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Finding More Time through Better Collaboration

January 7, 2014 - 7 Comments

“Time is an illusion.”

―Albert Einstein

Time is an illusion. And an obsession. And apparently time is endangered because everyone is trying to save time, find more time, use time more wisely, or just plain stop time.

Time is of the essence, after all. And in the wonderful world of business, it always seems that we’re trying to find ways that let us move faster. We want to reduce the time it takes us to do what we do, whether it’s responding to customers, making decisions, adjusting to market trends, or getting the latest-greatest whatever-it-is to market.

You can’t reduce an illusion, but you can find ways to be more effective and make better use of the time you have.

Executives and managers consistently believe they need at least 20% higher performance from employees to meet their business goals, according The Corporate Executive Board, in its report “The Future of Corporate IT, 2013–2017.”

That’s a tough number to hear from the employee side of that equation. Maybe I spend time with the wrong crowd, but I don’t know too many people who consider their performance to be only 80% of their potential. So where does that additional 20% come from? Is it an illusion too?

It’s not an illusion. But it’s also not hiding under the desks of individual employees.

More than Individual Performance

Delivering higher performance – and maintaining or improving quality at the same time — means stepping back from individual employees and looking at how they work together. CEB’s research shows that employees collaborate with at least 10 individuals in their day-to-day work. The answer to higher performance is in the collaborative performance of employees.

Think generally about the things that make projects take longer. Where are the stall points? You may be waiting for others on the team to deliver their pieces, or they may need what you’ve completed so they can take the next steps. Or you’ve reached a point that requires the team to collectively make decisions, even if people involved are on opposite sides of the continent. Or planet.

If it’s easier for you to communicate with each other, you can move faster. If everyone has access to the same project information when and where they need it, there’s no delay while James is on vacation. And at those decision points, if you can meet live and in person (whether in the same room or via video), you can usually cover more details and move forward more quickly.

More than New Tools

There’s more to improving  collaboration than throwing more tools at processes and expecting people to automatically kick into higher gear. That would be much like expecting someone to drive a manual transmission for the first time – and win a race.

Part of the productivity-improvement equation is to identify new approaches to collaboration and information management. But strangely forgotten or minimalized is the cultural aspect. It’s not just training and support for new tools, but managing the change to new processes and ways of working. You need to help people understand the reasons and benefits for a change. And you need to give them a path to help them adapt.

Keep in mind that the more persistent change is in your organization, the more difficult it is for employees to adapt. If change seems constant in your environment, nothing ever sits still long enough to master or become familiar. If people never get stable on their feet, they’re generally not ready to take another new step – especially in a different direction. More confusion equals lower productivity and engagement, all of which can make those great new approaches backfire.

And, it creates an environment in which people are likely more wary of “the next great thing” actually being great.

So, from a leadership perspective, it’s important not just to find the opportunities for change and the technology to implement to achieve that change – but to remember that collaboration is all about people. Convince them that this brave new approach isn’t just shiny and new, but it will improve their individual and collective performance. And that the effort to change is worth it.

You may want more productivity from your employees, but your employees also want something from the deal. They want to know that you actually understand what they do and that you’re helping them be more effective. Demonstrate that understanding and you’ll not only get higher productivity, but better employee engagement – and that’s an additional box of benefits.

Einstein is only one of the great minds with insight on time. For your consideration, a few more:

“Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.”
William Penn

“Time is the most valuable thing that a man can spend.”
Diogenes Laertius

“How did it get so late so soon?
It’s night before it’s afternoon.
December is here before it’s June.
My goodness how the time has flewn.
How did it get so late so soon?”
Dr. Seuss

“Aside from velcro, time is the most mysterious substance in the universe.
You can’t see it or touch it, yet a plumber can charge you upwards of $75 per hour for it,
without necessarily fixing anything.” ―Dave Barry

Any insight on the topic? Or favorite time quotes of your own? That’s what the Comment box is for.

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  1. It’s a great read for sure! Collaboration itself defined as “the act of working together to produce or create something”. Effective collaboration is the key success element that drives greater productivity as well as improve employee engagement.

    It’s all about give and take, the more you do the more you get. For getting desirable productivity, then give your employees choice and flexibility.

    Thank you for writing an awesome post.

    Mine favorite quote: “The future starts today, not tomorrow.” ― Pope John Paul

    • Thanks for the feedback and sharing another great quote. Implementing ways to help people work together effectively can deliver a long list of benefits — productivity, innovation, engagement. For some organizations, it’s a major culture shift. For others, it’s an easier path.

  2. An Ernst and Young study estimated that 28% of work time is productive (reference below). Most time is lost to meetings and other tools of the “Information Age”. After 40 years of the Information Age, I was surprised that the utilisation of a person’s time is so low. The hierarchy appears quite poor at extracting productivity. Additional investment in the status quo is unlikely to improve this utilisation further.

    We need restructure the status quo by putting all six elements of wisdom into the cloud. The community has been working toward this outcome for decades. In the next 5 years, collaboration (the subject of this article), knowledge and wisdom are likely to transition to the cloud. This would have a dramatic effect on productive time lifting the 28% to 50-75% which leads means people have the choices that are referred to in the video. Should I work more, spend time with the family or make a contribution to the community.

    Ofcourse, with everything in the cloud the utilisation can increase further with the opportunity for anyone, everywhere to make a contribution to anything in the internet of everything.

    A lift in productive time and broader contribution from everyone would mean that society utilisation increases from a potential 18% to 55% (a long overdue singularity). There is some additional information at .

    • Marcus, Thanks very much for the comments. It will be very interesting to see how organizations adopt new ways of sharing information and working together — and how quickly they do it. I appreciate all of the detail you’ve shared. ~Kim

  3. “Time is a mirror of our thoughts, let’s think positive to get the best out of our own time” .. Maher Abdelshkour.

    Thanks a lot, Kim for this wonderful post!

  4. Great post !!!