Noun: Defined as 2 or more people or organizations working together toward a common or shared goal.
Seems simple and straight forward enough doesn't it? Get together with someone, and work towards something. In order to make your efforts successful, you would need to collaborate with other members of your team in order to make it a success. For example, in order for any sports team to be successful, they too must work together towards their common goal. Perhaps it's winning the next game or even the championship. The team must communicate and collaborate their goals.
But what exactly is collaboration? How does it work? I've been working with collaboration software since the mid-1990's and have been helping individuals and organizations answer this very question for nearly as long.
The Collaboration Equation is best represented by:
Connecting with the right people is essentially the most important part of collaboration. Without the right people in place it would be hard to be effective in any collaborative situation. Imagine you were the Director of IT (AKA DoIT) for a major corporation. You were given as task of creating a strategy to depreciate and replace a number of servers. Would you select the executive assistant for the CEO, the Assistant Marketing Manager, some guy named Charlie and the new hire in support with the awesome hair like Moss from the IT Crowd to work with you on this project?
You are most likely going to work on this project with your hardware implementation team to discuss and to plan out the roll-out. After all, they are the best suited to the task given their knowledge and experience. Connecting with the team best served to work towards the common goal is vital for your efforts to be fruitful.
Research and Planning
After you have connected with the best people to work with, the next step it to plan out what the goals are. Set parameters and establish what your end goals are. Without these being discussed and agreed to, there is little chance that the effort will succeed. Most collaborative efforts will work best with an elected leader who may act as a moderator as required. Spending the time to research your topic is a great way to ensure that they knowledge is on topic and relevant.
educate and share knowledge
Sharing knowledge is power. It is often said that it is essential to create a "Knowledge Sharing Culture". In collaboration, those groups with isolated knowledge looked after by a privileged few is a paradox in of itself and will not survive for long, ultimately failing. Only effective collaboration and communication which spans across the whole group will give the collaborative effort the boost it really needs. In order to enrich a collaborative culture I believe that change must start with the individual. Every member of the collaborative effort has a sphere of influence along with their own individual knowledge, and this is where I believe real education and knowledge sharing will begin.
This stage begins the second phase of our equation. Also known as "The Work" Phase. Time to put your creative juices together, and come up with some solid ideas. Every idea should be evaluated equally using the FAB method. Feature; Advantage; Benefit.
During the Research and Planning stage we set a goal, and now it's time to evaluate if our "Action" meets our planned goal or "Target". Keeping things simple, if our goal was to find a new material for a new shirt design, our target would be that a cotton blend have been chosen; realizing our target. If our goal was to find a new supplier for buttons, and instead we found a new supplier for irons, we did not meet our established goals and we will need to return to our Research and Planning stage.
The final part of our equation is the addition of "Engagement". This is when the action resulted from the product of our equation components now becomes an action item. You've made a decision, it's now time to act upon it.
Let's put this to the test.
The following example will help us test to make sure our equation is valid.
You are the Product Manager for an Ice Cream company named "Cold and Icy". Sales have been on a 'slippery slope' for some time and it's time to make some decisions about the product line.
(C)onnect: You decide that you need to collaborate with your Production, Sales and Marketing Managers teams, as they are the best suited to the task of figuring out a product strategy for the next few quarters.
(R)esearch and Planning: As the Product Manager, you have assembled the best team and announced that the goal of the collaborative effort would be to decide on what product(s) you may need to axe and to find a suitable replacement for it. Devise a plan and execute as soon as possible.
(e)ducate and Share Knowledge: The Sales Manager has been studying reports, and relays to the team that sales of the Guac-&-Mole ice cream flavour have been very poor over the past few quarters. Marketing director says that the response from the field has been so bad that people are actually turning away from your other product lines. The production manager stated that avocados are becoming harder and harder to keep fresh in the hot summer months and there is too much spoilage. She also mentioned that there is an abundance of oranges in storage. The Marketing Manager says that research has demonstrated that Oranges mixed with Ginger and Lime is the next big thing.
(A)ction: A few other new flavours were discussed, and the team decided that a having a taste test would be a great idea. The marketing department was put in charge of developing the plan to establish which new flavor(s) would replace Guac & Mole. The Production team was put to work to develop the new flavors and to submit the samples in time for the taste testers arrival.
(T)arget Realization: After the taste test was completed, the results showed that 2 flavors were preferred by 80% of the testers. Marketing says that these 2 new flavours, Orange-Ginger-Lime Fizz, known as Joozie Fruit, and Green Tea both should replace Guac & Mole. The team decided that the two flavours would hit the market in time for the next season.
(e)ngagement: The final step is create and execute on the established plan of releasing the replacement product(s) within the established time frame.
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