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Learning Nugget 5 - The Art of Communication

Collaboration exists in various forms. In Person, Virtual, Digital and Structured (agenda / time driven) versus Unstructured, learning driven. Unstructured learning time together is extraordinarily valuable, but rarely happens in most workplaces today.

Lets explore the types.

  • In Person – Think live at the same location with each other. Same office, same meeting room, same café

  • Virtual – Think Telepresence, Webex, Conference calls

  • Digital – Think email and now moving to things like Slack, Linkedin, Facebook, Spark, Jive, Chatter etc

Structured is agenda and time driven. A meeting that has very clear focus, topics and start and finish times.

Unstructured has no agenda, it’s a thinking session, a collision of thought, brainstorming if you will, it has a loose set of boundaries, typically an insight, learning or directional outcome.

The graphic below is my opinion so feel free to challenge it, but for most large organisations would it be fair to say that the percentages outlined below represent how most organisations collaborate today?

This will vary by person’s location. Those in countries outside head office would have a different map given their geographic distance from the primary offices.

Are your clients collaboration maps any different ?

Is the above the best investment of time to drive the desired outcomes from the collaboration? Do these methods deliver the best outcomes ?

Clearly, not every method is appropriate for every circumstance. A post win / loss review might be best suited to say a virtual structured discussion. But a capability brainstorming session might be best suited to an In Person Unstructured discussion.

Yet, we rarely think about HOW we will collaborate. Systems 1 thinking kicks in and we merely do what we’ve always done. Until recently that was email and conference calls. But we’ve seen much greater use of Webex and video which is awesome. That is now becoming the default.

We argue that you need time spent in every one of these 6 areas. It should be balanced. Not too heavily weighted to one or two versus the rest. It’s an AND not an OR situation. I’ll show you stats to prove it.

Chess Media Group in 2010 conducted a study on what type of collaboration delivered the best outcomes. Structured or Unstructured. The overwhelming victor in that battle was BOTH. When both used in unison, the best results were achieved.

We all know the basic construct of communications below. If we don’t know the exact stats, we’ve heard it before and have a broad understanding. Reflect on those stats and go back up to the table above. Only In Person effectively deals with ALL forms, Virtual and Digital lose or minimise elements, mostly through bias and beliefs. Let me give you an example, if you had a video call with your life partner it would be very different than a video call with your colleagues. Your body language, your tone, your pitch, even the language you speak with. Yet when those two colleagues get together face to face, it tends to be far more relaxed, shifts between business and non business discussion, and a bit more free form.

This is where you can add the most value. It’s this thinking, this ability to help clients to think and execute HOW they collaborate differently.

There is lots of talk about adoption (not a term we agree with as it's very supplier centric, not outcome centric). But what is adoption ? Is it getting people in your clients business to use your stuff ? No it’s helping them to drive better more effective more productive collaborative outcomes.

In fact if you were to be 100% customer outcome driven, what if the ONLY way for the company to deliver the best collaborative outcomes was to conduct strictly in person meeting and discussions. Would you advise them of that, would you help them achieve that outcome, even if it meant selling them nothing ? Genuine outcome based go-to-client models would say yep, that’s exactly what we should do. Here’s the good news, I don’t know of a single company that would fit that criteria though.

Helping your customer create the collaboration maps, or what we refer to a “Business Interaction Maps”, a concept we developed way back in 2010, is a really critical part of both the Phase 0 and 1 envisioning phases and the post “Blinky lights on” execution phase.

But creating your own map first is even more important.

That email you are about to send, should that be a virtual unstructured conversation instead of an email. That conference call you are about to have, would it be better with video ?

Enough of my thoughts, lets look at the research.

Here are a few articles that delve into the research and science of how we collaborate.

Think about this data and insight from two aspects as you read them:

1. how does this influence your thinking on how you and your teams (including extended teams) collaborate, and

2. how does it influence the discussions you have with your prospects and clients

Manage Your Team’s Collective Time – HBR article. Good article on research of how teams operate and what drives the best outcomes.

Managing Your Mission Critical Knowledge – another great one from HBR. The war for talent is the war. This is a bit of a longer article but talks specifically to unstructured and what the author refers to as undiffused knowledge.

To tap into, to build, to evolve tacit knowledge, you need unstructured collaboration. If tacit knowledge is the key to competitive differentiation in the war for talent (acquisition and leverage) how can you help your clients with their unstructured collaboration strategies.

Finally a wonderful 5 page whitepaper from McKinsey on how to drive effective collaboration. I’ll share just 2 quotes from it:

“People can collaborate with others but still be accountable for their results – and they can (and should) disagree amongst themselves without losing faith in their ability to work together toward a common goal. “

“True collaboration can’t exist without personal commitment, and commitment can’t exist without the possibility of engaging in healthy conflict and debate. If I go to a meeting but don’t have the chance to test my views against contrary opinions, I may leave the room saying “yes” to initiatives without feeling any personal commitment to them. Before you can have healthy debate, you need to establish a baseline of trust that makes it safe to voice dissenting views. “

I’m going to suggest email isn’t the right format or technique for those two outcomes.

One final one to facilitate deeper thinking on the subject.

Written 12 years ago. Still valuable.

I would love to hear your thoughts on structured versus unstructured collaboration. The value of each and more importantly we know it won’t happen on it’s own, without intervention people will just do hat they’ve always done. How can our thinking on this be applied to Phase 0 conversations with clients ?

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