You’ve got a clear goal, you’ve made sure everyone knows what matters most, but your team still won’t collaborate. It’s a frustration many leaders face. If this happens to you, it may be because you’ve only got halfway to the clarity your team needs. In this episode David shares where to start when your team won’t collaborate.
What are the rules you’ve created that get in the way of you and your team’s success? What if there were a better way?
In this powerful interview with serial-entrepreneur, New York Times best selling author, and LEADx founder, Kevin Kruse, we discuss the vast power of co-creation and the ownership you can build in your team (and life). Recognize that Great Leaders Have No Rules (the title of Kevin’s most recent book) and how to lead yourself and your team in a way that transforms outcomes, is more fun, and doesn’t drive you or anyone else nuts.
Oh, and there are a few bits of marketing wisdom and personal leadership examples too.
This months topic, collaboration, is particularly poignant for me, as the Frontline Festival has now been an active collaborative adventure including thought leaders around the world for five-and-a-half years.
In March of 2013, while still working at Verizon and having been blogging for under a year, I sent a curious email to thought leaders whom I respected and asked them if they’d be willing to share their very best leadership thinking for frontline leaders. I was overwhelmed by the response of so many well-established bloggers willing to play along.
I was a busy executive and an earnest rookie blogger. For grins, you can see my headshot at the time 😉
I could never have imagined how many of those who originally contributed would still be sharing their insights on this our 66th Frontline Festival, as well as all of the new people who would have joined along the way.
Some of you may remember our original Festival branding (see right.)
I’m delighted that so many of these contributors have become collaborators in many other ways and some of whom have now become incredible friends. And yes, this first Frontline Festival is the first nugget of collaboration I had with David, who is now my husband, co-author, and business partner.
I have learned so much from all of you. I am grateful for the work you on our shared mission of growing leaders.
We’re always welcoming new contributors. In honor of customer service week, next month’s festival is all about customer service. You can submit your blog post URL here!
Now, on to collaboration!
Thanks to Joy and Tom Guthrie of Vizwerx Group for the great pic and to all our contributors!
Collaboration Tools and Techniques
Julie Winkle Giulioni of DesignArounds writes The Work of ColLABORation. Done well, collaboration looks effortless. It appears to be a fluid give-and-take, a hand-in-glove partnership among individuals who make it all look natural and easy. But these appearances belie the fact that ‘labor’ is at the center of collaboration… and that most collaboration is the result of very deliberate work and attention.
We particularly love Julie’s 3D reflection approach where people are encouraged to reflect on what they need, what the other person needs, and what they most need together. Follow Julie.
Laura Schroeder of Working Girl shares Get Off the Couch: Agility, Innovation and Failure. Collaboration helps drive innovation but how you do it matters. Without a cohesive strategy and clear priorities pulling everyone in the right direction – and clear game rules – collaboration on its own can result in wasted effort and demotivated teams. Follow Laura.
Great insights here about how collaboration relates to vision. True collaboration involves working together to achieve something new.
David Grossman of The Grossman Group provides What Great Teams are Made Of (It’s Not What You Might Expect.) A study found that the time spent by managers and employees in collaborative activities has ballooned by 50 percent or more over the last two decades. The message is clear: paying attention to how teams interact is critical for effective leadership. Research shows that the best and most effective teams aren’t those that combined the best and brightest people, but rather, something you might not expect. Follow David.
Collaboration is like carbonation for fresh ideas. Working together bubbles up ideas you would not have come up with solo, which gets you further faster. ~ Caroline Ghosn
As you navigate through the rest of your life, be open to collaboration. Other people and other people’s ideas are often better than your own. Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life. ~ Amy Poehler
Paula Kiger of Big Green Pen gives us a book review of What the Eyes Don’t See. When Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha saw signs of a problem in her community, her questions were refused and minimized. It took collaboration with other caring people to help her get her message across and save lives. Follow Paula.
It’s easy to talk about collaboration. It’s much harder to do it.
After visiting one of our clients in Guatemala City, Karin, Sebastian, and I traveled to Antigua, Guatemala where my daughter owns a clothing design business. She took us to Hobbitengango, a Tolkein-inspired Hobbit-like village set in the mountains overlooking a beautiful Guatemalan valley whose motto is “Disconnect to reconnect.”
There, we met Dan, one of the visionaries and architects behind the solar and wind-powered village (where you can stay overnight in a Hobbit house and enjoy fantastic food.) Dan is passionate about Guatemala’s natural resources. He works to fight deforestation, regrow Guatemala’s forests, and clean up trash in the countryside.
He shared some of the challenges he encountered creating what has become a popular tourist destination.
When he started out, Dan encountered a man who was illegally harvesting lumber. He called the authorities. They caught the man and asked if Dan wanted to press charges.
Instead, Dan offered the man a job: planting trees.
“He needed to make a living and support his family. He can’t do that from jail,” Dan said. “Now he’s able to provide and he’s repairing some of the damage he did to the forest.”
Dan shared another incident where a car drove off the road and into a neighboring farmer’s field where it did a lot of damage. As soon as he heard about the damage, Dan went to see what had happened.
When he arrived at the field, a woman “rushed out of her house, waving a machete, and yelling, saying I destroyed her fields and don’t care about anyone.”
Dan explained that another motorist had caused the damage. He had also already called his soil construction expert to repair her field. In addition, he would build a fence for her property at his expense to prevent future problems.
“She seemed surprised that I didn’t fight back, that I didn’t want to argue.”
Dan smiled, then said, “Why make enemies when you can make friends?”
Why make enemies when you can make friends?
Land in the And
We meet many leaders who talk about the value of collaboration, who want their people working together, and who get frustrated when their colleagues won’t cooperate (which often means “why won’t you see things my way?”)
It caught our attention is that, as a leader, Dan wasn’t just “being nice” in building the relationships with his neighbor and the illegal logger. He was focused on achieving his business results: reversing damage to the forest and building a viable visitor attraction. He does it by building collaborative, results-focused relationships.
This is the heart of Winning Well: your ability to “land in the and” – to focus on both results and relationships, to show up with confidence and humility.
Collaboration – Can We Trust You?
Real collaboration isn’t easy because it requires you to put people before projects and truly invest in the other person’s success. How can you help your colleague achieve their results while they help you with yours?
If you’re in a cutthroat work environment and true collaboration is rare, this might feel incredibly vulnerable and perhaps even naïve.
In these situations, don’t sacrifice your project for the sake of building collaboration. Find small ways to invest in other people, to build trust, and create mutual wins. If someone is toxic and destructive, focus your energy with others.
It will take time.
Dan gained a great team member when he offered the illegal logger a job. His relationship with the farmer, however, didn’t turn into a collaborative success. He greets her and she nods. “But,” says Dan, “She’s not an enemy.”
Collaboration requires trust and investment in other’s success. Leave us a comment and share: How do you build collaborative results-focused relationships at work?
“I’m sick of this crap! My team won’t collaborate – why can’t they just figure this out?”
Scott was CEO of an engineering firm that produced communications hardware and software for industries around the globe.
He had worked hard with his board and senior leadership team to settle on their strategic M.I.T. for the next 18 months. They needed to launch a new product to remain competitive in a market they had once led.
He held a company meeting where he made the goal painfully clear to everyone in the room. “We need to get this new product to market by this deadline, or we’re out of business in five years.”
Within six weeks he was exasperated. His people were at war with one another. Several senior VPs were about to quit and the do-or-die deadline was looking like a dream.
Before too long, customer service and sales are at each other’s throats. Engineering and marketing are having shouting matches in the halls while finance and human resources won’t talk at all.
When their team won’t collaborate we’ve watched executives get frustrated and shout, “Why can’t you guys figure this out? Just work together and solve the problem!”
Maybe you’re a frontline leader and you’ve worked hard to establish a clear, shared team vision and the M.I.T. initiative for this quarter, but your team ends up squabbling.
Why Your Team Won’t Collaborate
When your people can’t unify in pursuit of a common, clearly established goal, the problem is usually that you’ve only established 50% clarity.
You’ve clarified results, but you haven’t clarified relationships – and that is frequently why your team won’t collaborate.
In Scott’s case (and this is VERY common) he had made the new product a priority, but was still evaluating individual departments based on other criteria.
For instance, customer service was evaluated on their ability to retain customers, but at the same time, engineering was all but ignoring response-to-existing-customer requests in favor of getting the new product to market. So customer service naturally saw stubborn engineering as a threat to their bonuses and even employment.
Customer service continually requested that sales lend some of their people to try to save existing accounts. Sales people were being assessed on quotas that were unrelated to the new product’s launch.
In short, everyone was doing what made the most sense for their individual success and was frustrated that their colleagues wouldn’t cooperate.
Scott had defined an overarching goal, but had left the organizational systems and processes untouched.
Those systems and processes were built to achieve different goals.
When his people came to him and asked whether the engineering prioritization of new product over customer retention was okay, he got frustrated. “Why can’t they just figure it out?”
The answer: Because he’d given them conflicting goals.
What To Do About It When Your Team Won’t Collaborate
Real teams succeed or fail together. They have a clear goal and they all have a clear role to play in achieving it.
Effective leaders establish clarity of results and relationships.
Clarity of results is often easier to define:
What’s the M.I.T. we must accomplish this year?
What are our three most important strategic M.I.T. initiatives?
What are the M.I.T. behaviors we need at the executive, manager, and frontline levels?
Clarity of relationships, however, requires you to address some additional questions:
How are roles and handoffs defined and communicated?
How do department or individual team member priorities align with M.I.T. initiatives?
What are the most important values, systems, and processes guiding everyone’s behavior?
In Scott’s case, this meant we had to ask and answer some tough questions:
Would customer retention goals be lowered or continue at prior levels?
Either way, how could these be achieved in ways that aligned with the timely new product launch?
How much attention should engineering give to resolving existing customer issues?
How would performance bonuses be changed to align with the stated M.I.T. of the new product launch?
If you’ve established a clear M.I.T. but people are siloed, caught in endless arguments, and the team won’t collaborate, take a hard look at the relational clarity and how you can get everyone aligned with the new goal – not just in theory, but in reality.
Leave us a comment and share your thoughts: How do you ensure that everyone on your team understands their role in achieving a shared goal?
I would describe our meeting as a roll of the dice. Perhaps someday we will upgrade our relationship to “weak ties,” but yesterday we were just two of eight hundred and fifty humans at the Great Ideas Conference chatting through our freebie Hyatt sunglasses over lunchtime brisket and gluten-free potato salad. “Joe,” the CEO (named substituted for anonymity and rhyme), seemed genuinely intrigued by our LGL mission. He works with significant innovators (with a capital I– think people who will invent the next product you must have and will be willing to spend too much for.)
“Karin, what I’d be most interested to hear from you is how you build trust with weak ties. We depend on that. Getting true innovators to connect with and trust one another online and around the globe is a vital ingredient of real progress.”
Game on. I’ve got perspective (as Granovetter’s strength of weak ties theory is arguably my favorite communcation theory of all time), but I’m sure our LGL tribe is up to the challenge. Let’s go help Joe (and others ready to go) make positive change in our world.
5 Ways to Strengthen Trust With Weak Ties
All the components of the Green’s trust equation still apply (credibility + reliability + intimacy/ self orientation)
1. Share expertise (Credibility)
Share your good stuff. Showing up with real expertise will attract other curious and innovative souls. The more people are talking about your ideas, the higher the probability of being introduced to other experts with complementary or challenging views.
2. Respect Others Consistently (Reliability)
I’m always amazed at the stupidity of those who check out credentials before helping. Or treat folks differently based on letters behind their name or klout scores. Discriminatory respect ignores the strength of weak ties theory. Treat everyone with deep respect and you’ll be known as the “really great guy (or gal)” others “just have to meet.” The brother of the intern you met in the forum may turn out to be just who you need on your next project.
3. Do What You Say (Reliability)
It’s certainly easier to blow off a commitment to a weak tie than a colleague. You don’t have to help everyone, but if you say you will, do.
4. Be Real (Intimacy)
Don’t be a snob or tell us how wonderful you are, just show us through your ideas and engagement. Share a bit about yourself as a person. Be honest about where you’re stuck. Whether you’re around the world or sitting in the cube next door, human beings want to work with other human beings.
5. Give generously without expectation (Self-Orientation)
If you’re just out for yourself, people will smell it and tell their weak ties. Social media makes it easy folks, to warn the world. In my own collaborations, I’m consistently being warned of when to steer clear. “Trust checks” are often only a DM (Twitter Direct Message) away. (See also: 7 Reasons Collaboration Breaks Down.)
People trust people who know what they’re doing, who show up consistently with a generous heart. Be that guy, and your weak ties will quickly tighten into trusted bonds of true collaboration.
If I had to pick a side, I would have chosen hers. But picking sides was entirely beside the point.
The other guy’s heels were dug in deeper than skis sunk in a tree well of deep powder. No amount of convincing was going to change his mind. “It’s time to let it go.” I offered. “This battle is not worth winning.”
“But I’m right, she insisted.”
That’s entirely possible. But the battle was weakening the relationship, and was making the project much less fun. When projects feel hard, they seldom blossom with creativity which is what we needed most. Plus the wasted energy was exhausting all of us.
Should the other, older and theoretically more mature guy have been the one to succumb? Perhaps. But he didn’t. Age isn’t necessarily a leadership competency.
And so I offer our collective wisdom from the scar tissue from this battle. I’m book marking this page as a reminder to myself as well. Battle losing is never handled.
5 Reasons to Lose a Battle
1. To maintain your dignity.
This may sound counterintuitive, but trust me, no one shows up at their very best when they’re spitting teeth mad. Even the ugly words that you’re saying on the inside ooze toxins from your pores.
2. To enhance your reputation
Others are watching how you handle the small battles. People respect (and look to follow) leaders who get the big picture and focus on the end game over minor irritations and disagreements.
3. To win the war
Getting mired down in the debate over the small stuff will drain the energy for what matters most.
4. You might be wrong
5. To preserve the relationship.
In long-term collaborations it’s almost always true that it’s more important to preserve the relationship rather than win on some minor point. Even if you’re majorly ticked off, consider the satellite relationships that are impacted by your disagreement.
How To Decide If a Battle’s Worth Losing
Members of our online community weighed in with some initial advice. I hope you’ll add yours.
The phrase I use is “Do you want to be effective…or “right”?”As a leader, your team exists to achieve results. That, and the leaders you leave behind you, are the measures of success. More of than not, insistence on being ‘right’ prevents you from achieving either of those outcomes.
Great ideas come in halves. Work is enhanced by true collaboration. One of the best parts of my entrepreneurial journey has been the amazing collaborations, in writing, in business, in shared passions.
I’ve got four deep collaborations in process now, including writing a children’s picture book with Alli Polin and the launch of a Parent’s Guide to Leadership (a free ebook downloadable from the sidebar.)
I’ve also had a few false starts.
7 Reasons Collaboration Breaks Down
Here are my lessons learned. I look forward to hearing what you would add
Misaligned Passions –Collaboration works best when you’re both deeply in it to win it. Your shared passion fuels inspiration. If one or the other of you is less of a zealot, sooner or later the spark will fade.
Propinquity- Joining up with the usual suspects or the guy next door, simply because of convenience limits possibility. Go slower and cast a wider net when looking for potential partners. When you stumble on chemistry search deeper. Sure working with partners around the globe is logistically more tricky, but becoming easier each day due to amazing technology.
Score Keeping – Real collaborators don’t keep score. They’re too engaged in the cause to count who’s doing what. The focus is on the end state.
Surface Respect – For true collaboration to blossom mutual respect must run deep and thick. It becomes slippery when one or the other feels superior.
Fuzzy Communication- Collaboration requires a constant flow of real-time communication. Don’t rely on email or chats, look in each other’s eyes, even if it’s over Skype.
Short Term View- True collaborators value the relationship over the small stuff. They’re willing to let go of what really doesn’t matter and spend time seeking to understand differences that do.
Rigid Boundaries – True collaboration involves doing whatever it takes to get the job done. Toe stepping goes unnoticed or is met with a real-time discussion.
Knowing when to stand your ground is a fine art. Digging in your heals at the wrong time will damage your credibility and impact. Yielding when you shouldn’t, makes for weak leadership and dangerous results.
When To Stand Your Ground
Sometimes it’s clear. If it’s unethical, immoral, illegal, or a violation of human rights, stand your ground, get support, and do what’s right. Jacquie Garton-Smith shares:
It’s reasonable to stand your ground when you have carefully, comprehensively and constructively evaluated the alternatives and it remains clearly the way to go. Good to demonstrate you’ve been open to the options even if the final decision is the same. And of course sometimes a better way becomes evident.
When to Back Down
Of course there are times when backing down is the obvious choice. Backing down makes sense when relationships trump the issue at hand, you need more data, or your team or experts know more. Sometimes ideas are worth giving a try even when you’re skeptical.
Stand Your Ground: Decision Points
But most of the time it’s more murky than that. It’s particularly challenging when your values conflict with company values. I asked some members of Lead Change Group to weigh in:
It seems that two sets of values are in play here: The organization’s values and your personal beliefs about right and wrong. When both are threatened, the decision is easy; you should dig in and insist. You will do so with the full backing of your organization. I think the same can be said when your personal values are threatened, but not organizational values. In these cases, personal considerations around cost loom much larger. In other words, standing your ground may cost you and only the person who may lose can make the decision whether the risk to them is worth the fight. When organizational values are threatened, but not your personal values, I think this is more difficult. You might be called on because of your position to stand fast and fight about something which you have little or no investment. “Standing fast” implies some real passion, and you cannot fake passion at least in my experience.
Reflect a softer light of truth – visualize a candle – on (more complex) issues, giving people time to draw near, to listen more intently, to ponder, to understand and to come to their own conclusions. Being a beacon in a situation that requires a candle is viewed as an over reaction, often times people feel judged, they pull away and nothing changes. Being a candle in a situation that requires a beacon is an under-reaction and will not move people to action, so the risk grows. For more read here
I catch myself trying to always find the highest ground to make my stand. The organization’s success may require me to do something a harder way than simply “my way.” Sometimes a key to standing my ground this time may be based on credibility I’ve earned from previous episodes. So I try to “stand my ground” when I believe I am on the highest ground and be a valuable team player in every other case.
I think the key to making a good choice comes down to being able to distinguishing the difference between when you are standing for something that really matters for the future vs. digging your heels in to be right or prove a point in the moment.
Leaders who insist on being “right” sacrifice relationships and results. Standing your ground for principles and values is important – both for the organization and the individual. Standing your ground for the sake of preference or convenience often damages the relationships and fails to accomplish the needed results.
Have you ever been in a situation where you found yourself competing for work with a common client? Meaning your customer isn’t choosing your or them– but both of you. And you find yourself constantly looking for ways to get a bigger share of the pie. What if instead of just competing, you also looked for opportunities for a bit of strategic collaboration?
A Competitive Turned Collaborators Success Story
My last role as a Fortune 15 executive was leading our 10,000 person outsourced function. I managed the strategic partnerships with the BPO call center companies who took many of customer service calls. What a fantastic study in the power of culture. We had 6 competing companies and dozens of contact centers, essentially doing the same work. Some were thriving, some were struggling.
We thought, what if we could bring these leaders together to talk about their common leadership challenges and share best practices?
We considered all the important issues before suggesting we bring all the senior operations leaders together for an event.
It started with buy-in. I called each senior leader and had a candid conversation about their willingness to have candid conversations. Then we set clear ground rules. No talk of pricing or anything that might be considered proprietary.
The collaboration centered around questions such as:
How do you inspire call center reps to care deeply about customers?
What’s the secret to finding time to coach when the queue’s backed up?
How do you build better leadership in a young front-line team?
How are you leveraging technology to communicate more effectively?
What can my team do to be more helpful as the “client?”
The passion in the room was palpable. As common frustrations surfaced, competitors shared their leadership best practices, followed by brainstorming and collective planning. Everyone was focused on getting better results and doing the right thing for the customer.
“What if we had a week where we all concentrated on developing our leaders around this difficult challenge.”
“What if we produced inspiring videos to reinforce the vision each month?”
On the breaks, leaders would pull me aside and affirm the approach: “This is fantastic, it’s great to know it’s not just us; Everyone’s in the same boat; It’s awesome to collaborate on these challenges.”
And my favorite: “No other client of ours ever does this, they should.”
What is True Collaboration?
What made this work? What’s missing when collaborations go South?
Collaboration works when:
Vision is bigger than ego.
Everyone has something to gain.
The mission is clearly defined.
Parameters are established.
Leadership is shared.
No one keeps score.
People play by established ground rules.
Folks take time to get to know one another as people.
Strengths are leveraged.
It’s okay to put on the brakes as needed.
Dissent is encouraged and accepted.
Contributions are recognized.
How about you?
Have you had a great experience collaborating? What made it work?
Many of the approaches we take to solving problems, do just that. Solve problems. That works, until the next problem comes along. To build long-term results, requires more. Unleashing your team’s potential leads to breakthrough results.
This highly collaborative methodology empowers teams to dig deeper for answers– working together to find synergistic solutions.
“The cornerstone of Unleashing™ is emphasizing the journey as an essential change and learning process rather than simply devising and implementing a solution. For it is through this journey that individuals learn and develop their ability to think strategically, collaborate and take action. This approach aims to engage and stimulate people as they go along, creating self-efficacy, empowerment and commitment in the individuals and teams. Its focus is both on the organisation as a whole and on the individuals.”
The research-based unleashing approach, is closely aligned with the philosophical approach we’ve been discussing in our LGL community. For example:
“Purpose as basis for strategy” vs. “Shareholder value as basis for strategy” (and driving shareholder value in the process)
“Shared strategic direction” vs. “Strategic planning”
“Adaptive strategy execution” vs. “Strategy implementation”
“Learning through action” vs. “Classroom training”
“Process innovation” vs. “Process optimization”
“Mentoring, self-directed career development” vs. “Metrics-based performance management”
I asked white paper co-author, Therese Kinal, about the inspiration for their research:
“My co-founders Robert Thong, Corrina Kane and I realized that traditional approaches to Management weren’t working anymore and our industry was doing as much harm as it was good. In many organisations innovation was dead and employees had little or no understanding of their company’s strategy and they certainly didn’t feel personal ownership and excitement about making it happen. Companies had tried to solve this through structural changes, sending their people on leadership development training or hiring innovation firms to do it for them. Consultants were forcing through simplistic solutions to complex problems.”
If you’re looking for creative ways to unleash the powerful potential of your team, it’s worth a read. Share your comments and insights with the LGL community.
Collaborative competition inspires. Seeing “them” inspires “us.” Competition makes work fun. Unless, it doesn’t. Stay on the right side of trash talk. Create collaborative competition to inspire your team.
A New York State of Mind
I ran a 2000 person sales team so did the guys in New York. They were the “ones to catch” on some metrics. In others we led the way. We studied their playbook. They studied ours. We both sent “spies” to learn more. We left voice mails talking trash. My cellphone rang tunes of “New York State of Mind” and “I love New York” reminding every one of the competition.
Of course, the vision was bigger. Competition was play. We traded “players.” Benchmarking became a game. Both teams grew. The bar rose. Both teams achieved. Work was fun.
Creating Collaborative Competition
“”If you want to be incrementally better: Be competitive. If you want to be exponentially better: Be cooperative.”
Leverage competition to drive collaboration. Make collaboration a competitive game.