5 Ways of Removing Barriers for Great Collaboration

Collaboration rarely happens on its own. It takes a motivating spark, a reason that creates value for multiple people, a trusting environment and time. When true collaboration happens in the workplace the value added to the organization is exponential. Collaboration creates long-term buy-in and often creates working relationships that last for years, spurring even more collaborative initiatives.

Below is a list of principals I have noticed that should be in place, or at least recognized as beneficial, for a collaborative environment to grow. When these types of ground rules are not shared by all collaborative work usually halts, and it becomes difficult to reset and work on new projects and initiatives.

1. Use Whatever Tool Set That Gets the Job Done
Never limit a technology tool set to only what is best known to you and your team. By dictating that no other tools can be used to collaborate other than those currently in place, you limit both who will be willing to work with you and your team, and new innovations may go unnoticed and unmastered. Try out a new tool and you will learn in the process.

2. Allow For Disagreements But Not Arguments
For any collaboration to work and produce results open and frank conversations need to take place. However, if those conversations get personal or are not focused entirely on the work there is a chance misunderstanding can occur. It’s best to keep a tone of respect in all situations, but if lines are crossed apologizing and moving forward anew is just an honest, heart-felt conversation away.

3. No Holding Grudges (Assume Positive Intent)
Decisions must be made during a collaborative project. Some decisions may not go your way or be how you think they should go. This cannot become a source of frustration. Once decisions are made and the group has moved on, so must all members of the group. If you find that you cannot move on, you should remove yourself from the team until you are able to get past the decisions that didn’t go your way.

4. Trust Is A Must
No work moves forward in any lasting way without staff members trusting each other and their leaders. This is such a basic, foundational aspect to collaboration it’s almost not worth mentioning it. If you have not established a trusting relationship with colleagues you must begin there and repair in order to move to a collaborative space.

5. Don’t Sign Up For A One Time Thing
Collaboration needs to be a attitude and an approach toward work that lasts over time. Working on projects with multiple people and multiple teams is rewarding, but takes a commitment.

My hope is that this list inspires you to contribute your own ideas about how to promote a collaborative work environment. Please share your thoughts with your colleagues.

Talking Points: Encourage an environment where self-starters will thrive

Managers don’t need to touch everything

  • Give self-starters a sense of ownership
  • Help develop a trust-based relationship
  • Don’t compete or attempt to be better than your staff
  • Give self-starters access to leadership

Celebrate successes, never dwell on failures

  • Nothing kills self-starters’ attitudes like harping on missteps
  • The best innovations were always preceded by failures
  • Not everything is a home run, small things count too
  • Do not just show up when thing go wrong

Allow for space

  • Never allow the words “we’ve always done it this way” stand
  • Let self-starters challenge the status quo
  • Don’t let self-starters cut themselves off from the group by being too rigid
  • Look for opportunities to launch a career rather than keeping butts-in-seats

Ask more questions

  • Rather than making statements, ask questions
  • Set clear expectations and then step back

How are you running staff meetings?

  • Do you always talk first?
  • Is there space on the agenda for others?
  • Don’t list the meetings you will attend, focus on the why
  • Never have a meeting to justify existence

Call projects “beta” or “demos”

  • Self-starters want to be able to try new things
  • If something didn’t work, be willing to kill it off; self-starters may have trouble letting it go
  • Try an agile approach if possible; more small goals, sprint to get something done and out into the world

Three Two-Word Sentences

Mike Eicher, SVP for University Advancement recently challenged a few members of his leadership team to sum up their roles in three two-word sentences. By way of example, he described his key responsibilities as:
1. Drive growth.
2. Develop talent.
3. Provide direction.

My boss, Melinda Church, VP for University Communications asked that her direct reports do the same. Below are my three two-word sentences describing my role at Ohio State.

1. Inspire others
2. Innovate constantly
3. Data-based thinking

What do you think of this exercise?
Did I capture my roll here at OSU?

Embracing failure?

A Marketplace story that aired this morning on my way to work got me thinking about failure. The story was about the website Refer.ly, and it’s current status as a zombie website. A zombie site is one that still functions as if it were competitive, active, and relevant, but will never break out from its minuscule user-base.

Is it okay to embrace failure? Or should lack of success be viewed as something to always avoid?

Sectors of the tech industry consider failure a “badge of honor,” to be celebrated as risk-taking adventure. Blazing new trails often leads to failure. According to the Wall Street Journal, three out of four startups fail.

The question for Advancement/Communications is whether this same ratio is applicable for projects within our larger organization? Do three out of four projects fail? Is this an acceptable rate? If we are batting higher than .250 are we taking on enough risk to be innovative? Are we trying enough new things to approach this 1/4 rate of failure? And should this be something we are aiming for?

The tech industry and venture capital may tussle over the correct way to celebrate or punish startup failure, but here in higher education Advancement/Communications failure is seen as a bit more taboo.

What is your tolerance for failure?

Chicago in December

Chicago in December

Flying to Chicago on Saturday morning, December 14 for the CASE V conference was going to be a challenge. The forecast was calling for 2-3 inches of snow in Columbus, and possibly even more in the Windy City. Luck was on my side though, and the flight was only delayed an hour. We landed in plenty of time to get the Sheraton on North Water Street before the conference kickoff committee meeting. CASE V was about to get underway, and this year I wasn’t just attending.

Following my presentation last year on the collaboration around launching OSU Mobile, I was asked to co-chair the Communications Track for the 2013 conference. CASE (The Council for the Advancement and Support of Education) is the premier international organization for Advancement professionals working in education. A year of planning, coordinating presenters, brainstorming on quality keynote speakers, and scheduling fun events for the three-day conference was finally becoming a reality.

My main focus while in Chicago was to rally the communications session track speakers, to volunteer at the registration desk, and to welcome new CASE members with a casual networking dinner. The sessions all went very well. Standouts included a communications keynote by Michael Stoner of the mStoner agency on social media; a breakout session led by Heather Swain, vice president of communications and brand strategy at Michigan State; and the closing keynote by Liz Murray, author of “Breaking Night.”

Michael’s advice to the audience included a very concise list of social media lessons taken from his recent book, Social Works – including focus on the channels you own (website and blogs); when giving is a game, everyone wins; and don’t be everywhere until you are awesome everywhere you are. His main premise is that we must have creative ideas to spread when participating in social media, but spreading that focus too thinly can work against larger goals. Good advice, indeed.

Heather shared a reinvention of the Michigan State President’s annual report. They used Big Ten Programming funding to realize a “twofer.” Spending just under $300,000 on international airfare and travel, the communications office sent out three teams of videographers and producers to university research initiatives in China, Southeast Asia, Africa, South America, and around the state of Michigan. Their final product was Spartan’s Will: 360, an interactive, video-driven website focusing on how Michigan State is making a difference in the world by conducting research and outreach that addresses society’s most pressing problems.

The final program was both humbling and inspiring. Liz Murray has been the subject of a Lifetime Network docudrama and has been featured on major networks promoting her life story of going from being homeless in New York to graduating from Harvard. She was brutally honest in her description of growing up with drug-addicted parents in the Bronx, and inspirational in her continued compassion for them and the situation they found themselves in. Tears were shed during her talk in one of the most authentic ways I’ve witnessed from a room full of conference attendees.

I encourage you to explore CASE to see what the organization has to offer Advancement professionals. Get involved if you have the time. Attend the conference next year if it fits within your department budget, and please connect with me if you have questions.