the future of communication would be dominated by

  • Low Cost
  •  High data rate demand;
  •  Maximum mobility;
  •   Maximum security (of information)

The objective was not to predict what the future would be, (that was too uncertain), rather to create a series of plausible futures. This approach had the advantage that different perspectives were automatically valued and listened to and captured. (Interestingly, 30 years on, we could debate how things have evolved. In practice, I believe that it is a hybrid of the possible scenario worlds we described at that time).
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Once we had defined the 4 plausible futures or ‘scenarios’ we looked at each in turn and addressed what actions (e.g. technology development, product development, skills development), we could take to prepare ourselves to prosper in that world. When that was completed for all 4 plausible futures, we found that some actions were appropriate for all 4 of the different scenarios; whilst some actions were unique to a single scenario.

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The important point is that the work we did on the scenarios enabled the marketing, technology and new product development teams to prioritise and focus on actions which would be very relevant, useful and revenue generating in 2 or 3 of the scenarios.

Decisions were made and we emerged from the process with a clear agreed plan of strategic and tactical actions – we were managing in uncertainty!

Nigel Chapman, Director, Centre for Facilitation

To discuss ideas for future strategy planning events contact us via our website