Breaking Down the Value of Collaboration: Four Drivers of Value

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For over five years, I have been talking about the potential for organisations to create value everyday using collaboration. Through the Value Maturity Model, and its application in the Collaboration Value Canvas, I have discussed repeatedly the importance of an understanding of value to users and to the organisation.

Until now, I have left the definition of value entirely to the imaginations of readers. One reason for resisting defining value was to avoid an immediate reduction of value to an ROI calculation, which is both notoriously ambiguous and beside the point. The role of value in this discussion is not to justify investment accounting. The role of value is to shape the adoption actions, the use cases and the norms of the community that an organisation is seeking to create. The second reason for my reluctance is that value means something different to almost every organisation at every time. How an organisation and its people need to create additional value is highly dependent on their context.

In this post, I want to share my key drivers of value creation, which I find useful tools for anyone seeking to guide collaboration adoption in a wide range of contexts. Ability to leverage the drivers of collaboration will help you to identify the opportunities for value creation from collaboration, shape use cases and communicate to individual users about value in a simple way. To explain the path to these drivers, we must talk about what value and break it down to everyday topics of business conversation.

Understanding What We Mean by Value

Value is in economics is a measure of the benefit to be gained from any activity. Vibrant and sustainable organisations create a surplus of value, using their resources in a strategic way to create more benefits than the value of their intial resources. Value add is the difference between the benefits generated and the resources consumed. The goal of most strategy is to sustain and increase the value added by an organisation.

At an individual level employees also want to experience purpose and meaning in their work. They want to deliver greater benefits to themselves and others than simply the time value of their work.

Value can be monetary but it can also come in wider non-economic forms. Therefore as we think about value for individuals and organisations we need to keep in mind:

  • Economic value add – the dollars and cents; and
  • Non-Economic Value – any other meaningful sources of value (i.e. meaningful in the eye of the beholder)

If we break down how both economic value add is created and non-economic value we will find some common drivers. If you are short of time or not interested in the background to my approach, you can skip to the answer in the section entitled Four Drivers of Value Creation below.

Economic Value Added 

Economic value add can be defined for an organisation as the excess of the net operating profit after tax of an organisation over its cost of capital.  An organisation deploys financial capital in its operating activities, that capital has a cost and the activities need to generate more operating profit to be sustaining.

A value driver tree enables us to break these concepts down to more everyday topics of business strategy, activity and conversation in green in the table below. Sales, Cost of Sales, Other Organisational Costs, investment in assets and working capital are key elements of how much economic value added a business creates. If the adoption activities in your organisation are not changing these sources of value in some way, then they are unlikely to be creating economic value, especially after the cost of adoption is taken into account.

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Non Economic Value

We can similarly breakdown some major categories of non-economic value, such as Social, Environmental, Governance and Generational value considerations. Because non-economic value is ‘in the eye of the beholder’ to some extent, this list is inevitably a partial one. There are likely more categories that are omitted, such is the richness of human life as expressed by individuals in organisational communities.

Economists will argue that some or all of these can be captured in or flow through to economic value, but the average person sees many of these sources of value as richer for lacking a direct monetary equation. Many of the sources of value in green are key elements of creating an organisation or living a life that is rich in human potential.

The green categories of non-economic value listed below are those most commonly discussed in any project of adoption of collaboration. These may be the starting points for any project. Non-economic value add is usually critical in the ultimate user and organisation success of any collaboration project. There is however a danger if this value is defined only in terms of these Capitalised nouns and they are not translated into specific measures of success and intiatives that users and the organisation can embrace.  Projects that set out after the mystery of ‘Culture’ or ‘Engagement’ without further support or without considering other categories of value, especially economic value, will likely fail because users rightly question their point.

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The Four Sources of Collaboration Value

At the beginning of my career in financial services we had a simple mental model, derived from the Cohen Brown Sales framework, of how we delivered value to customers from the vast array of products and services that a large diversified financial services organisation offered in banking and wealth management. That model was “Save Money, Make Money, Save Time or Protect Money”. Reducing the complexity to these four options guided bankers and other advisors through a great deal of complexity.

As similar guiding structure can be used for value creation generally. When we look at how collaboration can deliver value to each of the green elements of value in both economic and non-economic value we find that value is created by four key drivers. In simplest terms those drivers are:

  • More: Growth – how can we have a bigger impact? how can we help more people? Many organisations want to grow in customer relationships, in scale of operations or in other ways.
  • Better: Effectiveness – how can we ensure we do the most we can do? how do we do more of the right things? The literature of Lean has enriched our understanding of the value of effectiveness in economic value but effectiveness is also a concept that works for non-economic values too.
  • Faster: Velocity – how can we take less time to do our work and to get to our goals? Time is a valuable and expiring resource. Let’s use it as well as we can and remove the traditional work frustrations of delay and waiting.
  • Safer: Protect – how can we avoid risks and better manage consequences? Risk is a part of any life or organisation. We can however improve our management of risk.

As you can see in the tables above, I have highlighted in amber, how each of these drivers commonly creates value for the elements of value in driver. For example costs and working capital can create value if they are used more effectively or with greater velocity.

Here’s a little more detail on what these drivers each mean in organisational terms:

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One of the advantages of framing adoption conversations in these terms, is that it helps make the value of activities clear to users and senior leaders in simple terms.  The key benefits that they are likely to see are:

  • Individual and Organisational Growth
  • Increased Individual and Organisational Effectiveness
  • Improved Velocity in activity, opportunity and leverage of potential, both in an employee and organisational view
  • An environment where individuals and the organisation have better Protection against risks

We Create Value Because We Are Human

If we are to make work more human and more rewarding through shared leverage of human potential in collaboration, then these key drivers should guide our projects and guide our value conversations with stakeholders. We should set our metrics and our use cases around these drivers so that we have the widest impact on value creation. If we need to increase value creation we can come back to these drivers to search for a way forward for users and the organisation.

Every organisation and every user needs to define the value of collaboration to see effective adoption. Understanding value is critical for anyone seeking to accelerate adoption of collaboration in organisations. The four drivers of value can help us to keep conversations and the actions focused on how collaboration can have its greatest impact on value.

Appendix: Recapping All Value Creation Together

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Part 4 – Leading Discomfort

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That uncomfortable moment when we both wonder ‘who is leading this? I hope it is not me’

The transformation of organisations to adapt to new digital networked economy and to leverage future of work behaviours creates new discomfort for leaders. Leadership is not the art of making things good or having the right answers. Leadership is the art of enabling others to work together through discomfort.

We have examined the role of discomfort in the future of work. We have looked at the personal implications of discomfort and our need to engage with reality. Now let’s look at what this enduring discomfort means for leadership.

Leaders Aren’t Magicians

We can’t expect leaders to be magicians. The world is too complex and too fast paced for hierarchal or any leaders to have all the answers. Our work is increasingly intertwined in systems, stakeholders and interpersonal dynamics. Each of these brings complexity that makes the work of leaders hard and prevents quick fixes and simple patterns of action.

Worse still many employees and many organisations have an outdated expectation that the role of leader is to make a team safe, to make work simple and easy and to provide security and protection. Those expectations are unable to be met in the modern environment of work. Connections to the outside world cannot be cut without imperilling performance. Once we let the network world in to our work it brings change, risk and complexity. For many leaders, the greatest source of discomfort is that the expectations of their power far outweigh their actual influence on people, work and outcomes.

Embrace Discomfort & Enable Others

Leaders need to embrace their own discomfort and help their teams to productively navigate the environment and their emotional states in work. A key first step is for leaders to have honest conversations about the expectations around work, to understand the challenges and to callout that discomfort, like change, is not only likely but inevitable.

When managed in this way, discomfort can be a productive source of energy for change and a unifier of teams and stakeholders. Rather than suppress discomfort, people can leverage discomfort as a trigger for change, as a rationale for action and as pressure for sustaining the work. Focusing attention on the accountability for improvement in a group and helping the group engage with that work is a leader’s work, far more than providing answers.

Leaders need to work to make discomfort feel safe for action and interaction. Creating psychological safety despite the discomfort of work is essential to team performance. Leaders need to encourage employees to embrace a more human approach to work that includes not just their technical expertise but their social and emotional expertise as well.

Great leaders create others who can inspire and enable action and share that capability widely across their organisations and communities. One of the greatest drivers of performance is increasing the number of people who can help others to work through discomfort.

Work Together

When we are uncomfortable, it can seem easier to withdraw to safety. People will pull back into their own domains as if that offers safety. The nature of modern work requires connection and collaboration. Leaders are critical to role model this behaviour and help others see the benefits of working together. Building new capabilities and new practices for connection, sharing and collaboration is essential.

Often we need to work together across the reach of a leader’s authority. Great leaders are those who can find shared interests and help facilitate this wider stretch collaboration. This work is how we gain a shared context and learn together how we address the big problems of our organisations and our societies.

Lastly, leaders can help teams achieve enduring change in their work by changing their relationships across the organisation. Those relationships might be long settled or tied up in cultural expectations that are difficult to adapt. Everyone needs to be encouraged to reflect on these human relationships and how they contribute to better interactions, performance and outcomes.

This post is part of a multi-part series exploring discomfort in the future of work. Future posts will examine how organisations, leaders and individuals can manage this discomfort. These posts are part of a process of working out loud to explore these uncomfortable concepts so feedback is welcome.

Part 1: The Role of Discomfort.

Part 2: The Personal Discomfort

Part 3: Engaging with Reality

Part 3: The Discomfort of Working with Reality

Learning is a common source of discomfort in the future of work. A related source of discomfort is that many future of work practices force us to focus on reality – whether that is the reality inside our organisations, the world of our customers and communities or wider society. We cannot learn to sit with discomfort until we embrace the fact that discomfort is a part of that reality.

Hope is not a Strategy

Embracing discomfort demands we stop the delusion of wishing for change and waiting for something better to come along. We can’t rely on a hope for an improvement. We can’t wish discomfort away. We can’t rely on the actions of others. We can’t wait and see.

Wishful thinking prevent us from being present with our discomfort. Wishful thinking prevents us from learning. It mitigates the prod of discomfort we need to learn and to act differently.

Too often inside the comfortable confines of an organisation, you will hear discussions that reflect wishful thinking that ignores the demands of the uncomfortable reality outside:

  • our customers are different to those of our low-cost digital competitors and will continue to pay a premium for our service
  • our brand, distribution channels, product or approach is unique
  • our strategy is not showing results now but has always delivered in the long run
  • our employees are loyal
  • millennial employees will help us…
  • the customer dissatisfaction or employee disengagement is a flaw in the methodology or a lack of accurate representation of reality
  • community concerns are the work of a vocal minority
  • they just don’t understand and their views will improve if we communicate more

If we are to engage with the reality of the situation we need to start to to address the needs of our organisation, our employees and our communities in a realistic way. Today.

The Passion for Packaged Solutions

Leaders love a quick fix to discomfort. They are often willing to ignore reality to have the sensation of having acted to address the discomfort. Prodded by discomfort, they want to wish it away by immediate action. These actions include:

  • Buy a new piece of technology
  • Launch a program or initiative
  • Hire a new team
  • Implement a new process or methodology; or worse
  • Seek quick wins, which are usually neither quick nor wins but are merely comforting activity for its own sake

In our digital networked world, many of the issues causing discomfort in organisations are systemic or human issues. Pre-packaged solutions may help ameliorate these human or systemic issues at the edges or temporarily, but they do not help create enduring solutions. Organisations and their leaders need to engage in the reality of change over time to tackle this kind of discomfort through building new human capabilities, improving the system through adaptation and through engagement of the participants in the system. If they don’t, we have an ever rotating menu of quick fixes being implemented and failing.

Learning from Inclusion and Diversity

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The value of working out loud is it can help reveal to you blindspot. In the classic 2×2 of a Johari window, a blindspot is those things that are not known to you but a are clearly known to others. Yesterday on twitter, Rachel Happe helped me highlight a blindspot in this discussion of discomfort.

Presenting discomfort as a permanent experience is no surprise to Rachel’s list of those who we have ignored as leaders. There is real capability to lead and influence change in those who have been marginalised by the reality of power structures. I have seen this in my work with Change Agents Worldwide.

My blindspot was I had planned this post from the perspective of an advocate for diversity and inclusion but had not included the perspective of these other voices.  I wanted to write in this post about the importance of diversity and inclusion for organisations as a way to engage with the reality of their world and the reality of the communities around the organisation.

The research is clear that diversity and inclusion improves performance. One potential reason is that it brings new perspectives, new capabilities and new conversations into the organisation to improve learning and adaptation to the world. Those conversations can be uncomfortable. That discomfort is one of the barriers to diversity and inclusion as leaders fall for the illusion that comfort and ‘cultural fit’ in teams improve effectiveness by removing these difficult and at times uncomfortable conversations.

The insight of Rachel’s tweet is that the productive discomfort of diversity and inclusion is not created. That discomfort is a sharing of the existing experience of marginalised who struggle to find authority and to make positive change to better fit the organisation to society. Genuine community engagement is not easy and should not be. A strong civil society or a strong organisation includes all views and manages debate and conflict. Inclusion requires a real sharing of power, voice and agency. Our organisations and our society will be better if we engage with that reality.

The next post will be on the role of leaders in discomfort.

This post is part of a multi-part series exploring discomfort in the future of work. Future posts will examine how organisations, leaders and individuals can manage this discomfort. These posts are part of a process of working out loud to explore these uncomfortable concepts so feedback is welcome.

Part 1: The Role of Discomfort.

Part 2: The Personal Discomfort

Part 2: Personal Discomfort in the #FutureofWork

The Organisation Man, and it was mostly a man, wore a suit, travelled to work each day in the same organisation, had a boss who he looked up to, had meetings, made telephone calls, and pursued the individual task of moving paper from the in-tray to the out-tray. At the end of the day around 5pm the Organisation Man went home. Our vision of this stereotypical 1950s style experience of work is a vision of a comfortable and predictable existence with a steady career escalator to provide the gradual rewards. Many still long for this level of certainty and safety in work, even if they don’t long for the gendered roles.

Our Future of Work Worker isn’t just an employee. They juggle a portfolio career as employee, parent, volunteer, consultant, contractor, entrepreneur, and director. They wake to a flurry of overnight messages, emails and updates. Before breakfast they are taking calls from colleagues and customers. The plan for the day is shattered by the 9am standup and he or she struggles to learn what they need to, know just in time to do what needs to be done all day. Meetings, agendas, locations and more are reshuffled on the run and instant messaging and video calls pepper the interludes. When others leave and the calls and emails start to slow, the worker catches up on missed messages, prepares for the next day, has a late video call, prepares another presentation, solves a crisis or two and juggles a late change. After family and dinner, another part of the portfolio demands attention. Late in the day with a sense that there is more to do, more to know and that progress is elusive, the worker collapses into bed ready to begin again. From bed to bed, comfort is not even a thought.

We have embraced change, complexity and uncertainty as the heart of human work. We have to embrace the discomfort that comes with it.

The Work of Learning

Harold Jarche uses the phrase “Work is learning and learning is the work”. We have optimised so many aspects of work to emphasise the continuous and networked nature of learning. The practices we have embraced as future of work practices all have a shared core of not just learning, but networked collaborative learning: agile, lean startup, design thinking, collaboration, flat organisation structures, transparency and more.

We learn when we are out of our comfort zone. We must accept that the nature of work as we move forwards is primarily outside the comfort zone, in the zone of discomfort where learning is paramount. The comfortable predictable repetitive work is that which is being consumed by lower priced competition – outsourcing, offshoring, and automation.

At a personal level, we must embrace the discomfort and focus on the opportunity to learn and to grow rapidly. As noted in Part 1, we also need to look for work and learning opportunities that deliver the positive characteristics of Flow. The discomfort is not going away. We must at least gather the benefits of learning, growing capabilities and the richness of our new networked interactions with others. Working out loud can play a key role in helping us to manage this transition to a more uncomfortable mode of work and learning.

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Consciously Incompetent

People embracing Working Out Loud like many future of work practices must battle with discomfort. Whatever our level of expertise or the stage of our career, there is a good chance we are competent for the process centred expectations of our work. Recruitment, selection and talent management processes are usually highly effective in delivering process competence. Induction, on boarding and experience in a role tailors this individual capability into unconscious competence in the process of each role.

Adoption of new future of work practices forces a return to conscious incompetence. The practice feels alien. Work seems harder, slower and ineffective at first when the skills in these practices are new. Conscious incompetence is deeply uncomfortable in organisations that place a high emphasis on competence and performance. For many people, this discomfort or the associated fear and distrust become too great a barrier to persist with a new practice. Adaptation is lost when discomfort is avoided.

Worse still most future of work skills come in practices, not processes. The learning process has no end point. Mastery remains a quest. There is no moment when endless comfort returns. We need recognise that in a rapidly changing, complex and uncertain world we will always be a little incompetent. We always have more to learn.

Being Present with Discomfort

Our Future of Work worker must learn to be present with discomfort. Discomfort is not going away. It cannot be stopped. Discomfort can be embraced, leveraged and mitigated.

Managing one’s own discomfort requires the courage to face and accept that discomfort for the benefits it will deliver in learning. Managing discomfort requires some compassion for yourself and for others who are experiencing their own discomfort, because increasing there’s will only increase yours in a networked collaborative world. Compassion also requires you to know your tolerances and when to retreat, relax or protect yourself and others. Managing discomfort requires hope or at least acceptance. Most importantly of all managing discomfort requires a community.

To tackle the continual challenges of learning in the future of work, we need to embrace the reality of our situation and explore the potential of learning, mastery and connection to others to provide the rewards of growth and achievement.  The next post in the series will look at the need to embrace the reality of discomfort individually and collectively.

This post is part of a multi-part series exploring discomfort in the future of work. Future posts will examine how organisations, leaders and individuals can manage this discomfort. These posts are part of a process of working out loud to explore these uncomfortable concepts so feedback is welcome.

Part 1: The Role of Discomfort.

 

 

Part 1: Discomfort in the #FutureofWork

When we talk about the future of work, we talk about managing learning, creativity, uncertainty and complexity as human roles. The processes, the predictable and routine will be automated. What we do not discuss enough is that with this shift comes an explicit embrace of discomfort. We need to value discomfort in our organisations.

The Role of Discomfort

We aren’t always comfortable in a business context to use emotive language. One reason we tend to slip past discussion of discomfort in the future of work is that we tend to use rational logical language like uncertainty and complexity to discuss the work context. These are terms with precise, businesslike and emotionless language. We don’t explicitly pull into view the emotional flip side that comes with a human experience of these states.

  • What does uncertainty feel like: uncomfortable, frightening, doubtful, etc
  • What does complexity feel like: uncomfortable, overwhelming, challenging, etc

The concept of Flow from positive psychology highlights that we can create positive experiences from challenge, but only when we focus, experience our capabilities rising to match the challenge and get feedback on our progress. In many demanding modern workplaces with thousands of electronic daily distractions, these conditions are not being met, while the uncertainty,complexity and pace of change continues to rise.

Many of the practices advocated as part of the future of work attempt to bake an increased level of discomfort into work. The theme generally is that it is better to have a small difficult conversation early rather than suffer a failure or breakdown later. The list of practices that encourage or increase the frequency of uncomfortable conversations is long: purpose, values, agile, lean start-up, holacracy, working out loud, collaboration, transparency, design thinking, etc.

What we need to embrace is the role that discomfort comes with a strong focus on learning. The value of humans in complex and uncertain activities is collaborative learning. Each of us learns when we are out of our comfort zones. When we are out of our comfort zones together, the quality of our interactions becomes critical.

Ending the Parent-Child Relationship of Employee Comfort

Increasing discomfort in the workplace crashes straight into our traditional paternalistic approach to employee engagement. The goal is defined as creating a positive, engaged employee committed to the goals of the organisation and prepared to offer discretionary efforts internally and externally. Uncomfortable thoughts need not apply. The implicit or explicit promise of much employee engagement literature is that the role of the employer (fulfilled by senior management) is to make employees comfortable – provide a clear vision and purpose, simplify processes to make them easier, provide security of benefits and career, provide consistently rewarding work, and lead effectively.

Lead effectively is perhaps the most dangerous phrase in that list because so much of our leadership expectation is hierarchical and modelled on a benevolent parent. Leadership in any human context is not parenting. In a future post we will consider effective leadership for uncertainty and complexity. Without that clarity, we continue to see leaders who feel that their responsibility should be to take away uncertainty, to reduce complexity and to remove discomfort. By taking the work on themselves, these leaders dramatically increase their own discomfort, fail in their roles and fail their employees. Avoiding the work only makes the situation worse for all involved.

We need to accept that discomfort is not going away in our workplaces. The organisation and its leaders cannot take on the responsibility of removing the adverse affects of a changing environment of work. Removing employees entirely would be an easier challenge (and one many employers seem to embrace). Rather than removing discomfort the challenge for any organisation embracing the future of work is how to manage discomfort and how to ensure that it is productive for employees and the organisation.

This post is part of a multi-part series exploring discomfort in the future of work. Future posts will examine how organisations, leaders and individuals can manage this discomfort. These posts are part of a process of working out loud to explore these uncomfortable concepts so feedback is welcome.

Part 2: Personal Discomfort in the Future of Work

Collaboration Everywhere

My early business career was in business development, buying and selling businesses and pulling together joint ventures. One thing I learned through that experience is that no matter how conflicting someone’s position was to yours, there was always a way to work together. You just needed to understand how and where their interests aligned with your goals.  Work hard enough to understand what they want and eventually a path forward together will open up.

Collaborating with Enemies

Reading the book ‘Collaborating with the Enemy’ by Adam Kahane recently, I realised how this early business experience meant I came to the work of organisational collaboration with an uncommon mindset. Kahane highlights that much discussion of collaboration focuses on the idea of one cohesive team with an agreed view of the problem and the solution. Kahane contrasts this with his term ‘stretch collaboration’ where there are multiple groups in conflict, where the group needs to experiment a way forward to solve the issues and where maintaining engagement is a key challenge. My friend Harold Jarche makes a similar point with his distinction between collaboration and cooperation.

This distinction is a critical one in organisational contexts. In many corporate and client situations in which I have worked the value of in team collaboration is obvious to people. In a team, everyone shares a leader and there is clear alignment of goals. The value of collaboration outside that team is usually less clear to employees who have come to see other teams as competing for resources, success and even existence. The great challenge of organisations seeking to transform to digital ways of working is not moving faster in the inner loop of the team. Moving faster and more effectively in a team context is a problem whose dynamics are largely known and there is leadership to deliver that outcome. The challenge of digital success is engaging the complexities and misalignment of the wider organisation.

Creating Psychological Safety for Collaboration

I can see now that my early career experience meant that I didn’t always fully understand the reticence of people to engaging in this wider outer loop stretch collaboration. Much research has highlighted the need for leaders and teams to create psychological safety to enable effective collaboration. Employees aren’t going to take risks and experiment if the environment feels unsafe.

My previous career experience had given me an unusually high sense of safety in risky forms of collaboration.  Worse still, it was obvious to me that you could collaborate to mutual advantage with competitors and people who shared no interest in your success. That is not a point that is obvious to employees who don’t feel safe in their organisation.

Organisations have not made that point obvious to their employees and many poor leaders enhance the within team dynamic by excerbating competition with and fear of others in the organisation. One of the benefits of working out loud is to enable people to discover the value of connection with people beyond their day to day networks and also to discover through contributions how their interests might align to achieve goals.

Focus on Alignment

One of the key themes of the work that I have done with organisations, leaders and employees using the Collaboration value maturity model is to stress the value of alignment, a step usually skipped in people’s rush to deploy new technology and race to the good bits of collaboration, like innovation.

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The Connection and Sharing phases of the Collaboration Value Maturity Model are opportunities for teams to understand and develop the rationales, behaviours and trust required for more effective collaboration. Activity in these two phases, led by leaders at all levels who are looking for alignment and are seeking connection to higher strategic goals, builds an environment of psychological safety and a strong imperative for employees to connect, share, solve and innovate together well beyond the boundaries of their immediate team. Working out loud reinforces the transition from sharing to solving as employees increasingly discover their interests are aligned with widely divergent teams across the organisation.

The value of the Collaboration Value Maturity Canvas is as a tool of alignment and one that reflects the fractal nature of collaboration in large organisations. The Canvas brings people together to see what they share and how their individual and team contributions to collaboration can achieve wider goals.  Like Kahane’s idea of stretch collaboration, the Canvas does not deliver a strict plan but shapes a series of experiments to tackle the challenges of collaboration in the wider outer loop.  The Canvas is not a process or a recipe. It becomes a map as people take the initial pathways and then build out their own.

We shouldn’t need everyone to go experience the challenges of business development in strange markets to build cultures of enterprise collaboration in the modern workplace. What we need is leaders and teams that are prepared to work out loud and focus on the opportunities of alignment in the broader domain of the organisation and its goals.

Simon Terry enables collaboration in organisations through Working Out Loud and using the Collaboration Value Maturity model approach. The Collaboration Value Maturity Canvas is a 2-hour workshop to enable organisations to discover the essential elements of alignment in their collaboration strategy. Get in touch to learn more.

 

Leadership of the Inner Loop, Outer Loop and Transition

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Leaders need to change their style of work to suit the different types of engagement in different domains.  Leaders should recognising that open collaboration in platforms like Yammer focuses more on leading by influence. They can also play a critical role in helping people see the opportunities to work in different ways through coaching and mentoring

One of the areas for further discussion I called out in the post on the role of Transition in Inner and Outer Loops was the area of leadership. It is important to note that leadership in this context includes hierarchical managers but is also wider, including the leadership actions of peers and other champions. Leadership, in the sense of inspiring action in others, might be a key expectation of managers but we know that not all managers are leaders. This post examines how leadership fosters collaboration in each domain and the role leaders play in tranitioning between domains of work. In the previous post, I said

People don’t need to know ‘what to do where’ so much as they need to know when their current mode of work is ineffective.

Leaders, whether hierarchical or peer leaders, help people see these opportunities to change.

Inner Loop – Leading Performance and Execution

Most managers are familiar with the approaches to achieve performance in teams focused on execution and continuous improvement. The challenge is usually the consistency of a manager’s leadership behaviours.

Inner Loop platforms can help increase the volume and velocity of communication of managers in these teams, addressing a key challenge for many managers in their performance and their leadership.  Better awareness across the team and its stakeholders of key issues and challenges will also enable managers to chose to lead in more relevant ways that drive better performance.

As teams embrace the potential of the Inner Loop, transparency, autonomy and rapid communication, also increases the potential for peers to play a leadership role. The Inner Loop should also enable greater sharing of customer feedback and voice to guide performance and shape the improvement opportunities pursued. Hierarchical leaders should be encouraging customer focus in decision making in this domain and encouraging other leaders to take action to drive improvements in performance.

Agile has seen rapid adoption as a work practice because of its potential to support autonomous teams reacting to new customer feedback where leadership can come from any role.  The Inner Loop of rapidly adapting teams, both hierarchical and cross-functional, is a great environment to develop the leaders of the future.

Transition – Leaders Create the Need to Change

We can get so focused in our execution challenges or so enthusiastic about our communication with a wide network that we don’t see the need to change our behaviours. In both the Inner and Outer Loops of collaborative work, coaches and mentors can play a key role in helping individuals to improve their performance.

Coaching is critical in encouraging individuals and teams with a focused pursuit on delivery to reflect, to consider alternatives and to ask for help. While many people in focused work feel that stopping to look around is a waste of precious time, the advantages of being able to reuse work, borrow capabilities or have new insights deliver an exponential return on the time invested.  Great coaching questions from leaders will foster this reflection and the opportunty to try another approach.

Mentoring is a way to spread learning across the network. Like coaches, mentors can prompt reflection in either domain that will help foster change. One of the reasons to underpin an organisation collaboration strategy with a ready team of champions is to create a force of mentors to help your users with issues, ideas and new ways of working.

Investing in coaching and mentoring programs in your organisation is a key part of a balanced focus on performance using the 70:20:10 model of learning. That investment in coaching and mentoring will help you leverage improvement in work across both the Inner and Outer Loop.

Outer Loop – Leading by Influence

All employees in your organisation benefit from better understanding the dynamics of influence in the networks of the outer loop. This is a realm where the writs of power run shorter than many hierarchically powerful leaders expect. Networks value contributions and contributions create value.  Insistence on decision making power or overreliance on orders weakens an individuals influence in networks because they have the ability to treat blockages as something to route around.

To gain influence in networks, leaders of all types need to practice some key fundamentals:

  • to stand for something – a vision, a purpose, some values, or a goal
  • how to win trust & respect – authenticity, credibility, showing alignment, showing capability and delivering for others
  • be known for your own action – set an example, demonstrate capabilities and values, put evidence behind your reputation, give generously of your time, capabilities and experience
  • create motivation – using a vision and narrative, shared goals and personal connection
  • foster action – highlighting gaps, making action safe, encouraging experimentation, encouraging reflection in others, fostering tensions and being provocative.

Working out loud by sharing a persons work can help foster these conditions of influence. The genius of John Stepper’s five elements of working out loud are that they are well aligned to creating the ideal elements for influence:

  • Focus on relationships
  • Generosity
  • Visible work
  • Purposeful discovery
  • Growth mindset

These characteristics can be rare or unusal to traditional managers brought up in the domain of hierarchy. To enable them to be effective leaders in outer loop context we need to build their capabilities to act in new ways.  We also need to foster and reward the champions and other leaders who demonstrate these approaches to encourage all employees to leverage the potential of the outer loop.

transition loops

Solving Work Problems Out Loud & Outside

Working out loud can sometimes seem quite abstract. The benefits can seem a little obscure. Here’s a little story of how purposefully sharing your work in progress can create a great experience that makes work easier and more effective.

A Story of Working Out Loud Outside

I interact a lot with the Customer Success Team for Microsoft Office. We are both trying to help clients to find the best ways to implement Office capability. These situations can vary from client to client because each one has a different strategy, a different culture and a different plan. There’s always something new to learn and a new problem to solve.

Today as I travelled to work, I got an external Yammer post from Avi Sujeeth, a Microsoft Customer Success Manager in the US. I’ve known Avi for a while through online interactions only.  Avi was in discussion with some of his colleagues around an issue about organisational structures for IT teams that he needed to solve for a client. Avi had previously seen a post I had written on the same topic in the Microsoft Tech Community.

By @mentioning me into that thread in Microsoft’s Yammer Community, I was able to join into that thread of conversation between the Microsoft team from around the world. The thread appeared as a notification in my inbox in my ChangeAgentsWorldwide Yammer. I answered the question to the best of my abilities.  Over the next 30 minutes, in and around other tasks I was doing, we had a quick back and forth to clarify some issues.  I went on with my day in Melbourne.

Breaking Down the Benefits

When I next checked Yammer, I saw a new notification of a follow-up message in the thread from Avi pointing out the power of what just happened.  Included in that post was the following quote (shared with permission)

I had no idea where this conversation was going to go. I don’t have Simon’s email. I did it all in about 30 minutes because of async communication. Work Out Loud rules.

There’s little reason to believe that I could have contributed to solving a problem for Avi if he hadn’t his work in progress, based on a mutual understanding from a history of sharing our work. I don’t have Avi’s email. I didn’t know he was based in Texas until I looked up his LinkedIn profile to include it above. I don’t have a clue what he is doing other than what he shared with me. He was on a deadline that I didn’t discover until the last post. The ease and the curiosity with which Avi could share that challenge with me made it incredibly easy for me to quickly understand the issue and reply to the best of my ability. The whole interaction took less than 10 minutes of my time.

Importantly, Avi wasn’t sure what he might get from his question to me. Avi took a risk putting the message out there. I could have been in a workshop or on a plane. I might not have had anything of value to say (I’m still not sure that I did). There’s some comfort that he probably got better answers to his question to me from his peers while I took my time responding. Having shared a work challenge out loud his colleagues could all jump in to the conversation too.

Would Avi have got the same answer asking me publicly or privately on Twitter or Linkedin? Maybe, but then he may not have got the participation of his colleagues and I wouldn’t have had the same sense of engaging in a team response to a problem. Being part of a purposeful team is highly engaging, even if it is just a single thread. Because this was one thread with many other people from organisation I know well, I knew I could trust the team and I felt safe to share my thoughts and get feedback – the dynamics of responding were better and a better solution resulted.

Working out loud is a powerful tool for solving work problems because when people share work in progress purposefully with relevant communities. Examples like these are what we need to achieve to move the conversation in collaboration from sharing to solving work problems. Once people work out loud consistently organisations and individuals see benefits quickly further driving collaboration internally and externally.

PS:A short comment on external collaboration features:

Many organisations turn off external messaging and external groups in Yammer because they don’t understand the experience or have fears of security or data sharing breaches. This example of an agile and fluid form of external collaboration is a what is lost in that decision. Avi could have got my email from a colleague and emailed me but it would have been the same information, just slower and less engaging. More and more organisations need to work not just across silos, but across organisational boundaries in rapid collaborative teams.

Fast or Slow – Accelerating the Value of Collaboration

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This morning’s #esnchat led by my Change Agents Worldwide colleague and change management expert, Jennifer Frahm involved a vibrant discussion about how to launch an ESN quickly. A strong theme of the discussion was that collaboration takes time to build and you should take care not to rush that development. The Value Maturity Model above is founded in the growing sense-making and culture change in a community that surrounds that community’s embrace of new ways of working.

Launch Quickly. Succeed Slowly

In part the question is not the real issue. Launching a social collaboration solution of any kind is not the problem.  Launches can be put together in days or weeks depending on your passion for chaos. Send some communications, enable the network, have a fancy launch event and you are done. Launch is complete.

However, a successful launch, even with a high level of engagement, is not the point of collaboration in your organisation (this article was pre-reading for the #ESNChat discussion). Your organisation and your employees work to create business value. Until your collaboration platform is sustainably creating that level of business value your job is not done. The Value Maturity Model describes some of the key steps to that growing maturity over time.

What if you don’t have the time?

We don’t always have the stakeholder support to take time. Many organisations want or need to get going quickly. Launch dates become fixed in the calendar before organisations understand why they are seeking to launch a collaboration platform. The key issue in my experience is that the same organisations who want to go quickly are usually those who think that going fast will make their collaboration network cheaper to launch and run.

The value of a purposeful, strategic & vibrant collaboration community is that it becomes self-managing. The community begins to develop the value and the engagement that drives its own future success and growth. The community becomes the example to all new users as to ‘what we do here, how we do it and why’. Over time that self-managing, self-promoting and self-correcting characteristic of successful collaboration platforms is what reduces their cost to operate and accelerates their value creation.

Setting up a community to become purposeful, strategic and vibrant takes time and money. If you want to do that quickly, it will cost you more money up front in the planning, leadership and communication, not less.  You will also need to invest more money over the life of the community to manage the higher risks of failure and to sustain the community after launch until it becomes self-sustaining.

Community managers often bemoan the continued focus of business leaders on the costs of their work. Many organisations seek to continuously cut budgets and resources for community management over time. Let’s be clear that organisations decrease investment when they lose confidence in the returns from an activity. Community managers are the agents and architects of strategic value in collaboration. They need to embrace the challenge and justify their ongoing investment in their growing returns.

Given there are many platforms in the market that promise fast engagement (& with good evidence to support it), the issue is not how quickly you engage in use of the platform. The key challenge for any user and any organisation is how quickly their use of a platform becomes a self-sustaining contributor to the fulfilment of purpose and sustained value creation. When clients ask me why the investment in developing their community using the Value Maturity Model is required, my answer is that they can skip the work, but they risk skipping the value. The value of a clear strategy and an effective approach is that it accelerates the value of strategic collaboration.  If you want to go fast, you need to plan for more costs, now and later.

Transitioning Between the Inner and Outer Loop

At Microsoft Ignite in September, Microsoft unveiled the logic underpinning its collaboration suite: the Inner & Outer Loop.  In this model, Microsoft Teams is for high-velocity communications with direct teams members and Yammer is a platform to connect with people across the organisation. The model explicitly called out there was a role for Sharepoint underpinning these two platforms and email as a channel of targeted communication.

The model resonated strongly with people at Microsoft Ignite because it reflects users different work patterns.  At the time, I quoted George Box that “all models are wrong but some are useful” and noted that for many at the conference the two loops model brought clarity in what had been an overlapping and complex suite of solutions often with little sense of how they worked together.  Since the conference, this new clarity of positioning has driven Microsoft’s product development & marketing activities for Yammer and Teams and even how the two products interrelate. The Inner and Outer loop has been shaping the future for the Microsoft Modern Workplace suite.  At the same time, people have focused on arguing about the model, reinterpreting the model, elaborating it or improving on it (Encouragement for the ‘what tool when’ crowd to redesign their many infographics).

Transition: Working Out Loud in Both Loops

One thing struck me when I considered the idea of Inner and Outer Loops: nobody works in only one loop. All our work involves a continuous process of transition between an Inner Loop of focused execution and an Outer Loop of learning, collaboration and discovery. The Loops are not places or tools. The Loops are patterns of our interaction around our work. Those patterns are ever-shifting based on our work needs. After a decade working on the adoption of social technology one thing is clear to me, we need to spend more time focused on the right ways to help users transition to more effective ways of working.

Working out loud can play an important part in aiding users to see the need to change their work.  Working Out Loud can occur in both loops. Working out loud also helps the process of transition to improve the effectiveness of work. We work out loud in the inner loop to enable our immediate team to self-organise, be better aware of status and be more agile.  We work out loud in the outer loop to benefit from serendipity, learning and discovery. One of the benefits of working out loud is that when we share our work openly other people can prompt us to open up further to the Outer Loop or coach us on the need to be more focused.

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If we are always in transition between the two loops then what I thought was missing was an examination of that phase where people make a change in their way of working from one mode to the other. People don’t need to know ‘what to do where’ so much as they need to know when their current mode of work is ineffective. If we consider all the work that is thoughtlessly done as closed targeted communications in email, we quickly see the problem is not a problem of email as a tool.  The problem is that people do not consider when they might need to change their way of working. When twigged to the need to change their approach to work or the tool that they use most people find ways to make that change work for them and their goals. The transition from one style of work to another is our opportunity to enrich and expand the understanding of value of collaborative work. This transition is the key moment in user adoption. It is also an opportunity to ensure we focus on the user behaviour in work, not the technology.

The transition phase between Inner and Outer Loops is also a reminder to all the enthusiastic and passionate advocates of particular collaboration platforms that transition is continuously happening and that tools like Yammer and Teams are ‘better together‘. There is value in exploring the complementary use of both tools. The better we are able to explain to users the value of a way of working and when we transition to another mode of working the better we will support their work. That goal is far more important to individuals and organisations than advocacy or adoption of a platform.

Focus on the User

For fear of taking a simple, easy-to-understand idea and making it so complex as to be useless, I thought it was worthwhile to tabulate characteristics of the user behaviour at work in the three modes: inner loop, outer loop and the moments where we transition.  Each mode of work meets different needs and is better suited to different challenges.  In the spirit of working out loud, here’s a first table which looks at the domains under a number of different user behaviour lenses. I have also included in the table common questions that might be asked in each of these phases as the work progresses:

 

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Triggering Transition

A focus on this moment of change in the pattern of work raises the following important questions:

  • what is it that prompts a user to look for a different way of working?
  • how might we coach ourselves to transition effectively?

If we look at both the Inner and Outer Loop we can see some signs of stress when these modes are used in the wrong ways for work.  The table below highlights some of these stresses and also some questions that leaders and team members can use to query whether it is time for a transition to a different mode of work:

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Transition Into the Future

When you consider the first table above, you see that the items listed in Transition can occur in both the Inner or the Outer loop.  These transition items are why you see enthusiastic supporters of one product or the other pushing across the divide. The Transition is also a realm where the two Product Marketing teams need to collaborate as competition will risk devaluing both products with further duplication and confusion over time.  We will leave aside for the moment that you can expand Teams to manage a whole small organisation an InnerOuter Loop or run a daily team transparently in Yammer, the OuterInner Loop.

Bringing the Transition into focus also aligns the Inner and Outer Loop model into alignment with a model that Harold Jarche has been advocating for some time that draws an explicit distinction between Collaboration in teams, Communities of Practice and Cooperation in Networked Communities. The value of this connection is that Harold Jarche has developed extensive materials on his blog and in his books on the 3 different domains and patterns of work.

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Source: jarche.com

For example, Harold has explored the use of this model in Innovation at Work and even the connection to the Value Maturity Model of Collaboration that I have discussed at length here.  A growing maturity of work across the four stages of the Value Maturity model comes as people are better able to handle the transition from connecting with an immediate team through to exploring innovation in the widest context. Mastery comes when people can hold all four stages at once around their personal work challenges and freely transition between the Inner and Outer Loop to Connect>Share>Solve>Innovate for greater value.

In future blog posts, we will explore other dimensions of the user behaviour of the Inner Loop, Outer Loop and Transition process.  Examples of these issues include the nature of the networks involved, the leadership styles and the time periods involved:

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Begin and End with User Behaviour

The focus on transition between the Inner and Outer Loop is also a reminder that for all the technology and all the powerful models what matters most is influencing new user behaviour. To do this effectively we must begin and end our work in change and adoption with a focus on what work users need to do now and what work we want them to be able to achieve in the future.  Tools alone merely enable new interactions.  The way people work requires them to make sense of new opportunities and to manage the change to new ways of working.

We must keep in the centre of consideration that these tools aren’t tools, media or technology we use for its own sake. These are tools of work interactions. Those human work interactions involve all the complexity of our human relationships with their questions of cultural expectations, trust, understanding and community. Our focus on the Inner and Outer Circle must keep the needs of these interactions at the centre of our new ways of working. The deeper we dive into how users can better leverage these tools to create new meaningful interactions, the richer the value we will create for both the users and the organisations of the future.

This is post is shared in the spirit of working out loud to gain feedback & start a discussion of the application of Inner and Outer Loops from a user behaviour, rather than a technology platform perspective. I would appreciate your thoughts and comments.  My thanks to Steve Nguyen & Angus Florance of the Yammer team for their suggestions on how to turn the initial idea into something of more value to users and community managers.