7 steps to help your team collaborate
People are getting ready to return to the office. Some of us want to, some of us have been told to; and some of us have been warned that our careers depend on it.
But it now seems obvious that most of us will probably not be working full-time in the office. The working world has been upended by the pandemic, and now the search is on for a new normal that will work, for both the organisation and for each of its people.
One of the reasons most often cited for the need to return to the office is the need to collaborate with our fellow workers. And among the many reasons for collaboration, the need to innovate is one of the strongest. The pandemic has given us all lots of thinking time. Now it’s time to swap ideas, and see what will survive the white heat of our colleagues’ analysis and feedback.
It is clear many people will adopt (if they hadn’t done already) hybrid ways of working, sometimes in and sometimes out of the office. The 3:2 model is a popular model. The UK Civil Service is testing a 30/70 model. What is clear is that increasingly people will be doing their solo work at home, possibly in longer sprints than before. And when they’re in the office they will be doing far less solo work, and far more team work.
So how can the organisation get ready for this? How can you maximise the return on your investment in group and team working? Here are seven steps to collaboration heaven.
1. Sort out the working environment
Create room for collaboration. Not just more meeting rooms, but better use of communal areas. Increase the amount of visual, public communication. Put some magnetic whiteboards around the office, to allow people to add their input and ideas, without forcing too much structure on them. Getting the right space and the right equipment goes a long way in fostering collaboration. (Did we mention whiteboard desks?)
2. Review your teams’ structures and size
Once a team gets too big, its cohesion and singularity of purpose become harder to build and maintain. At the same time beware of trying to impose uniformity on the team members – it’s neither possible nor desirable. All teams need sufficient diversity of thought and approach to achieving the shared purpose– that’s what puts the speck of sand in the oyster to create the pearl. So pay attention to team dynamics. Not everyone takes to team working, especially in its most extrovert forms. Lots of people will secretly be hankering after the pandemic’s unexpected gift, the permission to get on with your own work, without interference, where and when you feel like doing it. Not everyone is looking forward to the return….
3. Get your processes fit for the new ways of working
As a starter for ten, review how permanent remote working changes how you need to do things. Don’t forget your client in this – start all process reviews from the client (external or internal), and work backwards. Then, review and improve all your processes that drive and deliver collaborative working. Finally, integrate all your collaboration processes into the rest of how your organisation works. Nothing will kill collaboration like a neglected idea, an idea that couldn’t find a way forward. Make sure your management processes can adapt to the new ways of working, and can handle the new flow of ideas and ambitions. Not sure how to get started on all this? We can help, contact firstname.lastname@example.org for an initial, confidential discussion.
4. Go visual
Make the office more visual, and make visual the default mode in the office. Start getting your work and project plans visible. There are plenty of techniques – Kanban is very popular but by no means unique. Visibility increases sharing, and speeds up feedback and improvement. It also forces you to have a plan to share. You might be surprised how uncommon having a plan actually is. As the office becomes more visual, you will also have to make your own management style more visual. Post on a board what you’re doing, what you’re working on, and where you are. Put your own ideas and requests for others’ ideas on boards. Add your feedback to the ideas’ boards. And then sit back and watch your teams copy your way of working, as you create a more open and participative environment. It will make coming back to the office worth it.
5. Make huddles a habit
Get project teams to run a daily huddle (you can call it Scrum if you want). The best huddles focus on exchanging information quickly, and focusing on the issues that the team, and only the team, can solve. Don’t overdo this – one of the things we learned from the pandemic and the desire to make everything Zoom is that some meetings could (should) have been done in an email. Extend the huddle idea to whole team meetings – make some parts of the meeting stand-up, maybe round a whiteboard. Have multiple whiteboards and break the team up into smaller groups to address specific questions and issues – this should maximise the number of potential solutions.
6. Run specific innovation sessions
You can extend the idea of huddles into more formal “brainstorming”. These are often quite free and unstructured, but we know that if it is to work properly, it needs structure and preparation. It also needs purpose and rigour, so concentrate on the questions you are framing for the team, and the process by which you will facilitate and execute the session. It helps to have a specific method – we’re very biased towards LogoVisual thinking (LVT), which sounds complicated but isn’t – and has proven very effective at making meaning quickly out of large amounts of free-form input. Your team will like the tactile elements of the method, and the fact that it is very democratic and participative, immune to being hijacked by the person with the loudest voice. Whatever you do, and however you do it, you will need a large whiteboard or similar. We can provide the whiteboards and the method, and can help you run the first session. Run one and you’ll want to run many more.
7. Don’t neglect well-being (as if you could)
In all this excitement, check that individuals are not struggling with this new journey. Create some opportunities for exercise and relaxation – why not put some simple exercise devices (e.g. a spin or turn board, a balance board, some weights) that don’t require getting changed in one of the communal areas, or create a quiet area or a library? And don’t ignore the team as a whole. Look at team building exercises. They don’t have to be all Outward-Bound exercises in replicating the Kon-Tiki expedition. Teams grow when they do things together, repetitively. Teams that can learn from their mistakes together go further and better. So, find some team building exercises you can do in the office; use them as a break, maybe towards the end of the day (maybe to counter that 4 p.m. slump).
Once you get started, you’ll have your own new ideas as well. And most importantly, your people will know exactly how they will be able to better work together. They will know and feel what works and what doesn’t. You need to keep observing, keep listening to feedback, and keep fine-tuning your approach to collaboration, so you can innovate, and prosper.
2021’s new normal will be a point of departure, and creative organisations and teams will develop their own ideas around collaboration and innovation quickly. Join them.