Published on December 21st, 2012 | by Adam McKibbin
You’re collaborating, but are you an extreme collaborator?
When I first heard the phrase “extreme collaboration,” I rolled my eyes extremely far back. I pictured trust falls in the company cafeteria, or silly attempts to shake up an org chart (“every other Friday, you’ll switch job titles with the team member on your left”). Plus, the whole “extreme” thing* pretty much jumped the shark when it started appearing on the labels of mundane household goods.
While there’s a virtual unanimous chorus talking about the increasing importance of collaboration in your workplace, extreme collaboration (XC) hasn’t become a full-on buzzword just yet, so there’s still time for you to get in on the ground floor. But should you?
Gartner recently outlined their six best practices for embracing this “new operating model.” While XC inspires the occasional edict that does indeed sound extreme (e.g. Atos issuing a blanket ban of internal email), a lot of this buzzy new philosophy boils down to pragmatism (Xtreme Pragmatizm!). Let’s boil it down to the main points. You may find you’re already an XC. I’ll refrain from using words like “nexus,” but if you want to get technical about it, check out the Stanford study on how our pals and neighbors at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory incorporated XC into their design process.
1. Take meetings in the cloud
Flexibility isn’t just a perk bestowed upon employees; it’s smart business. You may be surprised (and thrilled) to see how endless email chains are minimized by online collaborative environments. We’ve previously discussed studies demonstrating that remote employees are at least as productive as their office counterparts. Thanks to today’s collaboration solutions, your remote workers don’t need to operate at a communicative disadvantage. Cloud collaboration pays off for people who share a physical office, too. “Virtual collaboration is critical to XC,” the Gartner report notes.
2. Live in the now, man
Sesame Workshop uses SocialBridge to collaborate across continents. “What used to take weeks now takes days – and sometimes hours,” says their CTO, Noah Broadwater. Companies are reaping real benefit from real-time collaboration. Instead of fearing the Facebookification of the workplace, companies should harness their employees’ comfort with immediacy and accessibility. “Social business” sounds scary if you translate it as “a new way to share cat pictures,” but it’s really about supporting a better way of TCOB (sorry, had to throw in a hip acronym for the kids). What’s more: sharing cat pictures (in moderation) helps productivity and morale anyway.
3. Listen to your adoring public, even when (especially when) they don’t adore you.
This one is really simple: listen. Listen to your customers, your clients, your fans and followers, your employees, etc. Make your customers or clients part of your community. Consider new ways of making their voices heard. What’s so extreme about that? Not much, as even the study acknowledges.
4. Reward sustained team success rather than one-off individual success
Take it from the father of a toddler: human beings like being rewarded, even for doing things that are clearly beneficial to them. Gartner suggests that businesses move away from “rewarding individual efforts to deliver specific, one-time outcomes” and instead shift toward recognizing collaborative solutions to complex challenges. I’d add a little caution; you obviously don’t want your employees feeling like personally underappreciated cogs in the machine. But if you’re wanting to foster a more collaborative culture, it doesn’t make sense if all of the rewards and recognition go to people working in silos.
5. Find your company’s Nate Silver and make him do a bunch of analysis
2012 was a triumphant year for statistics. Keep the analysis-and-projection party going in 2013 by keeping tabs on the levels of interaction and collaboration on your team. More nuanced reporting continually refines social media strategy, allowing businesses to put their energies into the platforms where they can build sustainable relationships. As Gartner points out, there will continue to be new ways to analyze your cloud activity as well. I recently spoke with a customer who’d just pulled data on user activity across SocialBridge – and was using that information both to identify and nudge stragglers (or collabo-haters) as well as to find lessons from the most active collaborators. Many times, early adopters and collaboration champions will use your collaboration solutions in ways you didn’t even anticipate.
6. Kill the comfort zone
Gartner encourages businesses to experiment with “new ways of collaborating and interacting” like meetings over mobile video, gamification theories applied to internal goals, email blackout times, etc. My caveat: if you’re going to experiment, you need to prepared for a little pushback, and be able to acknowledge a failed experiment. An XC solution that revolutionizes one business may be a clumsy fit for yours.
* Not to be confused with the band Extreme, which never jumped the shark.