A Tool for Your Collaboration Climb

“There is no way we’re going to be on the same stage as those folks. That project experience was far from collaborative.”

Recently, a design & construction team was recognized for exemplary collaboration on a project. The team members, representing multiple firms, were contacted to participate in the award luncheon. The above quote came from one of those firms.

Does that sound like a project with collaboration talent, knowledge & skill? Remember, this project is considered an exemplary collaborative project by today’s standards… and those were pretty strong words quoted. Based on their reaction, do you think there was emotional dysfunction on that project team? Maybe there were collaboration-hindering legacy policies and organizational structures in the project delivery process?

It was unfortunate he felt that way. His reaction validated the idea that opportunity exists to collaborate at another level… even in the more collaborative, better run projects.

What if you had a quick diagnostic tool to avoid this scenario?

Enter – The Team Collaboration Meter

The purpose of the Team Collaboration Meter is to define different types of interaction mistaken for collaboration. This helps you uncover the gap between your current level of interaction and the ultimate goal of collaboration, as well as shed light on ‘why’ you and your team members would want to learn ‘how’ to collaborate deeper.

Let’s begin with a metaphor to create perspective. In a court of law there are many degrees of ‘burden of proof’ to decide a trial. It’s not just a matter of whether someone’s guilty or innocent. Here are 5 degrees: 1. Reasonable Suspicion, 2. Substantial Evidence, 3. Preponderance of Evidence, 4. Convincing Evidence and 5. Beyond a Reasonable Doubt.

When interacting with others on a team, it’s not just a matter of being collaborative or not. Who in their right mind is going to say they’re not collaborative? There are 5 types of team interaction – 1. Association, 2. Participation, 3. Coordination, 4. Cooperation, 5. Collaboration.

The 5 Types of Team Interaction on the Team Collaboration Meter

A group of people with a common purpose. For example, two groups may have an association on a construction project. This could be two trade contractors – a mason and a drywall installer. They are associated on the same project, but don’t necessarily interact with each other.

This pertains to a particular venture or project characterized by more than one person or group taking part or becoming actively involved. Participatory relationships happen when a person approaches another with an opportunity and there is something to gain or lose. For example, the project relationship between 1. trade contractors and the general contractor (GC), 2. the GC and designers or 3. designers and owners. Taking this definition further, when these participants utilize “collaborative technology” they feel collaborative, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they are being collaborative. Participating in a “GoToMeeting”, on a “virtual model” or in project management software like “Basecamp” does not qualify as collaboration. These transactional vehicles have nothing to do with heart or behavior.

The arranging of tasks or sequencing of work to gain perceived efficiency. Examples are general contractors scheduling trade contractors’ work or arranging third-party inspections at specific times.

The act of working together as long as both groups see a mutual benefit. This can make a group feel collaborative without actually being. An example would be a trade contractor agreeing to a GC’s schedule until that schedule presents something unanticipated which causes short-term risk of money or reputation.

Decisions are made based on what’s best for the project. This is a life-cycle approach to designing and constructing a building. In other words, it’s about how the building will help the owner reach their objectives for the building’s 50+ years of life. In addition, team members do things for each other without any short-term benefit for themselves, even at the risk of money or reputation.

You can accomplish this diagnostic with a large group in an hour. All you need is a flip chart, markers and the Team Collaboration Meter. Beforehand, ask participants to create their own industry specific definitions for association, participation, coordination, cooperation and collaboration and describe what those definitions look like in practice or behaviorally. The participants can choose to share their answers with the large group.

Start the large group discussion with a few questions. Why do teams resist figuring out ‘why’ to start to collaborate deeper and how does this resistance impact the team? Also, what are the different types of interactions mistaken for collaboration (using the Team Collaboration Meter definitions)?

Afterwards, you could divide into work groups and ask participants to use the Meter to rate the best project or work relationship they’ve ever experienced as well as the last project or work relationship they experienced.

The Team Collaboration Meter creates a rapid ‘gap analysis’ to help you see the distance between collaboration and where you currently fall in line. From there, you can make a plan to close the gap.

You may be thinking, ‘I can’t control everybody else’ or ‘I believe what you’re saying, but if I can’t implement, it’s a huge risk and I’m not going to do it. I’d rather work on technology and work processes’.

If you begin with yourself, then your team and then your organization, there is no risk. It is called the Collaboration Climb. If you begin by trying to ‘fix’ others outside your organization, there’s great risk.

By making the Collaboration Climb and moving-up from feeling collaborative to being collaborative, you move-up from confidence in yourself to conviction about using the heart to be collaborative. You’re able to “let go.”

Systematize collaboration, stick with it, improve it and become a learning organization around collaborating deeper to solve problems. Don’t stay at the base of the mountain and hop from industry fad to industry fad. Keep climbing and reach higher.

Clay Goser, Principal with Symphony LLC, St. Louis, contributed to this article written by Darren Smith.

Upcoming Developmental Opportunities

NEW Introductory Collaboration Workshop for $199, May 10 at TEXO – What True Collaboration Looks Like on a Project

This workshop helps you identify and implement tools and resources to ensure your project is truly a collaborative one:  exceeding budget and schedule expectations and producing satisfied Owners, Architects, Engineers, stakeholders and project personnel.  The session will draw upon continual, thought-leading research and real-life experience from participants on collaborative projects.

This workshop is for participants that spend most of their time at the project site. Register now.

Collaboration Strategy Boot Camp May 6-7 in Dallas
Register now, if considering new ideas for project delivery is a priority.

Collaborative Leadership Lab on June 13-14 in Dallas
Register now to equip yourself with collaborative knowledge & skills to help you draw-out the gold (waste) lodged between the silos that exists in every project.

Collaboration Change Leadership Boot Camp September 23-24 in Dallas
How do you INSURE collaborating deeper becomes “the way things are done around here?” This experience focuses on solving the issue of leading a collaboration change leadership effort successfully. Register now.

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