Experiment: An hour of intense collaboration every day

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Communication and intense collaboration inside and across teams can be difficult. The reasons are manifold and hard to get over. This leaves lots of excuses, why we shouldn’t and couldn’t improve. By just committing to cooperate intently and closely with someone each day for one or two ours, we can make an immediate change without having to ask for permission.

Learning Collaboration Against All Odds Is Key

I use and propagate intense forms of collaboration in all of my trainings and workshops. The feedback I often get is that people are amazed at what can be accomplished in short amounts of time. Also, I often talk about “enforced communication” and “enforced collaboration”. “Enforced” sounds kind of strange. What I mean by that is not enforcing it upon people but enforcing it against some of the mechanisms that actually make communication and collaboration hard:

  • Processes are decisions already made and often times hinder open communication and collaboration
  • Silos lead to each silo having its own goals
  • Culture does not always allow for collaboration and communication where needed. “So you went behind my back?”, “You jumped to my boss right away?”, “You asked a guy in my team without my permission?” And why in the places where this occurs the statements might be necessary to protect, they still hinder collaboration and communication.

Retreats As Extreme Time, Depth And Distance

One of my mantras is that mastery in a company means acknowledging and practicing work forms of different time, depth and distance. One of the extremes being attending one of my Retreats, where we meet for dour days on a mountain hut to do deep work for a long time and far away from work. It is extreme and I know it is not for everyone. That is by design. I also can imagine going further, of course. Like research projects outside of a company that took months and all had deep results and made a change.

Short Time Spans Counter Collaboration

The other extreme is everyday work life with its fast triggers, short attention span and bewildering stream of changing goals, short termed contacts and plenty of stakeholders, an average of 160 emails and at least four meetings a day. While some of that is necessary, we tend to pack our days with this type of work. Our brain is wired to file this type of work under “instant gratification” and our addiction mechanism trigger heavily.

Invisible Common Goals

A side effect of a “highly efficient” work life dominated by short time spans is that shared goals might be documented in OKRs or any other form. The problem is that in this work format, these are not not tangible or “experiencable”. This also a side effect of dividing labor into many small things, as I described here. Dividing a bigger task into many small tasks for many people leads to focusing on the tasks but not the big thing we want to achieve. If everyone did his tasks, everything is fine – whatever the outcome. In fact, we are being measured on having done our tasks – whatever.

A Gateway Drug Towards Depth

A totally valid question is if and which options exist between the extremes. One of the hints I like to give is to include “Design Studios” (Hmm, should I write about I do them. You can also google different forms.) as often as possible into everyday work. It is a very intense forms of group collaboration. It consists of very short time boxes of quiet work alone followed by outbursts of focused feedback and discussion. I am also fine with any other form of group interaction that enforces communication and collaboration and leads to deeper work. My experience, is that the focused and intense work of Design Studios of one to three hours are already quite a stretch in many cultures and might not be for the faint hearted. Also in most cultures a Design Studio or any equivalent is already a big deal and seems to need preparation. Design Studios are meant to be lightweight. They are meant to be something you just do. It’s not meant to be this way, but let’s accept things as they are!

So, here is my alternative suggestion. Your potential gateway drug into deeper work, collaboration and communication. And thus: deeper, better results. I suggest it quite often and I can encourage you – no harm has yet been done by trying this:

As a team you could decide upon promising to each other that for the next one or two weeks

  1. each day,
  2. all of you,
  3. will collaborate deeply (),
  4. in (at least) pairs,
  5. for one or two hours

Here some hints on how I would do it. But you play wit the rules. Just don’t make it too easy. It is supposed to be different. But keep the bar as low as you get started with the experiment. And stick to it for a week or two at least:

  • Each pair choses a topic that’s on the plate anyway
  • The topic is sufficiently hard and complex to justify that form of collaboration.
  • You don’t have to work in perfect pairs: Picking a partner does not mean the partner needs to be an expert.
  • Also: Working in pairs is the minimum. If you want to work in threes or fours, fives: do that. Just make sure everyone is reply involved.
  • Here a definition of deep collaboration: A serious session in fron of a white board. Some form of organised collaboration like 20 minute outburst of intense work, 5 minute breaks, 20 minute of outburst. Working hard on a prototype idea together. Intensly honing a text, proposal, description. Depp does not mean: Having a heavy discussion over a coffee. Or “a meeting”. You should set the topic and the desired outcome first. If you don’t need a serious break after the session, it wasn’t deep. It should take you to the limits.
  • My favorite: Try to avoid digital media and Internet / Email / Slack or any other drug of distraction during collaboration. if you need detailed information, try to print it out. That makes you think what you need in advance and prepare before doing the work. It’s a great constraint.

Few Excuses Left

While trying to figure out if you want to commit to do the experiment, consider this:

In the first paragraph, I mentioned that process, silos and culture are the main adversaries for collaboration, most of the time. It is hard to explicitly work on those. That is also the main pretext we take against trying better. That we do not have the leverage to change these boundary conditions. This experiment gives you a chance to locally improve collaboration without permission and without pretext. All you require should be inside the frame of your autonomy in most places. All without having to work on company wide issues like culture, silos etc. You could just do it. Why not give fit a try? There is little downside, but lots of upside: A continuous way towards a better, more fulfilled work life, fun and results at the same time.

We have lots of talk of 20% time etc. All that is dependent on the conditions in your work environment. This experiment could lead you the way to something potentially as or valuable. And without asking for permission.

If you discuss this in your team, why not send me reasons for doing or not doing this. That could help me update the experiment.

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