Humans have a strong sense of fairness. If two people are given a sum of money and one is asked to divide it and offer the other portion to their partner, if it's not a 50/50 split the partner is most likely to refuse offer, even if this means that both parties loose everything. And of course when it's hard to really to split something exactly down the middle (like a piece of chocolate forest cake) then the you-cut-I-choose method is the only fair approach. Interestingly if a computer makes the split people are most likely to accept whatever proportion that's offered. We don't expect computers to be fair. So don't fall for the lame excuse of, "the computer says no." They're just playing with your psychological foibles.
This sense of fairness has a strong bearing on how we rate our satisfaction with our collaborators, and therefore the collaboration's long-term success. We care more about the process of fairness than the outcome. In one study of car dealers and their relationship with the car manufacturer, the biggest factors in satisfaction were not the transactional details of inventory quality or how good a deal they were getting but how the manufacturer behaved towards the dealer. Did they take the time to learn about their unique operation and market, were they treated with respect, were they polite and well mannered?
Small things can make a big difference. In the middle of this year we started a project for a client and like for all of our clients we offer a 10% discount if the full amount is paid before we start (it usually happens about the same time as we start). This client took advantage of this discount but somewhere along the way our invoice was lost in their system and we were a month into the project without payment. I mentioned this to our client and he was embarrassed and immediately offered to pay the additional 10% because his company didn't fulfil their end of the bargain. Immediately our rapport was strengthened.
Treating everyone fairly is not just the right thing to do, it will determine the long-term success of your collaboration.
I was reminded of the money splitting experiment this morning reading Sway: The Irresistable Pull of Irrational Behaviour. They also tell the car dealer story. It's an excellent little book. Here are the papers describing the research.
Guth, W., R. Schmittberger, et al. (1982). "An Experimental Analysis of Ultimatum Bargaining." Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization 3: 367-88.
Kumar, N., L. Scheer, et al. (1995). "The Effects of Supplier Fairness on Vulnerable Resellers." Journal of Marketing Research 32: 54-65.
Scientists in Iowa recently reported a breakthrough discovery. They successfully identified the gene (PRICKLE1) which when mutated causes epilepsy. There's two things amazing about this discovery
- PRICKLE1 is unique in that it has never been associated with any other disease.
- The project involved two dozen institutions across 6 countries and collaboration played an important role.
Dr Bassuk (the lead author) found that whether on-campus or international, collaboration was essential to the success of the research study.
"By sharing and analyzing data sets, we realized there was a common mutation in the PRICKLE1 gene in the family members with this form of epilepsy," Bassuk said.
To verify that the mutation might be related to the epilepsy, the team needed to test it in an animal model. This next step to find a suitable animal model involved a surprising coincidence: Bassuk, who had only recently joined the UI, realized through online research that the PRICKLE1 gene in zebrafish had been previously identified by another University of Iowa researcher, Diane Slusarki, Ph.D., associate professor of biology in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
"I walked across the river to Diane's side of campus, and we designed an experiment to test the human mutation in the zebrafish," Bassuk said. It was 'Iowa luck.'"...
"We never could have done, or could continue to do this type of research, with just one person thinking about it," he said. "From the clinicians who found and took histories on the study participants, to antibody testing at Stanford University to DNA shared from colleagues in Japan, the study required a lot of collaboration and coordination..."
Read full story here.
What is it that makes it easy for scientists to collaborate?
- Passion or an area of expertise they are identified with
- Dealing with the unknown - so you know you don't have all the answers
- Knowing who would be interested/can be contacted
- Ability to connect easily - they all have profile pages these days and publish their work
Are there other factors?
I was reading a presentation on collaborative behaviours in nursing and came across this great quote.
The most critical aspect of leadership is the desire and passion to lead, the capacity to deeply reflect on and learn from leadership activities, a willingness to step out of one’s comfort zone, and the ability to build and use relationships for some constructive good.
Filed in Knowledge.
Next year I will be giving a couple of presentations at the Ark Group's conference, KM for the Experienced Practitioner. It will be in my home town of Melbourne and I'm looking forward to catching up with everyone.
On the first day of the conference, at 2pm, I'll describe one of our business narrative projects from this year that was all about engaging staff in a change process to improve client service and strategic alignment. Then at 4pm I will be running a skills development session on three story-based skills for visioning, instilling values and establishing rapport.
The folks at Ark have offered Anecdote blog readers a 20% discount on the conference. Just quote "AG-SC" when registering.
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For four years Anecdote has delivered a range of innovative public workshops on topics including storytelling for business leaders, building a collaborative workplace and business narrative techniques. For a range of reasons, we've decided to stop running public workshops and instead we will focus on delivering these workshops in-house. We believe this move will result in even better workshops that can be customised for an organisation's specific needs.
We will still be running our workshops in London in June next year.
Last Friday I ran a workshop for a client on collaboration. I emphasised collaborative practices and behaviours and at one point I introduced the idea of gaining agreement from their team to "call me on it." As I was describing this idea I noticed a woman sitting up the back shaking her head, her face flushed with annoyance. So I stopped and asked if she would like to make a comment.
"There is no way in the world I could ever call my boss on anything, let alone his behaviour," she said. "Can you tell me exactly how you would do that?"
Before I could answer she continued by saying, "I once told my manager he was behaving badly and in the end I had to resign."
At the end of the workshop I was thinking about what this woman said and how one memorable experience created a belief so strong that it precluded a set of strategies for better collaboration. She was describing what Umberto Eco calls our background books: the stories we tell ourselves that enable and disable us.
I could see where she was coming from and I imagine that her encounter with her manager might have been like my equally unsuccessful one with a branch manager a decade ago. I was working for a management consulting company in Canberra and was one of the first eight employees in the branch. We grew in size and when the first set of leadership roles were announced my name was missing from the list. I was furious. I dwelt on it for about a week without mentioning my fury to anybody at work until one day I was in the office kitchen and the branch manager waltzed in.
"I can't believe was you did. Don't you think I'm good enough for a leadership role?" I blurted out.
And before he could answer I stormed out of the kitchen.
I'm not proud of what I did. And it did spell the end of my time with that company. But looking back at that incident I realise now that I wasn't equipped with the skills to have that conversation. I was unaware of how to conduct a meaningful dialogue and keep the conversation going. Happily things have changed and now I have the privilege of helping others learn these fundamental collaboration practices.
Here is a story told by Umberto Eco illustrating his point about background books.
"All medieval tradition convinced Europeans of the existence of the unicorn, an animal that looked like a gentle and slender white horse with a horn on its muzzle. Because it was increasingly difficult to come upon unicorns in Europe (indeed, according to analytic philosophers, they do not exist, although I am note sure I agree), tradition decided that unicorns were living in exotic countries, such as the kingdom of Prester John in Ethiopia.
When Marco Polo travelled to China, he was obviously looking for unicorns. Marco Polo was a merchant, not an intellectual, and moreover, when he started travelling, he was too young to have read many books. But he certainly knew all the legends current in his time about exotic countries, so he was prepared to encounter unicorns, and he looked for them. On his way home, in Java, he saw some animals that resembled unicorns, because they had a single horn on their muzzles, and because an entire tradition had prepared him to see unicorns, he identified these animals as unicorns. But because he was naïve and honest, he could not refrain from telling the truth. And the truth was that the unicorns he saw were very different from those represented by a millennial tradition. They were not white but black. They had pelts like buffalo, and their hooves were as big as elephants’. Their horns, too, were not white but black, their tongues were spiky, and their heads looked like wild boars’. In fact, what Marco Polo saw was the rhinoceros.
We cannot say Marco Polo lied. He told the simple truth, namely, that unicorns were not the gentle beasts people believe them to be. But he was unable to say he had found new and uncommon animals; instinctively, he tried to identify them with a well-known image. Cognitive science would say that he was determined by a cognitive model. He was unable to speak about the unknown but could only refer to what he already knew and expected to meet. He was a victim of his background books."
Eco, U. (1998). Serendipities: Language and Lunacy . London, Phoenix. pp 71-72.
I just opened the book "Semper and Score: Enhancing Organisational Effectiveness" by Tom Graves and was taken by the elegantly simple answer to this question on page 2. Effectiveness consists of, or arises from, four distinct dimensions, plus another sort-of dimension that ties the others together:
- efficient - makes the best use of available resources
- reliable - can be relied upon to deliver the required results
- elegant - supports the human factors in the context
- appropriate - suports and sustains the overall purpose
- integrated - linked to and supports integration of the whose as whole
I like this sentence as well..."the point here is that efficiency is neither the same as effectiveness, nor separate from it, but a subset of what's needed for overall effectiveness". The book is self published and is available from Tom's website.
Filed in .
Just noticed this feature in Firefox this morning which is a real time saver. I'm often looking around for books and I have a couple of favourite websites (Amazon, Readings). In Firefox you can assign a search box on say your Amazon website to a keyword. Then whenever you want to make a search you just type that keyword followed by your search string into the place where you would normally type a web address and hit return. And viola, the search results appear.
Here is the link to the Firefox help page that describes how to do it.
I was in Singapore last week helping a group of leaders learn how to find and tell their own stories. No templates, no recipes, just helping them become mindful of their own stories and showing that storytelling is a visual practice. Don't try and remember the words of a story, remember the pictures.
Like many of these sessions some people were naturals and others found it difficult to move from a didactic approach to communicating. There was one gentleman from India who I could tell was struggling. Luckily he was teamed up with a woman from Japan who really understood the idea of personal stories. At the end of the workshop he came up to me and thanked me for the day and said, "I can see how important telling your stories is because I have just seen you change the mood of the group and build a rapport with all of us by simply telling your stories. That's what I will take away with me today."
I was reminded of last week's workshop (stories beget stories) watching this short video of Barack Obama out on the hustings. He tells the story of how he came to use the chant: Fired up; ready to go. To key to good storytelling is detail, detail, detail and painting pictures for the audience's minds eye. How do you feel at the end of this story?
A couple of years ago I spoke at a BHP Billiton planning day. My talk was at the end of the day so I sat up the back and listened to all the other speakers. While listening I was struck by the language the BHP Billiton people used: "we need to turbo charge the process, turn the cogs, grease the wheels, dig deeper ..." The dominant metaphor was that of a machine. I mentioned this to them in my talk and made the point that organisations can become trapped by the metaphors they use. If you view your organisation and its issues as a machine you will only devise machine-based responses.
After this experience I kept a keen ear out for dominant metaphors in other companies and discovered a bunch of examples: an investment bank where gambling was the major metaphor: let's roll the dice, we came up trumps, what are the odds ...; a road traffic authority that, you guessed it, uses road metaphors: we've got a green light, this is just one way traffic, we have a clear road map ...
Are you aware of the dominant metaphor in play at your organisation?
To help you get started identifying metaphors, Gabe Mounce has written an article called Metaphors are Mindfunnels with a couple of colleagues in the US Airforce. It reviews George Lakoff's Metaphors We Live By and is a good introduction to the issues. You can find a link to the article at Gabe's blog post.
One of the things people find most valuable about our Building a Collaborative Workplace workshop is that it gives them a good solid understanding of what makes collaboration possible and some practical ideas on getting started.
Most people are web 2.0 savvy. They use or know someone who uses a set of tools to share information - social bookmarking, google docs, blogging, wikis, and so on. Yet there are the few for whom communication starts and ends with email.
Here's a list of 9 collaboration tools you can introduce your colleagues. These Common Craft videos make it easy to explain and so much fun to watch. And people really get it.
Some more ideas:
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If creating a great place to work is on your agenda or you need to get people on board, here's what might help you put a plan in place or get your team ready:
- Find and tell great stories
- Create opportunities for people to collaborate
- Use stories to deliver meaningful change and engagement
Check out our 2009 workshops schedule.
Google is considered synonymous with innovation. How do they create the conditions for people to do great work? It can't simply be a result of this.
It's interesting that at Google, people do not sit in business units silos. The environment fosters innovation through cross team interaction. What he said toward the end sums up quite well the conditions necessary for innovation.
"If people understand the values of the company, they should be able to self organize to work on the most interesting problems. And if they haven't, or not able to do that then you haven't talked to them about what's important. You haven't built a shared value culture."
Remembering experiences is heavily dependent on surroundings. I’m currently helping an energy company learn the lessons from retiring employees. I’m videoing their experiences with the view to facilitating sessions using the footage; it’s not really about capturing knowledge, just sparking new conversation based on what’s captured. My last subject was the company’s network controller. He’d been in the role for 10 years and I interviewed him in his office, which was right next to the control room. The control room looks like a mini version of the one from the movie The China Syndrome. His office has a window looking into the control room and it is festooned with charts and whiteboard diagrams. Everywhere you look are computer screens. He has a large table in the middle of his office, which has been the site of many disaster response war rooms. He was brimming with stories.
The network controller was retiring two weeks after my interview and I asked whether I could interview him again at his home. He was happy to help. A month later we met in his lounge room and the response was noticeably different. The stories weren’t as rich. It was harder for him to recall the events. The surroundings didn’t contain the memories and prompters to help him remember what he knew. Surroundings make a big difference to what people can recall.
This pattern repeated itself yesterday, but in a positive way. I had lunch with Patrick Lambe in Singapore and after dim sum (and a durian fruit dessert) we jumped in a cab and visited one of Singapore's best book stores, Kinokuniya. We wandered around the store chatting and the book covers that grabbed our attention sparked new threads in our conversation. Really enjoyable albeit an expensive outing. Here are the books I bought:
Filed in Anecdotes.
Many (most?) of our conversations in the workplace are transactional: in fact they are not conversations at all. In the October issue of Anecdotally, we shared a technique to encourage people to have conversations.
Here's a nice success story about how a culture was created where people have conversations.
"The London office was horrible", a senior manager told us, "with constant backbiting and a lot of bad blood''. The change started with Charlotte Beers, the then CEO of OgilvyOne, who invited all the business leaders to a two-day off-site meeting. Breaking with norms, she began the conversation by asking direct questions: "How do we feel about one another? Why can't we work together? Do we recognise what that is doing to our clients?'' That meeting was the turning point. Initially, the discussions were very difficult. "We simply did not know how to openly talk to each other", the same senior manager told us. "We were so used to being defensive and polite. It took two years and eight meetings - and some changes in the cast of characters - before we learnt to deal with emotions and feelings, to be authentic. Its only through that process that we learnt the power of friendship".
Gratton L., and Ghoshal S., (2002) "Improving the Quality of Conversations", Organizational Dynamics, Vol. 31, No. 3, pp. 209-223.
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Here's a great ABC documentary on Network Theory: How Kevin Bacon Cured Cancer.
It illustrates the six degrees of separation phenomenon using the idea of synchronization, the paradox of small worlds, bacon numbers - a game showing how every hollywood actor is linked to Kevin Bacon, the structure of the internet and its hubs, how Sadaam Hussian was caught by disrupting the hubs in his network, and finally a network map of all the human diseases.
Some interesting characteristics of networks they talk about:
- It's important to understand who is listening to whom in a network
- Events are not isolated; we need to understand how they interact
- Adding a random link can have an enormous impact on the network
- Networks are not random; they have a structure and behaviour (or pattern of behaviour)
And one really good question: How can we shrink the pathways in our network to make it more connected?
Thanks Catherine for sharing the link.
The actKM conference was held in Canberra in mid October. One of the presenters was Jane Chrystal from the Central West Catchment Management Authority who were one of the pilot sites for the Regional Knowledge Resource Kit (RKRK) project. The RKRK project developed a process and supporting resources for the various Natural Resource Management regions to develop their own knowledge strategies.
Jane mentioned that one of the actions from their knowledge strategy has had a big impact. This simple action was for all staff to write a clear description in the subject line of their emails. Adopting this practice has helped staff deal with information overload by being able to quickly identify emails that they need to deal with, and which ones can be simply deleted. I recall when we were working with Jane and her team that another 'small' initiative was to encourage people to travel together as much as possible when driving around the region - the idea being that car trips are an ideal time to have conversations, build relationships and share knowledge.
Congratulations to Nerida Hart and the Knowledge for Regional NRM team from Land & Water Australia on receiving the actKM Platinum Award for their achievements in developing the RKRK and related activities. Anecdote is proud to have had a major role in supporting the RKRK project and we really enjoyed working with Nerida and her team on this project.
Filed in .
Organisations need simple ways to create a common understanding about what needs to be done. Our collaboration framework aims to provide two perspectives: the dashed oval represents the collaboration environment—the container that enables (or disables) collaboration within and between organisations; and a simple process reminding us that in business we must collaborate with a purpose, starting with business needs and resulting in outcomes.
I'll leave the elements of the collaboration environment for another post but let me describe the process.
Business needs—it's easy to say yes to collaborations. At first blush they are exciting and hold tremendous promise. Successful collaborations, however, require considerable effort from all parties (if this is not the case you are probably co-operating or co-ordinating) and for this reason you must be confident that the effort supports your strategy. Having a strategy helps you say 'no' and for those collaborations you create ensuring they're aligned with your strategy (personal and/or business) will create confidence that the effort will be worthwhile.
It's also important to know whether your potential collaborators have a strategy and that the new collaboration is aligned to it because if it isn't there is a good chance that when things get tough they will abandon ship.
Find—Effort is required finding collaborators which means seeking them out and helping them find you. Your ability to find collaborators has a lot to do with your personal network and probably the simplest technique is to tell people what you are interested in and that you don't have all the pieces of the puzzle. You friends, colleagues and acquaitences will suggest collaborators—business matchmakers setting you up for a blind date. So networking is a key skill. The flip side involves doing things so people can find you and what you are interested in. Can people find you on Google? Is your work well known? Are you doing good work that will attract collaborators. Do you have an attractive demeanour?
Connect—You have to spend time getting to know your collaborators beyond the superficial understanding of title, career highlights and business ambitions. Eating together seems important. And sharing experiences beyond what's merely required to get the job done. You need to know your collaborators care about you. A few weeks back I started a new collaboration with a graphic facilitator Jock MacNeish. He was heading off on a trip to Italy with his wife and before he left I mention that my wife had to spend a couple of days in hospital. A week after Jock left for Italy I received a postcard from him passing on his best wishes for Sheenagh and hoping all was well. It was a small gesture that meant a lot.
Create—This is where value is created from the collaboration: when you create something together. During this time a range of personal skills are needed: how to keep the collaborators in dialogue even when the conversation is tense; how to break out of established patterns of thinking and behaving to create something new; how to apologise when you stuffed up (here are seven personal skills I think are important for collaboration).
Business results—Finally how do assess the impact of your collaboration? This will depend on what you are working on. In some cases you will have the benefit of being able to measure your impact in terms directly relevant to the business (increased revenue, lower cost, lower risk, greater profit) but in many cases you will need to take an indirect route. Narrative techniques such as Most Significant Change or our Three Journey's approach can be applied as effective evaluation techniques.
Lynda Gratton from the London Business School recently conducted an investigation of 55 organisations to learn about the behaviours that made the greatest impact on building a collaborative culture. In her Harvard Business Review article she and her co-author list eight. There were two that stood out for me:
- Leaders who modelled collaboration had collaborative organisations
- HR departments had the biggest impact on collaboration if they provided skills training in collaboration and fostered informal learning communities
We are seeing Gratton's findings playing out here in Australia in that we are currently busy conducting collaboration skills training for organisations, mentoring leaderships teams and continuing our work to foster communities of practice.
Gratton, L. and T. J. Erickson (2007). "8 Ways to Build Collaborative Teams." Harvard Business Review November: 101-109.