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6 ingredients for successful collaboration

By Chris Walden, Editor at Microsoft on 16/04/2018

Filed under Digital Transformation

Over the last few years, we’ve come a long way to facilitate collaborative working, with the office cubicle slowly fading away and workspaces being chosen with employee interaction in mind. The time we spend in collaborative activities has ballooned by 50% over the last two decades, and working together is now a key part of our day-to-day roles.

With so much of our time spent collaborating with others, it’s important to use the time effectively, to drive creative thinking and positively impact business outcomes. Last month, we teamed up with Management Today to deliver our “Collaboration: Make it work” event, where industry leaders shared their thoughts on the things that impact productivity and how we can all work better together as a team, leveraging everyone’s strengths.

Kicking off proceedings was Management Today’s Head of Content, Kate Bassett, with a welcome address that looked at collaboration and the importance of teamwork. The way to get ahead isn’t through pecking orders, individual superstars or competition. The best way to get ahead is by working together towards your shared goals.

1. Reward collaborative efforts

Whilst we should absolutely be rewarding individuals in the workplace for their achievements, it’s really about a mindset shift, and how we show our workforce that collaboration is the key to success and not simply a race to the finish.

Man talking on stage

Julian Birkinshaw, Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship and Deputy Dean of the London Business School, then joined us to talk about the current ways of working and why collaboration doesn’t always come naturally.

“If we look at football teams or music groups, collaboration seems to come much more naturally than in the business environment. Why is that and how can we learn from the ways these groups work together?

“It’s largely down to the way we work. The old model of working, with all the bureaucracy, a siloed hierarchy and short-term goals, is a model based on division. A better model is one based on multiplication – working on big projects at a lower level and bringing them together to create bigger things.”

2. Bring your teams together to work on bigger projects

When you look at the team structure in your own organisation, think about the projects where you could bring together different teams and leverage their expertise. Working together will help drive bigger and better outcomes.

People talking on stage

Next up, Stuff’s Global Brand Director, Guy Cocker, hosted a ‘How we did it’ panel – a look at how other organisations encourage collaboration in their businesses. He asked the panel how collaboration works for them, especially when their workforce spans across several generations.

Emily Forbes, Founder of Seenit, shared how bringing in different levels of experience and different ages into the company is essential.

“Bringing people with experience into a younger team can be incredibly powerful. They bring leadership with them, and they’re able to share what’s worked well in the past, as well as learnings from what hasn’t worked.”

Brand and Sustainability Director at Leon, Kirsty Saddler, mentioned that their food development meetings were not limited to just the food development team.

“There’s a massive amount of value that can be had from inviting other people from around the business, so we rotate in team members from the wider business to get their feedback too. You can obsess as a brand about what you’re doing for your customers, but the first communications campaign is to your team.”

Julia Dodd, Digital Transformation Director, showed us that in the workplace at Parkinson’s UK, collaborations come not with just tools, but also processes and attitudes.

“If we can have a shared mindset about the need to be working together, it’s much better than working in silos. It’s a multi-layered effort of processes and tools, with an attitude that collaboration is really the way of solving any major social challenge.”

3. Think about your team dynamic when hiring

When you’re hiring, think about how you can create a diverse team, with a mix of different generations and experiences. This will help you get the right balance between challenging new ideas and taking a ‘tried and tested’ approach. You should also think about how you can include your whole team in the decision-making process – after all, you should all be working towards the same mission.

Two men talking on stage

After a quick coffee break, Russ Shaw was interviewed about the big benefits of collaboration, and what it’s meant for him as the Founder of Tech London Advocates and Global Tech Advocates.

As an example, Russ recalled how a lady in Scandinavia once reached out to him. This was the start of Tech Nordic Advocates which, along with London, makes up just two of the thirteen groups from around the world. Groups that exist to collaborate with others.

Microsoft’s efforts were also recognised in how we’re helping improve remote working, and how partnering with other businesses, setting up work spaces, incubators and accelerators like the new Microsoft Reactor, is all helping collaboration efforts in and around London.

4. Learn from other businesses

The best way to get collaborating is to show that collaboration works. Use specific examples, meet with the people that have been successful, and demonstrate who did it wrong and why.

Woman talking on stage

Zoe Humphries then joined us for a look at the new world of work, detailing her work as a Workplace Consultant at Steelcase and how we can improve our own workspaces to encourage collaboration and inspire creativity.

“Space is important when it comes to collaboration. The classic meeting room with the table in the middle and a screen for presentation is dull. The clicker is hierarchical. Instead, find a space dedicated for group collaboration. A space that allows you to display everything, including the messy workings of what you’re working on, so that all the ideas are there.

“This is perfect for rapid prototyping. You won’t be distracted and will have the chance to really think and break down your work.”

5. Be intentional about collaboration

From the start, attendees need to know the rules that are in place and what everyone’s role is, and they must be 100% sure that everyone knows why they’re there. Think about how you can enhance your work environment to encourage people to work better together. Are there any barriers that can be removed?

People looking at devices

The day came to a close with one final panel, hosted by Guy Cocker, where our panellists shared the large changes they’ve made to usher in a new way of working.

Stephen Docherty, CIO of South London and Maudsley Foundation Trust, spoke about data security and the challenge of getting access to the right information at the right time when you have 4,700 staff members and 90 sites to consider. South London and Maudsley currently use the UK Azure datacentres for their cloud clearance model, which tracks where sensitive data is being held at all times. This has been running since the datacentres opening in 2016, where they were joined by other organisations such as the Ministry of Defence.

Knowledge Management and Collaboration Product Manager, Nick Ledger, shared how his team adopted Yammer for collaboration, and how it changed the dynamic of collaboration within his team at Atkins.

“Everyone has different objectives depending on the project and teams, yet everyone wanted their voices heard. Yammer was brought into the business to solve this and it proved to be a huge success, with groups being created for innovation, sharing ideas, and suggestions for moving the company in interesting directions.”

People networking at event

Kerri Hollis, Senior Product Marketing Manager for Intelligent Communications at Microsoft UK, spoke about the challenge some companies still face in knowing where and why to collaborate.

“Look at what it is you want to collaborate on, and work backwards from there. Microsoft has many suitable solutions to help facilitate this, from company-wide collaboration with Yammer, to focused groups using Teams.”

6. Give your team the tools they need to thrive

Technology should be your enabler and not your starting point. Think about what you’re trying to achieve and then look at the technology and tools that can best enable you to achieve those objectives.

Rounding off a day packed with valuable insights and practical tips, Nick ended the panel with a final piece of advice.

“The most important ingredient for good collaboration will always be the people. Once you have that, give them the tools they need to succeed.”

A huge thank you to our speakers on the day for sharing their experiences and lots of actionable learnings which can be taken back to your business, whether it’s making slight tweaks to your already smooth operation or providing a breath of fresh air to the way your teams currently collaborate.

With these learnings and an eager team, you’ll have what it takes to get collaborating efficiently and effectively.

With the right culture, the right behaviours, and the right technology, collaboration can resume its status as hugely helpful activity. Learn more about how to get the right collaborative balance in your business with our in-depth article.

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