Collaboration is the answer to many problems, especially when combatting top-down strategy, but rampant chat is not the answer.
“Teamwork! Yay! Go Team!” Everyone loves Slack, Whats App, and chat tools that drive team work, right?
“Meetings suck! No more meetings!” Everyone hates meetings, right?
Would it surprise you that often the ‘collaboration culture’ driven by tools such as Slack, is nothing more than a series of small, disorganised meetings… of the worst sort?
Collaboration is not an equal culture applied across the business and it’s hitting some of your best people hardest.
Why is this? Let’s consider two factors.
Factor 1. The type of meetings that occur via Slack:
Ever suffered from meetings with:
- No agenda?
- No preparation time?
- Your best people not knowing why they are there?
- Open-ended commitment?
- No actions agreed?
- Invited at short notice with no clear purpose?
How many of the above can you tick off about your last Slack meeting? (It’s not a conversation, it’s a meeting, so let’s call it that).
Factor 2. What collaboration actually means and who it affects most:
Collaboration is a method of creating a team culture where teams work together, as a team, to solve business problems. If they need expertise from outside the team, they seek it, and other colleagues are open to collaborate.
There are 5-15% of people that statistics repeatedly show mostly like to be sought out to give advice. They either have the network to be useful, have domain expertise, or it’s their nature to share and be open. These people are not only suffering from blocks of time being eaten by regular, standard meetings, they are suffering death by a thousand cuts from small, informal, persistent ‘meetings’ too.
These two factors, together, are killing the productive of your best people. All in the name of collaboration.
So, what can you do?
1. Have an active and understandable culture
People don’t want endless, time-sapping collaboration requests. What they actually say they want and are open for giving is:
- structured mentoring/coaching
- training which enables them to share their expertise
- individual authority
If people want to help more, and to help themselves more, you should actively drive that culture. Not a nebulous, unguided, free-for-all. Remember, it’s fine for your cultural statement to say what’s not acceptable, as well as what is.
2. Face-to-face beats all (and voice is great too)
Text conversation is terrible for human conversation. It’s very low bandwidth (yes, even with emoticons) and open to misunderstanding. If you add in multiple territories, where your corporate language is not the first language, then ‘Hey Presto!’ hours are wasted interpreting what someone meant.
If you can, relocate in-demand individuals with those asking for their time, do so – e.g. moving pre-sales people close to or in a Scrum team working on a product they jointly own. If you can’t physically achieve this, then encourage video chat to help with the nuances of human communication.
Some of the most bottlenecked people in your organisation will own key decision points. Do they need to own them?
3. Spread the load
Strong, available, sharing people are much needed, but they can also be victims of their own openness. To protect them:
Make more people, more available.
Spread the load from your top collaborators outwards.
Openly invite people to be more collaborative. In Slack, people can own a channel and the whole community can have the power to inform those with requests; “I think that would be better answered in #another channel.”
Drive responsibility downwards. Some of the most bottlenecked people in your organisation will be those that own key decision points. Do they need to own them? Do they want to own them? What would they do better with their time if they didn’t own them.
To summarise: Collaboration is the answer to many problems, especially when combatting top down strategy, but rampant chat is not the answer. If you create a culture that is seen to be rewarding endless availability, above all else… that’s what you will get, and it will kill your best people…