An unbeatable weapon in business and CX
This week, we have a bonus newsletter from Joe Williams. Joe is a Design and Experience leader focused on understanding people’s problems, fostering partnerships, and delivering cross-channel solutions that make a real difference to consumers.
Collaboration is an essential element of any successful business. When two or more people come together with a shared goal, valuable things can happen. The trick is to make sure that collaboration is supported broadly and performed properly. Hear me out.
Collaboration is unique in that creates generative ideas that are owned by the collective. Trust and safety are critical to effective collaboration, and when achieved, what is created through collaboration could never be done independently.
Generative Ideas are the Reward
Generative ideas are concepts and insights that emerge from the synergy and effort of collaboration — you can’t attribute them to one person. It’s the diversity of the group, the collective creativity, the shared experience and the constraints the collaboration offers, that create new thinking, breakthrough ideas, innovative concepts and novel solutions to challenges often seen as unfixable.
It takes the collective effort of the team entrusted with collaboration, to build shared trust and understanding, maintain focus and feel safe to express itself to concept, innovate and refine ideas bringing value to the opportunity. That is the beauty collaboration.
Similar to generative AI — generative ideas combine information from diverse sources to create novel solutions or directions available only within the collective effort.
Business Value of Collaboration
A healthy business expects cross-functional teams to bring a diverse set of experiences into situations where they can express ideas, try, fail, and succeed and document the outcomes to drive process, product, and feature enhancements.
If you operate collaboratively, either in day-to-day operations and/or in workshops, you and your cohort are creating superior ideas and more efficient collective understanding. Making decisions and executing faster and with more confidence is pure business value. Fostering generative ideas and innovation is as well.
Getting it Right
Given the opportunity to collaborate it is critical to avoid “Performative Collaboration.” The less potent and mostly uninspired chair sitting many of us have been privy to from time to time. It’s not any one person’s job to ensure that everyone shows up inspired, but there are things you can do to improve your chances.
If you are facilitating a collaborative workshop, here are some things you can do to improve the collaborative environment.
Be proactive to make sure the experience is the right size, has the right participants, and that everyone is clear about the intentions of the workshop (Agenda’s are important!).
Build time at the beginning of the event to establish trust, help everyone recognize the space between cooperation and collaboration.
Celebrate sparks of collaboration so people can see what great is. Moderate when you have to — don’t let one or two participants sour the activity!
If you have co-conspirators in the session, put them in spaces where they can model behavior and help others focus.
Meeting in the Middle
Whatever your craft, in a cross-functional collaboration session, here are a few things you can consider:
Renounce being the idea person — you can’t create new things in a collaborative setting if you see yourself as the broker of ideas. Be a part of the circle, don’t defend the center.
Bring grace all the way down. That person you are convinced doesn’t want to be there? What if they just had a bad weekend? That person who shot down your idea 2 years ago? What if your idea was subjectively bad anyways? It’s not your movie right now, its a bunch of people together in common cause who likely would love to change the world with you and you have to open your heart to that, even when preconceived notions tickle your brain.
Invite the possibility that this could be epic. You and everyone else are giving off hundreds of subtle signals to each other about how you feel and what is happening. You are a human hype machine if you want to be.
Find the helpers — you are not alone. Someone is messaging you to get you excited, someone is glad to see you after the last great session you had together. Someone you inspired in a previous meeting is ready to lift you up if you are low today — just put yourself out there.
The bigger the organization often the more impossible things feel to achieve. True things can be slow but I have seen time and again that 5–10 people can do what a thousand people can only dream of. Your collaborative team can imagine, you can decide, you can group up and build something in 2 days that a division of a company often fails at doing in a quarter.
It is on YOU to broadcast the success and value of collaborative efforts. That may not feel fair — group work in high school was never fair either and somehow you managed to do 80% of it then too! Good news though, other people in your team care about this too, and if they put the same effort to show success to the organization, then you are creating a chorus of energy that goes even further and has a better chance at breaking through.
An important piece of advice here — You never stop sharing the power of collaboration. Every time you do a session or a generative solution adds business value do a one sheet or a summary deck or an email overview to your sponsors and peers. People have a tendency to move on and you remind them.
When they paint the Golden Gate Bridge it takes a year to do from end to end. When they are done they don’t go home, they go back to where they started and start painting again. You are painting forever!
Speak the Language of Business
Whatever cross functional chair you sit in, from Strategy to pure Design. Business value is the real language of the company. You have to be comfortable tying your work to a bottom line. If you can’t, one of two things may be true:
You didn’t bring a real business value — this would be a bummer and you probably won’t get a lot of passes for this.
You did bring business value (woo-hoo!) now you just need to articulate the value to a broad (and sometimes suspicious) audience.
So let’s talk about business value. Companies like it when employees create solutions that either improve the cost of operations or expand the market value of the company e.g. more customers, new products, new features and price points.
Great news, collaboration when done properly can improve outcomes in all of those spaces!
If you have a cross functional team working with you it may be easier for say, a Product Owner to draw up the ROI (Return on Investment) for your sessions or program. If you are a Designer/UX/Research/etc., I implore you to get good at this too.
Improving collaborative sessions, and finding and creating an enduring culture of collaboration within your teams and across the company is epic work. But its worth it. In fact its essential.
Collaboration is the amalgamation of teamwork, kindness, diversity, inclusivity, safety, innovation and a dozen other attributes of a healthy company. If you are looking for a place to work that you want to work at you are looking for collaborative spaces. If you are serious about doing great things you already know how important collaboration is. Healthy companies nurture it, healthy cultures sustain it.
Hold onto it if you have it and help spark it if you don’t!
Joe Williams is a Design and Experience leader focused on understanding people problems, fostering partnerships, and delivering cross-channel solutions that make a real difference to consumers.
Previously, Joe led the Enterprise Design organization for UnitedHealth Group and helped foster a consumer-centered vision for enterprise healthcare.
Recently, Joe founded Lamppost, a solutions company helping drive Design and Transformation for companies of all sizes and domains.
This newsletter is brought to you by Nora Guerrera, Managing Director of Northome Group. Northome Group is a business coaching firm specializing in strategy, futures forecasting, and operations. We’ve helped everyone from sole proprietors to large organizations understand, adopt, and operationalize a discovery-driven, evidence-based, and forward-looking approach, and we can help you, too.