This is my third blog in a multi-part series. In my first blog, I introduced insights from Cisco’s Collaboration Work Practice Study and how people value collaboration in the work environment. In my second blog, I discussed the importance of building trust-based relationships and networks to make collaboration work for you. In today’s blog, I share how you can turn these human interactions into business results.
Engage. We use the word engage every day. It’s rich with meaning and covers a wide spectrum of relationships. We are engaged with our families, colleagues, and customers; engaged with an idea, a process, or an initiative. And when engaged, people are passionate and committed.
At its core, collaboration is people interacting with people. In the global Cisco Collaboration Work Practice Study, employees told us that successful collaboration depends on encouraging natural human interaction, enabling participation and engagement, and fostering a collaborative culture.
“You really need to focus on the people aspect first. Get individuals to feel engaged and continue to be engaged. I think too many times we rely on the technology.” – Study Participant
In my previous blog, I discussed the importance of not losing sight of the “human element.” Taking the time to build relationships leads to trust, which is fundamental for collaboration. To turn human interactions between collaborators into concrete results, companies must strive to create an open and participatory environment where employee engagement is effortless.
So how do we create engagement? A Cisco executive called out the “importance of the emotional environment” in making people feel comfortable and able to participate. Daniel Pink in his book “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” talks about purpose, autonomy and mastery as being the primary human motivators. Employees want to contribute ideas and opinions, yet spend their time wisely. They come ready to engage. However, we observed interactions where employees became disengaged or non-participatory—and the causes were varied. Sometimes expectations were not set up-front and participants were not clear on how to contribute. Or the facilitation of the session or choice of technology and forum was not conducive to participation. Despite the cause, the result was the same: a lack of engaged participants made it hard to achieve a successful outcome through collaboration.
The takeaways: setting expectations upfront and aligning around a shared goal, taking time to plan a collaborative session, engaging the right participants and making it comfortable for people to participate may produce more effective collaboration. By enabling engaged collaborators, companies turn human interactions into results without relying on technology alone.
Technology can help drive engagement in collaboration if careful consideration is made for choosing the right forum and technology for the desired level of human interaction. When the forum and technology does not meet the expectations of the participants, frustration may occur—usually over the inefficiency of the interactions (due to wasted time, for example), or the feeling that the body language or tone of the interaction was diminished or lost.
Technology Supports the Conversation
We also found that the richness and quality of the communication medium may influence the effectiveness of the dialogue within a collaborative session. For newly-formed teams, where participants have not established relationships, richer mediums such as Cisco TelePresence translate into more effective and faster relationship-building, consensus, and issue resolution.
For established relationships, a rich communication medium is not always necessary. Instant messaging, for example, is a great replacement for that in-person conversation in the hallway, enabling ad hoc, real-time collaboration.
We found that the following considerations help in make the right choice of technology and forum:
- Communication: What level of personal connection is needed? How many people do you need to include or reach?
- Interaction: What level of participation is needed?
- Speed: How urgent is the issue? Must action be taken in real time?
- Maturity of personal relationships: Are these people I know really well? Am I bringing together people who do not know each other and have never worked together?
Companies may accelerate the use and value of collaborative sessions by developing guidelines and best practices to apply these considerations to each interaction.
Evolving the Culture for Productive Collaboration
Since collaboration is people interacting with people, behaviors are important in supporting and enabling successful collaboration. Shifts in company culture and changing work habits and attitudes are often necessary to transform into a more collaborative organization. One way organizations can begin to make the transformation is to foster behaviors that support successful collaboration by valuing, modeling, and rewarding it.
In the study, we learned that many who lead a collaborative effort often did not have a “leadership” title. However, they exhibited and fostered the positive human interactions and behaviors needed for relationship building and trust to make the collaboration experience engaging and participatory. Their attitudes and behaviors were “contagious” and permeated throughout their organizations.
At Cisco, we know employees gain personal fulfillment from successful collaboration and are motivated to collaborate. We see the rewards they reap, from learning new skills to building a professional reputation. We know the technology must match the desired interaction. The challenge is ensuring engaged participants have the tools they need to achieve successful, fulfilling collaborations that in turn drive achievement in business objectives.
What’s top of mind for you? How can improving collaboration help accelerate your business?