Collaboration isn’t free – it comes at a cost – often a high cost. That includes the time and energy invested in communicating and coordinating with others. As evidence of this fact many executives:
The solo-run has gone out of fashion, with the emphasis on teamwork and collaboration. But could the pendulum have swung too far? More importantly, how to find the right balance between individual and collaborative working.
The rising cost of collaboration is clear, but what about the payback? Is the time and energy expended daily on workplace collaboration generating a sufficient return for all those involved? If people are going to invest in teamwork, they need to know the Return on Collaboration™!
Greater awareness of the costs and benefits of teamwork is key to optimizing performance, pressure, vitality and collaboration for individuals, as well as teams. Central to this is the notion of: ‘More, Better, Faster and Best’.
What is the appropriate level of collaboration or teamwork for any specific task, task bundle or work stream? The answer depends on the application of a 4 part test: More, Better, Faster and Best.
This is a practical approach based on results and expected benefits. Specifically, when people work together is the output MORE, BETTER and FASTER than working alone? Moreover, does the process of working together bring out the BEST in people?
The example discussed in some detail later (and visualized below) shows the application of the 4 tests.
If the answer to each of these 4 tests is less than a compelling ‘yes’ then caution regarding the time and energy invested in collaboration is required. Either minimize collaboration or attend to setting the team and the work up for success (i.e. right people, in the right roles, etc.).
“Get better results faster” that was the message to staff from Google CEO Sundar Pichai as he called for high productivity in the face of growing economic uncertainty. That is 3 of the elements of the ‘more, better, faster and best’ formula. With employees reportedly being warned that “there will be blood on the streets” if productivity does not increase, ensuring the missing part – ‘bring out the best in each other’ – may well be a challenge.
Used correctly, teamwork and collaboration have the potential to significantly boost performance. In reality, however, both are often over-used, even abused.
More collaboration isn’t always the solution. There will even be times when collaboration hinders, rather than helps performance. Times when it makes the work more difficult, wastes people’s time and drains their energy.
Team work and collaboration are espoused as universal values. That is a mistake. To maximize both individual and collective performance requires knowing when to collaborate, when not to collaborate, and all points in-between1 Here ‘More, Better, Faster and Best’ acts as your guide. It is about finding new and better ways to collaborate.
The technical term for ‘More, Better, Faster and Best’ is ‘Synergistic Interdependence’2. This together with the concept of Return on Collaboration™ provides executives with a powerful new language, as well as a new way of thinking, about teaming and collaboration.
Teamwork and collaboration make sense when it results in more, better, faster and best.
Apply the 4 tests to any task, task bundle or workstream to determine how and when to collaborate. Use the image below to rate a task or work stream along each of the 4 criterion. For example, to what extent does it result in more or less output (on a scale from 1 to 5). You will find a worked example further down the page.
There may be times when the work is best done alone, times when collaboration is required but should be kept to a minimum and times when extensive collaboration or teamwork is necessary.
To get the full picture it is important to apply all 4 tests, one or two of them is not enough. For example, collaborating on a specific task could help you to achieve a better result – such as marginally higher quality. But when the other tests are applied, it becomes clear that the costs outweigh the benefits, with output and speed being considerably reduced.
Most executives don’t think about either the costs or benefits of teaming and collaboration – at least not in any explicit manner. Sometimes improvements to the ways of working are accidental, as the following client story suggests.
‘More, better, faster and best!’ exclaimed the experienced UX designer with raised eyebrows. ‘The old way of working (shown below) passed none of these tests!’ he added. ‘But, I came to that realization quite by accident’ he explained.
‘As the principal UX designer I worked very closely with the software development team. I ran all ideas, mock-ups and templates by the senior software developers – all 10 of them. I also had endless ‘head-wrecking’ meetings with the highly opinionated (but not so well-informed) head of software development.’
|Does/will it enable you to get MORE done?||No, the old way of working resulted in half the output.|
|Does/will it result in a BETTER output/ result?||No, so many compromises were required to get a consensus that the final release was a ‘watered down’ version of what was originally intended.|
|Does/will it enable results to be achieved FASTER?||No, the process normally took 3 months instead of 6 weeks.|
|Does/will it bring out the BEST in you & others?||No, I found it incredibly frustrating and demotivating.|
‘Then, I got a lucky break… the software team was so busy trying to resolve problems in the present release that nobody had time for conversations about the UX for future versions’.
‘By necessity, I narrowed the process of consultation down to two people and just a few interactions. I followed my internal process of user testing without noise or interference. The result was a new interface that transformed the user experience and received rave reviews’.
‘It was a tiring process that seemed to go on and on. Instead of ‘more, better and faster’, the result was ‘less, worse and slower’. There was so much time spent on emails, conversations, meetings, change requests and re-work. I get a headache just thinking about it!’
One of the simplest, but most powerful pieces of advice for any executive is to minimize the number of people involved. Remember the optimal team size for any task is ‘no more than is absolutely needed’3.
‘Moreover, thanks to this new way of working I saved somewhere between 40 and 60 hours that I was able to spend more productively. I estimate that my team saved two or three times that.’