Everyone should watch the TED Talk by David Grady, “How to save the world (or at least yourself) from bad meetings.” You’ll laugh because it is so humorous, but it also makes you realize how much time is actually wasted in meetings which are either perfunctory in nature or just poorly run. We have all been there. In watching this TED Talk, it occurred to me that in addition to the fact that meetings “steal” time from someone’s otherwise productive day, there is also another cost. Everyone present at the meeting gets to tick the mental box that they were there, and in so doing, the opportunity to encourage real change in the organization is lost. Why? Because true collaboration and ideation take both time and engaged participants
As each year closes, there is no better time than the new year to breathe renewed energy into a business. Harness the brainpower of your employees and co-workers and resolve to master the art of collaboration.
Discuss Matters of Consequence
According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, collaboration means “to work with another person or group in order to achieve or do something.” It sounds so simple. But, what struck me after listening to David Grady’s TED Talk, is that to work with someone, you must be willing and truly want to listen to what (s)he has to say, and what is being said must be a matter of some consequence. People think of meetings as ideal forums for brainstorming and dialogue. However, so often a meeting boils down to a presentation of a project already in progress, status updates by participants on actions that have already been taken or approvals or wordsmithing of documents. Here is an example of what I mean:
You are asked to attend a budget meeting to review, discuss and approve the proposed budget for the next calendar year. As the meeting kicks off, you are handed a weighty package with the current budget proposal versus previous year(s) actuals and some supporting details. You listen to a presentation of the changes relative to the previous year’s budget proposal, are informed of some revised expectations, and apprised of scenarios that may take the budget off track. In due course, you are reminded of the tight timeframe and lengthy agenda for the meeting, and oh yes, comments anyone?
In fact, we attend meetings hoping to participate in an exchange of ideas, but the reality is that often one group presents to another, and the matters under discussion are scrubbed and edited so as to be of little consequence. People hear the presentation, but don’t really listen to it because they know that neither genuine change nor collaborative dialogue will ensue. The reality is that colleagues will not collaborate with their peers unless discussions are on matters of consequence, meaningful change is still possible and people in the meeting actually want input from others in attendance.
Value the Input of your Peers
Every organization has a hierarchy. It certainly is important when it comes to the day-to-day operations of the business. There are chiefs and there are Indians. But, the irony is that often the Indians have some of the best ideas, and moreover while some could be chiefs, they choose not to be. These non-managerial employees are pivotal to the daily running of the company and often the face of the business to your customers. Sometimes their jobs have components that are repetitious, so there is no one better to suggest how to streamline those jobs. They interact with customers and know what works and what will sell. But often, these valuable members of the team are also acutely aware that they are not managers.
If you are seeking to draw out the ideas of your peers and collaborate with them, they will want to know their input is truly valued by both the management and other co-workers. The art of collaborating encompasses the ability to sometimes treat others as your peers even when they are not, take the time to talk and listen to them and value their input. The end result is genuine buy-in.
Follow-up on Great Ideas
With some great ideas and an action plan in place, follow-up is critical to the art of collaboration. Organizational change comes in steps, and each part of the process should have actionable items for people to do. There is nothing more demoralizing than attending a meeting where someone floats a great idea, there is much fanfare, and then it is never pursued. If your organization has a management team that never produces actionable plans based on great ideas, than the value of the collaborative process is lost.
If there are unanswered questions when an idea is presented, the appropriate person should report back on the issue to his or her colleagues. In fact, taking a suggestion and following it through speaks to valuing the input of your peers, and as employees start to see the results of their collaborative efforts, they will become even more energized, motivated and engaged.
Stale organizations focus on process. Growing ones encourage collaboration and evolve.
Collaboration forces an organization to mature and grow, although perhaps not in the manner originally anticipated. If you are struggling to identify a strategic direction for your organization and could use some assistance, contact us or call (973) 218-6558.
Note: This blog has been edited since its first publication in December 2014.