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For Better Collaboration Try Breaking The Rules


May 6, 2015 - 3 Comments

I recently read an article Why Getting It Wrong Is the Future of Design. It speaks to how innovative design changes often come from doing things that would be considered completely wrong. The article focuses on art, graphics, architecture, theater, movies, tableware, and even video games. Then I read this line “I was following the rules, then selectively breaking one or two for maximum impact.” and it got me thinking. What are the rules to collaboration and can we break a couple that result in better collaboration?

I’ve always been one for experimentation in trying different things, using various products, and embracing change. After reading this article I’ve been trying to selectively break a few rules and thinking about other rules to break. It hasn’t been easy, because there are many hard and fast best practices on how to collaborate. Here’s some of what I have come up with:

  • Forego physical meeting rooms: If the entire team is physically located in the same area could they be just as, or even more effective meeting virtually? There are a lot of remote workers and many teams at Cisco are geographically dispersed so virtual meetings are a must, but if a team is located in the same building many members will still attend virtually.  I can see benefit to this approach. People who couldn’t attend would simply review the meeting recording at their convenience and not rely on meeting minutes. The team could also move away from fragmented means of communications to using virtual meeting rooms (Cisco Spark) for correspondence. Since most projects involve shared input into documents, room based document control is a great way to provide visibility to changes without relying on a single person to collate individual updates and rely on e-mail to share updates. Perhaps the biggest benefit would be consistency in attending the meetings in the same way, but also being able to always have a place for ad hoc meetings and tasks while providing visibility to everybody.

  • Blend professional and personal social communications: I tend to keep a strong demarcation between personal and professional channels. That’s not to say I don’t talk about personal matters at work or business events. However, there are a few personal topics that should never be brought up in a professional setting.  Anybody who’s been around when those few taboo subjects come up know exactly what I’m talking about. As an experiment, I’ve posted a few personal things to my professional twitter (John Gaudin (@JohnG_CSCO) | Twitter) in the form of quotes from books, movies, and such that struck a chord with me. I ended up getting a couple of likes and a couple of new followers. This breaking of a rule is a challenge for me as I do have a warped sense of humor and can be a foul mouthed individual, which may offend others. However, there’s benefit to bringing personal and professional social channels together. If I were to leave Cisco, my followers would still be there and could then opt-out if my tweets were no longer relevant. Otherwise, I’d have to build up a new set of followers that choose to opt-in.
  • Stop holding standing meetings: a lot of time is spent in reoccurring meetings that are held on a regular basis. Standing meetings are a best practice to keep a project moving and used for status updates and general awareness. When I look around during standing meetings many attendees are multi-tasking and only involved for a few minutes to provide an update. That tells me the value of the meeting isn’t very high for them. As much as we believe we can multi-task the fact is we can’t.  When people are multi-tasking they’re actually losing up to 40% of their productivity.  Instead of forcing them to attempt to multi-task, let’s remove the need. Updates could be provided as needed through a project management application or virtual meeting room. Those concerned with status of relevant tasks could check the app and if more details were needed, reach out directly to those involved. Project meetings could become ad-hoc with only relevant individuals involved and the time normally used for standing meetings recaptured for more productive activities.

The number one rule of collaboration is to have a common, unifying goal that everybody involved is working toward. This is a rule that I don’t think can be broken. However, the way we reach that goal may change as we continue to collaborate and use different forms of collaboration that are not only more effective, but also change the way we work. As you consider the “rules” to collaboration, to meetings, to project plans, and to programs, which ones would you like to break?



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3 Comments

  1. Good Read John - thanks

  2. I could not agree more and am constantly frustrated by "That's the way it's always been." when challenging the existing processes. The technology advances to make things better, cheaper, faster. Unless we adopt new ways of working that take advantage of the technologies we're going to plateau long before value is realized. Don't just optimize existing processes with new technology, learn to reengineer collaborative processes with technology.

  3. Challenge the status quo...I love it! I am a constant 'rule breaker' when it comes to lengthy meetings. No internal meetings needs to last more than 30 minutes. All presenters (either presenting physically or virtually) should have no more than 2 slides and should only use them as reference points. A meeting should be 95% Q/A and 5% content. Cisco's technology simply lets people join from anywhere at anytime. It is up to us internally to break the habit of the ritualistic meetings.