I often talk to senior executives about the challenges their organisations face creating value, coordinating work and achieving strategic goals in a rapidly moving digital environment. Those challenges commonly fall into 3 categories:
- Awareness: Do the employees in the organisation know what they should know? Are we making use of information effectively and in a timely manner? This challenge is often summarised by the wish ‘If only, we knew what we know’
- Alignment: How do I know that the effort in my organisation is going to creating value and high value work aligned to strategic goals? How do I enable employees to autonomously solve alignment issues? This challenge is often summarised by the wish ‘If only, we could get alignment without the meetings’
- Action: How can I benefit from my employee’s position on the spot to solve problems and put information to use? How can we react faster and better to the opportunities around us? How do we engage discretionary effort and make things happen at scale? This challenge can be summarised by the wish: ‘If only, we didn’t wait for instruction’
I have previously described three patterns of human interaction that help address these key issues for senior executives:
- Chat helps create Shared Information
- Conversation helps create Shared Understanding
- Collaboration helps create Shared Work
Shared Information solves Awareness: An organisation that has robust chats will have a wide sharing of information among employees. It is never possible to create complete information awareness, but we can foster an environment in the organisation of what McChrystal calls ‘Shared consciousness’ in his book Team of Teams. Having transparent sharing of information and context building chat across a public network, increases the likelihood that information will be available for employees to pull into their work when and where they need. This is because chat both helps surface this information such that others can find it and it also develops an organisation index of expertise and authority that individuals can leverage to find information effectively.
Shared Understand solves Alignment: Once issues of simple awareness and status of goals are removed by creating a shared context, most issues of alignment are issues of a lack of shared understanding. People are not testing their understanding of the goals and the impact of their work in conversations that would identify the tensions and enable them to adapt to better alignment. When there is misalignment, the issue is rarely one of better broadcasting of information, it is usually how well the recipients are understanding the messages and its connection to their work and its value. Increasing the pace and volume of conversations that reconcile these tensions when small and improve the mutual understanding is essential to developing more effective alignment and sustaining that alignment as things change.
Shared Work solves Action: It’s hard and risky to make change on your own. Collaborative work brings people into action and shows them the potential of their work to drive change and benefit others. Increasing the volume of shared work, addresses agency, fosters better experiences for employees and customers and ultimately creates an environment in which a breadth of innovation is fostered.
We can see how Chat, Conversation and Collaboration mature across the four stages of the Collaboration Maturity model in the following chart:
- Connect: bringing people together can start some chatter and enables the initial conversations around people and alignment.
- Share: Chat is now well developed and the sharing in the network helps develop alignment. People are beginning to be inspired to action by the sharing going on, but this action may not be visible or be in other domains.
- Solve: There is a rich environment for awareness and the potential of networks to solve issues of alignment is being explored well. The benefits of problems being solved is inspiring an increasing level of action and engagement from employees
- Innovate: Effective innovation requires all three to be operating at a high level and the ability to bring the whole organisation’s systems to bear on challenges and opportunities. This level of collaborative performance requires a high level of trust to have been created through the experience of growing maturity.
Here’s a table to reflect how each stage can be mapped.
This discussion to date has been agnostic of the tools you might choose to conduct chats, conversations and collaboration. As I have noted previously, these human behaviours relate to patterns of human interactions but can be mapped to a range of features of different collaboration tools. Different features of different tools address the various elements of awareness, alignment and action to differing degrees. Most importantly your tool will have significant impact on the shape of what is known and what is unknown. This can be a critical issue in awareness, alignment and action and the resulting value created (a topic for a future blog).
In addition, you will always find users whose preferences differ and they seek to execute the behaviour in unusual ways to suit their perceptions and needs. At times there may be a need for chats, conversations or collaborations to improve awareness, alignment, and action for these users.
Most important in achieving the goals that management want to see from these tools are key questions that must be address in the adoption of any new work behaviours:
- what is the culture of the organisation now and what does it need to be for success?
- How open and transparent can we be with information?
- How well shared is the information, understanding and work of the organisation to begin?
- What is the pace of change and adaptation?
The key challenges of management can be easily and effectively addressed by encouraging adoption of both inner and outerloop work tools and the use of both in combination. Designing and supporting that adoption in organisations requires a focus on the human change that will ensure success.
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