Effective collaboration in organisations is built on relationships. Employees and their leaders need to move beyond thinking of work as transactional interactions and focus on the opportunities to adapt and improve within relationships.
The Need to Be Perfect is Transactional
A transaction is once and done. It has to be perfect. There is no going back, no improvement and no adaptation. You have to get it right then and there.
We have engrained a machine metaphor into thinking about our day to day work. This approach reinforces our views that work is transactional, a flow of inputs into outputs executed with perfect efficiency. Email communication even reinforces this model with its inbox and task oriented form of work.
This metaphor flows on to the use of social collaboration tools like Yammer when there is a sense for employees that they need to be perfect in each transactional communication. Employees, and especially their status conscious leaders, express concerns that they might say the wrong thing, make a mistake, or they might not act on every message.
Collaboration is not a transaction. It is not once and done. Collaboration is about a human flow of give and take in an ongoing relationship. Much of our work now is knowledge work that demands relationship interactions. We need to know more than our inputs. We need to be able to evaluate information, build on it, interact, challenge and create together with others to produce the value that our organisation’s need. We have moved from machine input-output to a creative iterative human flow.
Relationships are Adaptive
The Value Maturity Model starts with connection because it is a reminder that collaboration is an activity that is founded on human relationships. Importantly, real human relationships support the kind of iterative activity that enable value creation collectively.
If you have ever read a transcript of a conversation, it becomes quickly evident that when humans interact they don’t speak whole perfect sentences. A conversation is an exchange with people talking over each other, making assumptions, correcting themselves, building on shared context, addressing misapprehension and working together towards shared understanding. Collaboration in social collaboration tools reflects this kind of iteration and development. The stages of connection and sharing build trust and shared context that enable people to work in much more efficient ways even if they don’t communicate perfectly.
Employees and leaders should not fear a lack of perfection. Instead of focusing on a single interaction, they should focus on the power of relationships built to deliver collaboration and value creation at scale. The gain from developing these relationships and using the potential of the platforms to influence others, solve problems, scale change and innovate far exceeds the potential embarrassment of a single interaction.
Relationships are adaptive because they are built on shared purpose. Just like everyday conversations, we forgive mistakes and imperfections when we are in a continuing relationship with another person. A leader or employee who views these tools as a relationship gets the chance to go back, improve and adapt, leveraging the relationships and trust that they have built. When we talk about working with others with authenticity and empathy we are describing this process of learning and adaptation, along with sharing a few weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Employees who treat the tool transactionally will be judged on their interactions alone.
Leaders and employees need to focus on the power of the tools to support the work they do with others to connect, share, solve and innovate at scale. An ongoing focus on the value of these relationships will accelerate their success and reduce the risks of each individual interaction.
Thanks to Steve Nguyen for asking great question