As business professionals, we demand more than the sum of simple parts. We expect our organizations to be “well-oiled machines” that run smoothly because every department is working in a consistent rhythm with each other. However, collaboration can be the key to success — or the start of the spiraling breakdown.
I used to be a typical lone wolf in the workplace, choosing to do things myself “so they got done right.” And also because I hated meetings, which often ended up taking too long because all the attendees argued without making constructive progress. As I matured with experience, I came to understand that my “all or nothing” attitude was holding me back from the path of real progress.
CS Lewis once wrote “Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction.”
While inspirational quotes are often dismissed as trite, this one needs to be taken seriously! Consider the following: our government was founded on a system of checks and balances; quality control is a huge aspect of modern manufacturing; and sharing the workload makes a balanced life easier for us all … but some assembly is required.
What are the benefits of collaboration?1
Organizations collaborate internally to compete externally
Decisions are faster, of higher quality and customer-driven
Decisions are made on the basis of principle rather than power or personality, resulting in greater buy-in and impact
Cycle time is substantially reduced and non-value-adding work eliminated
The productive capacity of the workforce doubles
Strategic alliances succeed, while building trust and producing extraordinary results
Return on investment increases dramatically
Span of control increases substantially
The workforce takes on full responsibility for the success of the enterprise
Conflict is reduced as work relationships open up and build trust
The fear is gone — change is seen as a positive opportunity
Effective communication is a creative process combining a variety of disciplines. To be creative requires divergent thinking (generating many unique ideas) and then convergent thinking (combining those ideas into the best result).
Multidisciplinary teams ensure that diverse members are all being heard and understood, providing a solid base on which change can be built and communicated. The practice of active participation builds trust, enhances personal knowledge, cultivates growth from new experiences, and develops better interpersonal communication skills. Networking is about connecting with people, building and nurturing relationships, sharing information, and pooling resources.
How do we successfully plan and navigate our way through collaborative projects, without having “too many cooks in the corporate kitchen?”
Some of the biggest criticisms you are likely to hear in group work is that “everyone wants to be the boss,” “a few do all the work,” or “meetings are a waste of time.”
If you do not have a certified Project Manager to keep things on task, it’s still necessary to stick to a well-planned schedule. In addition, use an organized structure for each meeting. Author Ralph Heibutzki2 recommends the following format:
No meeting is productive without an agenda, the written outline that describes what issues will be covered. Before convening any meeting, management prepares the agenda and distributes copies to all key participants. Agendas serve as a good time-management tool, because the attendees must think ahead of time about what they want to accomplish, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. The agenda also helps the discussion leader, or facilitator, keep everybody focused on the main items, so that the meeting doesn't lose purpose.
Introductions and Reports
The discussion leader begins with a brief overview of the meeting's purpose and anticipated outcomes. He then requests reports from department managers or team leaders about specific agenda items. Time management is crucial in this area to prevent speakers from digressing. One effective strategy to get a meeting back on track is to ask the speaker to refocus on the agenda. The discussion leader can revisit the topic later or assign a smaller group to gather additional information once the meeting ends.
The main presentation is the heart of any business meeting. To keep attendees fully engaged, corporate leaders such as Marissa Meyer, Google's vice president of search products, make sure to include plenty of visual aids. In Google's case, one projector shows the presentation, while the other displays a transcription of the meeting, according to Bloomberg Businessweek. A secretary also keeps minutes of the meeting. This way, anyone who missed the meeting can read the minutes to learn what happened.
Once the major agenda items are covered, it's time for the meeting to end. The discussion leader will summarize all of the major points and ask for agreement on actions to take. However, avoid taking a vote because it produces winners and losers, Bob Papes, author of "Management During an Economic Crisis," advises on Blueridgenow.com. Participants should leave with written action plans that indicate what happens next, who's responsible for specific tasks, and deadlines for accomplishing them.
Teams also function most effectively when each member shares a common understanding of their own role in the group, as well as the defined responsibilities of other participants. Not only does it eliminate discussion of unnecessary or overlapping topics, but also identifies clear and action-oriented objectives for each member to achieve.
Indeed, one of the reasons why teams fail is a lack of clarity among team members regarding their respective roles, responsibilities, and the expectations they hold of one another when working together to accomplish their vision, mission, goals, and objectives. When roles and responsibilities are clearly defined, team members are more productive. There is less duplication of effort; less confusion, disappointment, and frustration; and greater productivity. When roles and responsibilities are clearly defined, team members look beyond their own individual positions and learn to understand, respect, and value the unique contributions of one another, and they recognize that the overall success of the team is a function of shared responsibility and ownership.3
The digital age has vastly improved our opportunities for effective communication when we can’t meet face to face. Nowadays we have email, text messages, automated calendars, video chats … and so much more. The GLLV Chamber office also relies on several collaborative online tools through Google to connect committee members, volunteers, and staff. It allows us to:
Work together in real time
Organize relevant files (with adjustable permission settings) to engage with multiple teams
Reach our goals under the guidance of a project manager (President)
There are lots of other platforms available … take a look around the web and find the tools that best suits your needs. Set up an organized system for sharing information!
Rhetorical Strategies and Empathy
Rhetoric is simply defined as a conversation with persuasive intent. We use it every day to influence and negotiate, and Greek philosopher Aristotle taught us a simple structure for presenting our opinions. If you ever wrote a research paper, you followed this model:
Framed around an understanding of Passion, Logic, and Ethics (pathos, logos, and ethos), a proper argumentative format follows the formula (P+L=E) — we start with a passion for a subject, follow up with research that forms logical ideas, then end with ethical conclusion and insight. Kairos (Greek for season/opportunity) is an often overlooked component to the equation … there is a time and a place for everything, and a little judgment goes a long way.
Introduce your issue. At the end of your introduction, state your thesis. The idea is to present your readers with your main point and then dig into it.
Present your case by explaining the issue in detail and why something must be done or a way of thinking is not working. This will take place over several paragraphs or comments.
Address the opposition. Use a few paragraphs to explain the other side. Refute the opposition one point at a time.
Provide your proof. After you address the other side, you’ll want to provide clear evidence that your side is the “best” side.
Present your conclusion. In your conclusion, you should remind your readers of your main point or thesis and summarize the key points of your argument. If you are arguing for some kind of change, this is a good place to give your audience a call to action. Tell them what they could do to make a change.
However, the 20th Century psychologist Carl Rogers adapted the work of Aristotle to address the needs of human nature. A Rogerian argument focuses on finding a middle ground between the author and the audience. This type of argument can be extremely persuasive and can help you, as a communicator, understand your own biases and how you might work to find common ground with others. One advantage of using Rogerian argumentation is that the writer or speaker gains the attention of the audience and prevents them from immediately arguing in opposition. The effect is that you'll be more likely to persuade your listeners or readers.
The writer who uses the Rogerian strategy attempts to do three things: (1) to convey to the reader that he is understood, (2) to delineate the area within which he believes the reader's position to be valid, and (3) to induce him to believe that he and the writer share similar moral qualities (honesty, integrity, and good will) and aspirations (the desire to discover a mutually acceptable solution).4
A summary of the basic strategy for a Rogerian argument:5
In your essay/speech, first introduce the problem.
Acknowledge the other side before you present your side of the issue. This may take several paragraphs or comments.
Next, you should carefully present your side of the issue in a way that does not dismiss the other side. This may also take several paragraphs or comments.
You should then work to bring the two sides together. Help your audience see the benefits of the middle ground. Make your proposal for the middle ground here, and be sure to use an even, respectful tone. This should be a key focus of your essay/speech and may take several paragraphs/comments.
Finally, in your conclusion, remind your audience of the balanced perspective you have presented and make it clear how both sides benefit when they meet in the middle.
Kindness and Generosity
What place do these have in business? More than many people take time to remember. In an article curated by Medium.com, author Dr. Mara Karpel wrote:
Companies that we believed were there to help us, have placed more emphasis on the bottom line than on serving the greater good. Even our social media interactions have become cold and often threatening. As a society we appear to be at a breaking point. We will, either, come together in the spirit of kindness or we will completely disappear down the rabbit hole of an “each person for themselves” mentality.6
At the Archangel Summit in Toronto in 2017, Daymond John, the CEO and founder of American hip hop apparel company FUBU and regular contributor on Shark Tank stressed the importance of making your customers feel special.
He spoke to the crowd about valuing your customers, communicating with them regularly and doing things to make them feel special. He spoke about picking up the phone and calling your customers on a regular basis, to say hello or wish them a happy birthday. Even if you get voicemail, a message from you is always going to be more powerful than an email or text message. Emails can easily be misinterpreted. We read them through the filter of how we’re feeling in that moment, not through the feeling of the sender. However, when you speak to someone, you can hear the enthusiasm and sincerity in their voice.7
Take the time to make your voice (in any format) one of giving, rather than taking. Always start with the positive, rather than dwelling on the worst. Grease the gears with genuine compliments on a job well done — getting positive feedback and appreciation energizes us to keep going.
How soon can we start?
Why not now? If you just take one thing at a time from the above lists, it will dramatically improve the productivity of your collaborative projects. Share the love.
- Adapted from Transforming the Way We Work: The Power of the Collaborative Workplace by Edward M. Marshall.
- Ralph Heibutzki's articles have appeared in the "All Music Guide," "Goldmine," "Guitar Player" and "Vintage Guitar." He is also the author of "Unfinished Business: The Life & Times Of Danny Gatton," and holds a journalism degree from Michigan State University.
- https://www.thoughtco.com/rogerian-argument-1691920. (Richard E. Young, Alton L. Becker, and Kenneth L. Pike, Rhetoric: Discovery and Change. Harcourt, 1970)