What does true collaboration look like?
From a 2008 Guide to Assessing Teamwork and Collaboration published by the Galileo Educational Network,
Collaboration is a structured, recursive process where two or more people work together toward a common goal-typically an intellectual endeavor that is creative in nature?by sharing knowledge, learning and building consensus.
Much of what we need to do in order to make an organization function requires us to work with other people. Traditionally, it takes time to learn how to interact with each person’s style, how to agree on the steps to take, roles and responsibilities, and individuals’ deadlines for a common goal. Managers incorporate various degrees of structure by defining roles and responsibilities, processes, project management, and methods of communication to complete the tasks to accomplish the goal.
There are various and differing opinions about how much structure strikes the right balance between helping to accomplish the goal efficiently and becoming a road block to productivity and creativity.
If not enough structure is in place, the team may be perceived as ineffective. Deliverables may not meet the expectations of the “customer” and/or leader(s) in terms of scope, quality, timeline, and/or budget. Often, in this low structure scenario, miscommunications occur.
Conversely, if there is too much structure, the team may be perceived as ineffective as well. In this scenario, it might be a time sink to go through all the process steps and the instructions may be so voluminous, people get lost and have trouble following the structure in place. In fact, too many meetings may take place that are focused more on the structure than on the goal, leaving a lull in initiatives moving forward. People may feel very restricted and disengaged and ultimately, Creativity is squashed.
For true collaboration within an organization or team, the structure and culture has to support two-way communication (creative conflict) built upon trust.
How much structure should you have in your organization?
Identifying the level of structure need in your organization depends on exploring a couple of key questions:
1) How big is your organization?
If you are a small company with just few people working together, less structure may be preferable. A company with fewer people requires each person to understand more of the bigger picture. They typically have to do many of the tasks themselves and there may be fewer interactions needed with other people.
If you are a growing or larger sized company, the more people you have, the more structure you may need in order to be effective. People may be added in order to handle higher volume. More people typically means that each person handles a smaller part of the bigger picture. People become specialized in their roles with specific tasks. The more interactions and hand-offs it takes to complete, the more guidelines and processes you may need to help everyone understand how to work together effectively.
2) What culture do you want to foster?
If you want to foster innovation and creativity, then you may want to have less detailed structure and more general high-level guidelines. Focus more on the goal you are trying to achieve, the communication channels needed to keep everyone in the loop, and fostering communication. Allow the team to figure out how to get to the end goal.
If your organization needs to foster nimbleness and an ability to react to changing customer demands, you also want to have less detailed structure and more high-level guidelines. Fewer restrictions allow employees to develop problem-solving skills in addressing customer issues quickly and foster engagement.
If your product has to be delivered precisely and there is no room for variability, then you will need more detailed structure and processes with step-by-step instructions.
If your organization is struggling with delivering and meeting expectations, then you will also need more detailed structure to help people stay on track. The detailed structure will hold people accountable for next steps /tasks and due dates, along with providing a more detailed analysis of the location of the breakdowns in the process and communications.
3) What are the natural behaviors of the people on the team?
If you have a team full of naturally take charge, spontaneous, and creative people, you will need at least a little structure to help keep them focused and productive. However, you don’t want to squash their natural strengths in problem solving, finding new or better solutions, and reacting instinctively to a dynamic business environment with too much structure.
If you have a team that is naturally very cooperative, planned, and anchored, they will need more structure to take advantage of their natural strengths of being able to follow instructions, ensure tasks are completed and results are delivered. These types of people are great at getting things done when the working environment is well-defined and there is less ambiguity.
Ideally the team would consist of a mix of traits that can provide for the proper balance of strengths to provide the best results.
How you add structure, and the culture you encourage, is important to fostering collaboration and creativity while still having enough structure to reduce miscommunication and issues and to ensure the outcome meets expectations.
Do you have the right level of structure in your organization? Use this Guide to aid in evaluating your team.