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.

Feeding back 2

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.

Groups discussing

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.

Clustering postits large scale

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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Communication for Collaboration

One of the challenges for project teams where there is collaborative between different organisations and professionals is the lack of a common language. We all use short cuts in our language and descriptions within our own circles and it is easy to assume that others will understand you without needing any further assistance.

As facilitators we will often run sessions at project kick off meetings to help explore the project goal or problem by explaining it by using visual methods. One of our more challenging recent projects has been to bring together people working in the energy industry, systems engineers and academics to agree the research programme needed to develop an energy system for the UK.

The breakthrough for our client and for the participants was an early activity when we invited participants to explain the challenge of the future energy system by creating a model. Our client from the UK Energy Systems Catapult team commented that for him the highlight of the event was

“watching the construction and explanation of models of the energy system put together using balloons, card, pipe cleaners and sticky back plastic”

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200

Initially he had been concerned that this activity would be too radical and too “playful” for this group of senior professionals but he realised how the activity helped created a level playing field for the communication across all the different professions in the room.

We agreed that created a shared visual understanding enabled the group to work more constructively together so that they were able to complete the task of creating the future research programme and were able to build potential collaborations for the future.

We only get out the pipe cleaners if they have a clear purpose, there are many other ways to explore a topic to reach a shared understand and the power of visual communication can really help with your team collaboration so take a risk to communicate differently!

Christine Bell

http://www.centreforfacilitation.co.uk

Collaborative Venues

Very frequently, whilst we are starting to plan workshops / events with our clients, the discussion incorporates ‘where shall we hold this event?’
At one level there are the usual practical considerations, including cost, ease of access, capacity and facilities at the venue, cost etc! At another level, we consider the opportunity the location and environment provides to enhance the event itself. A few examples in the past couple of years illustrate the point

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• A Programme Manager needed a project group, composed of very technically competent specialists to understand the interrelationship between their disciplines and how the various parts of the project formed the whole mosaic. In this case a countryside location, remote, but accessible and modest, was chosen for their monthly two day project review workshops. The two days together in a remote location enabled the team to leave behind the shackles of the day-to-day workplace. It enabled collaborative working so that the specialists were able to deliver coherent and highly effective solutions.

• A team needed to develop their Customer Relationship Management capability so we held their workshop at a conference venue that shares space with an up-market repair centre for prestigious cars. The venue provided a great opportunity for participants to see first-hand how the repair centre went about its work – and particularly to see the attention to detail that really makes a difference and generates referrals and repeat business.

VLUU L200  / Samsung L200

• We worked with the Energy Strategy UK team to explore the future of transport energy. The workshop was held at a Transport Museum in Coventry. This venue provided an insight through a tangible record of transport energy in the past. In the workshop design we incorporated activities using these resources to ‘hover above’ today and look back and look forward. A great stimulate to innovative thinking.

Photo competition

• Another client, passionately seeking for innovation in the Long Term Care of people, chose a location that enabled visits to be made to local venues to provoke thinking. For example, the visit to a local horticultural nursery, highlighted the motivation and dedication of the plant specialists, for many of them their work was much more than a means to earn money.
A well-chosen venue can support the overall theme of an event and can become part of the process. Seeking out interesting locations is a challenge but can often add real value to the event.

Nigel Chapman

This will change you

At the start of our recent five day Innovation Lab event in Norway our project Director Nick Tyler outlined an expectation to the 27 participants that what ever the outcome of the event, whether their project got funded or not …“this event will change you”
Indeed for our participants, many of whom were in the early stages of their careers, the event was a profound and life changing experience. They learnt through practical activities and experience how to work collaboratively with people who were from different backgrounds and had very different mindsets and experiences. They learnt how to move from creative thinking into a peer review process where they were in competition with other colleagues for funding.2016-01-15 13.22.47

But for me as an experienced facilitator who has worked on many of these projects over the last six years did this statement hold true? I think sometimes we can forget that experience does not make you immune to change and now 2 weeks after leaving the land of snow I realise that I have indeed changed

  1. Connecting with my Inner Joy for Facilitation2016-01-14 09.46.37

Working with this international group was just so liberating. From the beginning our client, the Norwegian Research Council were positive and supportive about the designs for the event. The were interested and engaged but did not seek to over control the design process so I was able to think truly creatively about concepts like the swimming pool assessment and the city of Earth 2.1. As our team introduced an activity there was a buzz of excitment and a real willingness to give things a go. The energy made facilitating a real joy and not a process to work through. I realised how much I enjoy working in the area of creative innovation and it made me think about how I can really focus on this as a specialist area now I am back in the UK

2. Taking Time to See the Sky

Like many people in the UK, even as a northerner, I still get so excited about seeeing snow and there was so much of it! Often our facilitators end up never going outside the venue at this type of event but we agreed this time to make sure that both us and the participants got to see the Sky every day. This was such a special time for me, just stepping out from the process and trusting that the rest of the team would continue to keep things moving forward without me. In those brief moments I connected with my sense of what was going on and was able to generate further creative thoughts to keep the process and me fresh.2016-01-10 10.40.31

3.Celebrating our Cities but Changing Them

i have always lived in cities all my life and like most city dwellers I have a love/hate relationship. Hearing this theme explored by the brilliant mind made me challenge my concept of the city and be open to different ways that I might both live and interact with my city in the future. Coming back to the UK I went over to Manchester for work where I saw for the first time “Tent City”. This was not exactly what we had in mind when we talked about a flexible city but clearly our rigid city structures are just not able to cope with the demands on them and the option of living in a tent next to the centre of one of our big Northern Powerhouse Cities seems to be the only option available to a large group of people. Being part of the Innovation Lab made me really think more about why this can happen and what can be done about this

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So thanks Nick for your words, I am indeed changed and thanks to everyone involved in the Cities of the Future Idelab for giving me reasons to change my thoughts and my behaviours, I return to the UK stronger, clearer and more energetic than before and ready to support teams in the UK to make our world a better place.

Not Everyone wants to Talk First

If I asked you to imagine a team discussion or meeting where the purpose was to generate new ideas you might have in your head an image with the following elements:

  • One person at a flip chart with a pen
  • Several people shouting out their ideas
  • The paper being filled with lots of ideas
  • A pause when no one says anything and then someone asks “is that is everything?” Everyone agrees it is and then the group decides which idea to take forward
  • At a large-scale event this might then be followed by a plenary session where all the different groups take several minutes for their spokesperson to describe what they have talked about and to share their best ideas.

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For some of you this sounds all so normal and acceptable and even enjoyable. Other people reading this will be shuddering at the thought of having to take part in these brainstorming/workshop rituals. It does not have to be like this! Whilst some people are really comfortable in sharing their thinking out loud with a group of strangers, and some may even thrive on it, others quickly lose their energy and cannot make any creative contributions. The danger is that solutions are agreed by the group which only represents the views of a few people, a form of Groupthink that is well described by Dr Pete Stebbins in his article.

Techniques that Help

When I work with a group of people I am always consciously thinking about ways to make sure that the voice of many does not get squashed by the voice of the few very vocal people

  1. Thinking Time

Give people some personal time before a group activity. It need only be 2-3 minutes, but this provides enough time for people to take stock individually and to write down initial ideas.

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  1. Structured Sharing

Provide a process for sharing the ideas in groups – for example by setting an expectation that each person will share one idea each and only when all these ideas have been shared and grouped do you go round the group again. I find sandtimers are really helpful for this process.

Power of the sandtimer

  1. Purposeful networking

Instead of speed networking offer more structured activities that will enable people to have more purposeful conversations. We used a highly structured “crowd sourcing” interview method and for social events our “dinner dialogue” cards work well.

  1. Moving groups and space

Build in time in longer events for people to take some time out by going for a walk and talk break outside of the main group.  Mix the groups up so that different people who may dominate in certain groups are able to work in a variety of settings and hear so many views it can help them to moderate some of their views.

  1. Abandon the Traditional Plenary

In the traditional plenary feedback most of the group are silent. Consider what the purpose of the plenary is. If you want cross-fertilization of ideas using different techniques where you mix the groups up or just walk around the room looking at the outputs can be just as effective.

Feeding back

Some of these techniques I work on intuitively, sometimes it is based on my own preferences for coming up with ideas. I recently ran a programme for PhD students Industrial Focused Mathematical Modelling Programme. Our programme was about how to encourage creative thinking and we started the process with an experiential activity from which the group developed a hypothesis of what was needed for effective creative group work. They listed lots of useful tips initially. What they added at the end was the tip “take time to think things through individually first, so that your ideas have time to develop independently before the group activity” which was based on the activities and methods we had experienced over the programme. In their summary comments this was one of their biggest learning insights and one which I know they will be taking into their work.

If you want to make more of the skills of the quieter thinkers in your team so that you really do tap the whole group for creative insights try out some of these ideas or give us a call and we can design a process with you that will maximise the levels of engagement and of innovation.

Christine Bell info@centreforfacilitation.co.uk / 07941971904

http://www.centreforfacilitation.co.uk

What is a Facilitator?

The role of a Facilitator can be mysterious for those that have yet to experience a meeting or workshop run by a professional Facilitator.  For those that have, the purpose and the benefits of a Facilitator become clear.

The dictionary definition can be a little vague too:

Facilitate verb: make (an action or process) easy or easier.

The French word “facile” means easy

Comparing the lesser-known role of the facilitator to other more well-known roles the one common area is that all these roles will be involved in supporting change to happen.

  • Trainers usually provide the information.
  • Coaches will help shape the goal and the journey
  • Consultants will usually give advice based on best practice in the sector.

The change may be very small, or transformational.  The changes typically are skills, behaviours, performance, ways of working, products, processes and strategies…..and all these roles support that process of change, they help the change to take place

4 Box Grid Facilitation Roles

So ….‘what is a Facilitator?’  Facilitators will typically design and run workshops, meetings and conferences with the structure to engage the team to meet their objectives…….

Roles 4 Roles photo 2 Roles Photo 3

The facilitator does not lecture the group on how to meet their objectives using a series of ‘death by powerpoint’ presentations.

A facilitator will use more engaging techniques than just asking the question to the group.We know that the typically in old style debates those that speak loudest are the only ones to get heard.

Using a facilitator means everyone gets a chance to take part, to listen, to talk and to build on ideas. The sum of the output will be more powerful than an idea generated by the senior team on their own because this time there is ownership.

At an event we recently ran for Basware  we asked the group to describe the process at the end. This word cloud captures their feelings about the event.

We know that participants leaving any group event with these thoughts have a far better chance of succeeding in implementing the outputs with energy, enthusiasm and vigour.

Word Cloud Change

If results count for you is there then consider the value of having your meetings facilitated by one of our professional facilitators and see how much difference this makes to the engagement levels in your meetings.  Read about what our clients say

Lucybrownsdon@centreforfacilitation.co.uk

Can you Collaborate?

Collaboration is everywhere. Companies are seeking to collaborate with others to develop their brand. As team members we are urged to collaborate with other teams so that we can better serve our customers. Large public sector contracts are requiring the competitor teams to work collaboratively together on the project and to demonstrate competence in collaboration before the contract is awarded.

  • But do we really get what this means to us as individuals?
  • Do we recognise what we need to change in our behaviour so we are seen as someone who can be collaborative?

Probably in answering these questions your responses could be:

Who would not want to be collaborative?

It has become one of those characteristics like communication that everyone believes they do well but equally complains that everyone else does badly!

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Collaboration v Competition

At the heart of our challenge with collaboration is that although we think we want to collaborate we have a deep grained tendency towards competition and to wanting to win. This desire to win can mean that we inadvertently do things which cause the collaborative relationships we have been building to break down. We cannot resist the desire to show that it was our unique contribution/idea that allowed the team to be successful. We do this even when it means the others in our team will appear less effective.

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As a facilitator I will often be asked to observe team working on real or simulated problems and am always fascinated to see how any element of competition will hinder attempts at collaboration. The team just wants to do whatever will lead them to be successful at the task in the short term.

Building Trusting Relationships

So what is it that is needed to make collaboration more possible? The key to this is the ability to trust others. We need to trust that the others in our team will put the urge to win aside and will do the right thing for the team even at the cost of their own personal gain.

  • How do you know you can trust others?
  • How do you make sure that they behave in the interests of the team?

The short (and I know rather disappointing) answer to this is that you can’t. You cannot make others do anything. How they behave in a collaborative relationship will be in reaction to your own behaviour and this is the part you can control. This means that the more useful question to ask about collaboration is “what can I do to be seen as trustworthy?”

In the past trust was always seen as something that took time to build up. Recent insights from Swift Trust Theory have indicated that this is not always the case. In reality a lot of trust comes about through our actions and by consciously demonstrating trust in our behaviour we build that trust relationship.

Can I Be Trusted?

The three main actions you can take to build up your reputation for being trustworthy (and therefore someone I would want to collaborate with) are:

  • Do what you say you will do, when you said you would do it
  • Share what you know with others
  • Do your job well, be competent

This sounds simple but these building bricks start to build up the trust relationship and from this you have the basis of an excellent collaborative working relationship.

The extent of collaboration across different organisations is growing and so we need to make sure that in our organisations we create the conditions that make it possible for teams to collaborate.

There are four key areas to work on with your teams:

  1. Agree ways of working – it is vital to be clear about who does what, what the expectations are for how things are done before starting the tasks.
  2. Define and Share Goals – there will be shared goals for the project but also different team members have different goals. Being open about these personal goals helps each party to get what they need from the collaboration
  3. Manage Behaviour – we all think we are trustworthy, we all think we are great listeners, we all think we are open to feedback but the truth is often very different. We need to support teams to address behaviour and increase the self-awareness within the team.
  4. Review and Reflect on Practice – collaboration needs practice so your teams need to take stock of what went well by conducting a structured lessons learnt review.

Most importantly teams need time to support them in becoming collaborative. Sharing information with others, discussing joint plans, identifying personal objectives, all of this is time consuming. The final goal will be a richer outcome but there will be short term pain which will sabotage the collaborative working unless we recognise this by allocating more initial start-up time for our project teams. A great example of where this valuable time made a huge difference to a start up project is in our case study.

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So can you collaborate?

There are some important things you can do to manage your collaborative behaviour by recognising how strong your competitive desire to win is and looking at ways in which you can rein this in!

You can start developing your trustworthy behaviour so people want to collaborate with you and finally you can give others and demand for yourself the time and space to work in a collaborative manner.

Our facilitation team are skilled in working with teams to encourage greater collaboration. Do contact us for a chat!

Peeping Upwards Above Our Silos: the process of inter-disciplinary working

Diverse skills working together in valuable ‘white space’

As Facilitators we enjoy the stretching challenges we encounter as we strive to help people by providing appropriate processes to achieve ambitious goals. Recently we have successfully provided facilitation in situations where people are engaging ways of working to elevate themselves out of their usual silos into valuable ‘white space’ to create breakthrough or ‘holistic’ solutions. We know there is both a need and benefit for people with diverse skills to work together in some form of ‘higher ground’ that could be called ‘white space’. Sometimes we call this process “Cathedral Thinking”.

white space

Facilitators can help people to reach this white space, by providing well-thought through facilitation processes. These processes are designed so that people are enabled to explore, challenge and articulate a shared goal. We design ways to make sure that people really listen to, hear and understand each other, and then bridge through to working together to achieve progress towards the shared goal.

How can this happen? These four examples are great demonstrations of what I mean by facilitating in the white space:-

I worked with a newly appointed business manager, needing to turnaround an ailing company very quickly. The diagnosis was that there were many people, with excellent functional skills working in strong functions. However, in totality the overall business result was quite frankly abject mediocrity! Through a series of workshops we enabled people to envisage a ‘boundary-less organisation’ where the diverse, but potentially complimentary skills were welded together to achieve a successful, sustainable, robust business.

Another project was focused on constructing a brand new hospital. The traditional ways of working were at best transactional, more frequently adversarial. We invested time to share goals and perspectives and to form common goals. This process motivated everyone and helped people to understand each other’s potential contribution. Unprecedented levels of productivity resulted. It would be easy to assume that everyone just wanted to ‘make as much money as possible’. However when you delve deeper into the shared personal motivations there is far more at stake than this. The installers wanted to go home at the end of the working day without a sore back / neck (ergonomics). We heard stories from the factory workers wanting to go to Sunday morning sports with their children instead of being in the factory making rushed components desperately needed the next day. In practice, a well facilitated process enabled people to achieve their personal goals and make a successful project.

Another project exposed me to another circumstance where diverse skills needed to work together in this valuable white space to craft a comprehensive and robust solution to a very complex set of issues. In this case, an organisation had a need to design and implement a global process / system for dealing with and transparently reporting financial currency hedging. This programme had all the usual ingredients of establishing common goals. The critical factor in this project was the impact of language, and in particular the understanding of meaning and culture within the multi-national team of people. The facilitation processes had to invest time to carefully tease out perspectives. This meant that people were able to appreciate and value the background underlying those perspectives.

More recently, we facilitated an EPSRC sandpit, addressing the Nexus involving Water, Food and Energy. It was delightful to work with and facilitate a wide range of academic disciplines and stakeholders with differing perspectives. Our process supported the group to identify some approaches that transcended the whole topic and expertise in the room. Once again the facilitation processes were designed to enable people to explore, challenge and ultimately share a common goal. We encouraged people to value and connect diversity. The result was to create and articulate novel programmes in the ‘white space’.

This approach can also be seen currently in the world’s response to Ebola, using a ‘Systems Thinking’ perspective. As we start to see progress being made what is becoming clearer is that a diverse range of skills / organisations, including Governments, Armies; Community Leaders; Scientists; Pharmaceutical competitors; Medical professionals; Academics; Charities; came together to formulate and adapt a programme to tackle the situation. It will be enlightening to understand what learning can emerge (de contextualized) and how that learning might be reused to inform any situation where there may be a benefit to enabling a diverse group of skills to work together, to address a shared goal.

Increasingly we see that people, organisations, communities are facing up to challenges which may be most effectively addressed by moving outside and above boundaries into the ‘white space’ described here. In that space, people need to be helped to listen to each other, to understand each other’s language, context, perspective and drivers. Fortunately a professional, skilled Facilitator will be able to provide useful processes to enable this dialogue and engagement.

If you would like to explore ways of reaching upwards to the white space of Cathedral Thinking we would love to talk to you.