The Harvard Business Review has put a lot of attention this year into collaboration overload, the challenges of collaboration and sharing of information. Can there be too much of a good thing? Always. The issue as ever is not the volume. Managing success and the return of collaboration comes down to the choices you make. Making the right choices demands a clear strategy and plan.
Reap the Whirlwind
I sell my services to work as a consultant with clients in innovation, collaboration, learning and leadership. I work for multiple clients at the same time and often work alongside other consultants, vendors and partners in this work. I have speaking engagements that can require coordination with other speakers, event organisers and more. I coach executives and sit on boards. I run conversations on multiple social media channels. On top of this I work out loud, mentor and assist others, participate in a number of communities, help manage the CAWW community and I run Working Out Loud week and other projects. I have plenty of opportunities to feel the pain of collaboration. Most weeks feel like a collaboration whirlwind.
Frustrations will always happen. Many of these pains are a part of all work:
- Am I thrilled with people who take my ideas to reuse them often without attribution? No, but I know that they aren’t helping themselves much. Often they forget it is not the work but the understanding and discussion that adds value. There is always more to be shared. In many cases, they miss out on this value and damage their own brand in their efforts.
- Am I comfortable that some people don’t realize I can help them more, form a negative impression or decide not to hire me on what I share? Those people are missing the value that comes from discussion, tailoring, and more thinking than fits in 140 characters or 800 words. Many more people will start a productive work conversation based on what I share.
- Do I need to juggle other people’s priorities with my own? Yes. However, that is frankly life. We are not islands of personal productivity. Never were. Never will be.
- Do I get frustrated with the people who don’t appreciate or acknowledge assistance? Yes, but I know I am often busy and forget to be grateful enough for the help of others.
- Do I enjoy the critics, the egotists, the argumentative, and the trolls? No. However, I am aware enough to realize that some of them are right and I will make lots of mistakes. I can learn from seeking to understand other viewpoints. I have learned not to feed the trolls. Their issues are their own.
- Do some people take more than they give in collaboration? Of course. Much of the time this is unthinking. People can see their own needs more clearly than yours.
- Do you need to speak up for your value and the need for reciprocity? Yes. Nobody makes me give my time and effort. I have choices to make.
At the heart of issues like information overload, collaboration overload, the perils of the gig economy, and the perils of working out loud are issues of human relationships and personal agency. We can’t escape relationships and we need to own our own agency. Most importantly, we must use our frustrations as the impetus to learn and to change.
A Strategy and A Plan
Owning our personal agency in networks of relationships asks us to have a strategy and specific plans. The value of collaboration is a net value. If you look only at the costs of collaboration, you will miss all the value. The net value is realised by maximising the returns and minimising the costs. A strategy and a plan for our collaborative activities is how we achieve this.
We can’t learn how to do better until we know what we are trying to achieve and we are measuring our performance. Some of the frustrations I described above are expected. Many are surprises, as are many of the benefits. My goal in the work I do connecting, sharing, working out loud and helping others is to minimise the costs and continue to grow the benefits.
Here are some guidelines for your plan:
- Have a purpose: Knowing why you are sharing helps clarify the rewards that you are seeking, whether those flow back to you or are your impact on others
- Know what success looks like: When you can define success you have the better chance of achieving it.
- Know your networks: Who are your communities? What are you sharing where? Why? If you have a one size fits all strategy, you are missing out and wasting effort.
- Make choices: You cannot and should not do everything. Choose what is most valable to you and others.
- Invest only what you can: There is no valuable return on overwork. Running yourself down has only a long-term cost. Learn to say ‘no’ when the demands are too great or the returns too thin.
- Remember the value of relationships and learning: It can be easy to forget that deeper relationships and growing skills are part of the value of collaboration. This human & social capital is just as valuable as the financial capital and may have more to do with your future success.
- Seek to match cost and value as closely in time as possible: Invest upfront for a much later return and your frustrations will escalate. The risks will increase that things change. Make sure you are getting returns from your collaboration now. They don’t have to be reciprocal but there should be value to you to participate.
- Ask for the value you need: People don’t know what you want unless you clearly ask for what you need. Everyone else is busy and distracted. You don’t factor in their thinking unless you make an ask. They will assume you are OK if you keep participating silently.
We don’t have to share and give and contribute. The challenge for each of us is to make the choices to contibute and create value for us and others.
Contribute and Create Value is the theme of this Working Out Loud week from 5-11 June 2017.