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Effective collaboration in your organisation depends on trust. The best way to build trust in your organisation is through collaborative work.
Trust is a consistent theme of this blog because it is fundamental to effective performance in organisations and social relationships. However, we mostly take it for granted and organisations often go out of their way to remind employees that they are not trusted and should not place their trust in the organisation.
Trust in the Work
One commenter on my recent post on collaboration and every day work suggested I was missing the need for trust to support collaboration. My response was that trust comes through actions and interactions. Organisations often talk about trust as an abstract and something that can be worked on itself.
The reality of most trust building activities is that they create no trust unless they are connected to the fundamental interactions of the organisation. Trust is a manifestation of the expectations of interactions in the organisation, i.e. culture. Trust is human. All the fancy trust building exercises will fail if people believe the real interactions that support the work will occur differently.
Founding trust in and around the work to be done is important. Collaboration can deliver this new foundation for trust. Transparency helps employees better understand what is going on in the organisation. Networks leverage that transparency to deliver new accountability to help people have confidence in the work of others. Collaboration networks better enable employees to judge the intentions and capability of others based on the past performance in public interactions with others. Each of these interactions fosters a better level of understanding of the potential for trust.
Most importantly of all, collaboration networks can increase the interactions and the experience of generosity between employees. We all find it hard to trust strangers. Sharing a social network enables people to develop a deeper understanding of all of their peers not just those in their own teams.
Organisations that want to increase the level of trust between employees can benefit from focus on encouraging employees to work out loud and seeking opportunities for collaboration in their everyday work.
Get Out of the Way
Organisations also need to take care that they send signals that reinforce the value of collaboration and trust in every day work. Treat collaboration as inherently risky and you will discourage your employees from participating, trusting their colleagues and trusting the organisation.
When collaboration technology enables new interactions in an organisation, it can be easy to identify all the new risks that can be created. The traditional corporate approach to risk is risk elimination. Why not turn off the solution or the feature that creates the risk so that there’s no exposure to one poor decision by an employee. However, to avoid a rare event, this approach either excludes collaboration opportunities from the organisation or signals to employees that they cannot be trusted.
A better management of those risks is to place accountability on employees to manage the risks, both for themselves and others. That is a signal of trust in your employees and your willingness to make them responsible for a better workplace. That’s usually how you manage those risks outside collaboration technology where you have less control over what employees say and do anyway. Treating collaboration technology as specially unsafe is a bad signal for trust and ignores the opportunity to teach employees to the benefit of all the work.
This last point is significant. Trust, collaboration, agency and agility that you grow in your collaboration platform doesn’t stay there. Each of these capabilities are based in our human characteristics and follow wherever your employees go. They spread through the whole organisation. Manage trust well in the collaboration of every day work and the whole organisation will benefit.
A recent conversation with Cai Kjaer and Laurence Lock Lee of Swoop Analytics about the Value Maturity Model highlighted a key point that is at the heart of many organisation’s struggles to get value from enterprise social collaboration. Too many organisations are stuck below the Share>Solve boundary. Once you connect enterprise social collaboration to work, the benefits for users and the organisation expand exponentially.
Sharing Out Loud
The first reaction in many organisations to an enterprise social network is to see it as a chance to share out loud. What people see first is the potential for status updates, sharing of articles, links and other stories of interest. This is natural human behaviour and it will be heavily influenced by the culture of social media use in your employee base.
As we have discussed in previous posts, sharing adds value in helping provide transparency, shared context, reducing duplication and enabling better alignment. If Sharing Out Loud is as far as the Working Out Loud goes then it can add value. Sharing is the core concept behind the knowledge worker productivity case for benefits of enterprise social collaboration. Share information and it is findable. Findable information can be reused.
Any organisation that does not move beyond Sharing will face a number of key challenges. Sharing is where there is a lot of noise. Filtering the sharing with groups and other approaches becomes important. Users get frustrated that there is so much information and so little value. Networks can alienate users because a few loud or extroverted voices dominate the traffic and shape perceptions of what an enterprise social network can contribute. Senior executives will quickly lose interest in a network that does not reflect their work and their strategic priorities. A network that is only sharing will need sustained energy from community management or passionate users to survive.
The Launch Point: The Sharing-Solving Boundary
When an enterprise social community crosses the boundary from Sharing to Solving, the dynamic changes. Bringing work into the community provides a momentum and new benefit cases for all users. The purpose of the community and the benefits it can provide begins to clarify and the distinction between an enterprise social and other forms of social media can clarify for people. The work itself begins to provide the energy, rhythm and momentum of the community.
We can help users to turn a Sharing Out Loud community into a Working Out Loud community through strategic community management. We can provide the right context and strategy for the use of collaboration. We can structure the opportunities for Connection, Solving, and Sharing around the key interactions and challenges of the work of the organisation. We can focus on the culture of collaboration and generosity in helping others. All of this helps users to sustain their activity in the Solving domain.
One other benefit of focusing on moving above this boundary is that you are building key foundations for innovation. Employees who develop confidence in an enterprise social collaboration solution as a place to solve their problems will begin to explore how to fulfill their new ideas there. People move easily from How? to What if? Employees who learn to create agile teams to solve problems can apply those same teaming skills to new ideas. The growing wirearchy of work can be reused to provide an engine to innovation work in your organisations.
Creating an environment where employees (& others) can work out loud on real business problems and challenging customer opportunities is the work of strategic community management. The value created beyond the Sharing-Solving Boundary is exponentially greater than that before. If you want the attention of the business stakeholders to support your community, you will need to Work Out Loud.
If you are interested in exploring further how to the Collaboration Value Canvas, enables organisations to conduct a two-hour workshop with business stakeholders to ensure that the business has an integrated plan for its community management and adoption work. Contact Simon Terry to discuss how this could be applied in your organisation.
For suggestions on how Swoop Analytics can help you measure this transition see Cai Kjaer’s post on Linkedin.
When we begin to incorporate the practice of working out loud into our work we can inadvertently fall into an unhelpful pattern of seeking help only when work is hard. Working out loud when it is easy is important to balance the risks of working out loud by building relationships of trust and collaboration.
We Work Out Loud When It is Hard
Working out loud when work is hard is obvious. If you are facing a big challenge, there can be real benefits of getting the insights, ideas, resources and support of others. Your network when aware of your challenges can make a big impact. For many people sharing challenges is where they want to start their working out loud. Working on a big challenge together with others can bring many rewards, including the feeling of heroic leadership.
However, working out loud when work is hard is a time when we feel the risks of sharing can be greater. Bigger challenges bring their own sets of fears. Do we look incompetent? Are we creating an impression we need help a lot? Are we too demanding on our networks? What if nobody can help because the task is too hard? Many of these fears can be managed through careful framing of our requests for help, choosing where we share and by considering the needs of others. However, it is also important that we don’t just share our big challenges. A consistent practice of working out loud helps.
Work Out Loud on the Easy Work Too
When work is easy, we often forget to work out loud. There are a number of reasons:
- We want the exclusive credit for our easy successes.
- We assume there is no better way
- We can do them so quickly we forget to share or don’t reflect on our experience.
- We don’t value the things that we do well.
- We assume everyone else knows
Whatever the reason we are missing opportunities for shared value. What is easy to us is not always easy or obvious to others. Others can learn from our easy work. Sharing credit with your network can be a great way to give back to those who help us when times are tough. Importantly, showing people what you do that works well helps build a great profile and balances out the traditional risks of sharing when work is hard.
Building a relationship of trust and collaboration with your networks is far easier when you are consistent.
Working Out Loud can generate a lot of confusion for people who are new to the term. Being clear on whether your goals are best advanced by a Chat, a Conversation, or a Collaboration will help the effectiveness of your working out loud.
The Many Interactions of Working Out Loud
Working Out Loud involves sharing work purposefully with communities that can help your work or can learn from it. The concept is deliberately a broad one. The concept covers a lot of different kinds of interactions.
There is no one right way to work out loud. John Stepper has written a fabulous book on one approach to working out loud to achieve personal and career goals. Jane Bozarth has an equally great book full of examples of people showing their work in many and varied ways and for many reasons. The WOLWeek website has a range of interviews with Working Out Loud practitioners and many practices are described. There are more approaches.
Working Out Loud is inherently adaptive. There is no one perfect way because nobody else has exactly your situation, your needs, and your network. Learning how to navigate networks through generosity, transparency, and collaboration is a big part of the challenge and the source of the benefits of working out loud.
Chats, Conversations, and Collaborations as Working Out Loud
One way to reduce the confusion around working out loud and to improve the effectiveness of your practice is to be clear on what it is that you are looking for when you work out loud. Are you looking for a Chat (shared information), a Conversation (shared understanding), or a Collaboration (shared work)? Each of these kinds of interactions involves a different level of engagement and add a different amount of value to your work. Each of these will require you to have a different relationship with and deliver different value to the other people involved in the interactions.
Understanding which interaction will best support your goals will help you choose the community and the approach. Many people get disappointed when they work out loud on twitter and they don’t get an immediate response that advances their work. Others get frustrated that people working out loud use twitter and appear to be engaging in self-promotion. In both cases, we are seeing a misalignment between the individual and the expectations of their networks.
More Effective Interactions
Reflecting on the desired interactions and the best communities to support them can help you improve your working out loud. After alll omproving the effectiveness of your Working Out Loud is an ongoing adaptive exercise:
Look for Shared Goals: If someone doesn’t share your goals then even a Chat is a distraction. Both Conversations and Collaborations require strong goal alignment. Look for individuals and communities who share your goals.
Invest in Relationships First: People are more likely to give if they see you as equally generous. People are more likely to care if they think you care. People are more likely to notice if you have noticed them. Use Chats, Conversations, and Collaborations to build relationships in your networks. Remember that in transparent networks people see not just your interactions with them but with others as well. You will have a reputation that is the sum of your interactions.
Choose Networks that Suit the Interaction You Want: Communities each have a dominant mode of interaction. Is it chatty? Do people help each other or engage in long debates? Pick communities that are suited to the interaction that will best suit your work. If you are looking for a richer interaction, such as a collaboration to solve a difficult work challenge, then choose networks where the relationships will support that interaction or where people share common approaches to interaction. No community is 100% one mode but aligning to the dominant approach first will help you be most effective and allow you to branch out later.
Be Clear on the Purpose of Your Working Out Loud: Ask for the help you need. Be clear on the kind of responses that will advance your work. Help others to best help you and also reduce the likelihood of misunderstanding or embarrassment.
Start Small and Experiment: The adaptive nature of Working Out Loud means that it will take some experimentation for you to develop your own approach, develop relationships and to find the networks and interactions that best foster your work. Start small and experiment to learn how best to leverage working out loud in your work.
Working out loud has become a very popular change initiative in engineering organisations around the world. The practice of working out loud plays key roles to nudge the traditional perfectionistic expertise-oriented engineering culture in productive directions towards the agile, customer-centred, collaborative future of work.
Engineering is a rigorous discipline of expertise. It has to be. Mistakes and errors in a design can have dramatic, devastating and long term consequences for the business & its customers. For this reason, engineering expertise is highly valued. That expertise can focus down into very narrow domains of the design of engineering solutions. Solutions are heavily worked, pushed to perfection and at times gold-plated for safety. The demands and focus of this work can mean that attention shifts to the area of engineering expertise itself and less to the environments, systems and other contexts around the work.
As a result, engineering organisations can at times struggle with customer focus. Engineers understand the design far better than the customers. They know the materials, systems and technologies involved better than anyone else.
Engineers can also find collaboration difficult. If there is one expert on a particular solution in the organisation, why would there be any discussion around a design to that solution. Focus primarily on demanding engineering considerations, that expert may be less concerned about the input from sales, marketing or manufacturing into the consequences of design choices.
Working out loud is the practice of sharing work purposefully with relevant communities while the work is still in progress. Sharing ideas, drafts and other progress helps other to be more aware of your work, provide input to that work and to learn from the work that is going on around the organisation. Nudging a culture to be more open, more outcome oriented and more collaborative through the practice of working out loud can deliver significant benefits for individuals and the organisation.
Encouraging engineering teams to work out loud can contribute to nudging the culture in a number of constructive ways:
- Do we really understand the problem? The business challenge may need engineers to deliver a solution but that doesn’t mean the problem is an engineering problem. Asking teams of engineers to work out loud as the define the problem to be solved can help them to gather inputs to better understand the outcomes needed, the constraints and other systemic issues through the input of the wider organisation or other stakeholders.
- What ideas might we take into the design process? Many creative solutions are cross-disciplinary or even involve a complete reframing of the problem. Opening up the ideation can allow non-technical experts or experts from other areas to put forward ideas that might inspire a new direction of work. Innovative and effective solutions can be the result of new inspirations.
- What other considerations matter? Narrating the process of the design and sharing the considerations that went into it opens up a discussion on other considerations that may be missed or might be relevant. Suggestions on things that the engineers might consider can come from anywhere in the organisations. Some times it is those who know least who ask the best “emperor’s new clothes” questions.
- Whose support do we need to put this design into practice? To the immense frustration of many engineers, their designs need the support of other stakeholders to be put into practice. Engaging those stakeholders throughout the process of the work through a constructive process of sharing work as it develops will help with the awareness and buy-in of stakeholders in the organisation.
- How do we learn from implementation for our next work? Henry Petrovski’s To Forgive Design is a book that studies the lessons from major engineering failures. One of the key insights is that failure often happens when a new technology is pushed beyond limits that have not yet become obvious. The technology overcomes a previous limitation but its own limitations are not known yet. These kind of failures can be prevented if the engineers can stay close to the issues arising from the implementation of their work. For example, signs of stress or other unusual outcomes on an existing bridge may be a signal that a new longer bridge with that same design may have an undetected failure point.
- How do we develop our own mastery? Teams that are rightly proud of their expertise should be seeking to develop a culture of ongoing improvement and gradual development of mastery. This learning culture requires people to seek feedback and coaching from others, to study the work of others and to be challenged by others to learn and work in new ways.
If your organisation can benefit from a more agile, customer-centred and collaborative work, then consider leveraging the practice of working out loud to help nudge those changes.
People often worry about working out loud because they believe the practice poses a risk to their reputation. In the modern networked workplace, it can be a greater risk to have no reputation or one chosen only by others.
Working Out Loud involves purposefully sharing work in progress so that others can learn and contribute. Many people used to traditional ways of working where only final artefacts are shared see this as a risk to their reputation. They are worried that experiments, errors, revisions or even the confusion of the development of work might reflect badly on their expertise. They worry that their reputation may suffer if they share their work before it is perfect.
Reputation is an important component of the networked workplace. As our work becomes more agile and dynamic we need to make decisions on who has authority, who we can trust and who influences our decisions. Reputation plays a key role in influencing these calls.
However the best reputations are based on stories of actual work. They aren’t based on a marketing pitch. You get a reputation not just because of the output you produce but how you produce it. A good reputation is rarely one of how someone perfectly executes 100% of the time without drama. Those stories are too unreal and too boring to share. Great reputations are people who solve problems, engage others and demonstrate their abilities working through challenges and triumphing in the end.
Surprising your stakeholders by sharing some of your challenges may be risky but it is far riskier to pretend you have none. Pretence is the way reputations are destroyed. Building a deeper relationship by purposefully sharing the work, seeking input and creating solutions to challenges together will make your stakeholders an engine of a positive reputation.
Many people who are worried about reputation actually create for themselves the opposite risk. They share nothing of their work. That silence is not filled by people saying good things about their work. With nothing specific to attract attention or to discuss, most people won’t say anything at all. In a sceptical world, the absence of a reputation is bad news. The silence that is created is filled by people talking about other topics or worse talking from ignorance of what is going on and why.
Word of your work gets around. To build a strong and healthy relationship, you want discussion of your work. Shape the views and conversations about your work purposefully through working out loud.
International Working Out Loud week is from 7-13 November 2016. See wolweek.com for more details.
Working Out Loud surfaces the hard, the difficult and the uncertainty of work. The value it delivers begins with what we usually hide. Transparently sharing work in progress reduces the stress of uncertainty.
When you see the work around you in the form of polished artefacts, the performance of others can be intimidating. The glossy output gives no signal of how hard it was to put together, how much effort was involved or even the doubts and uncertainties of the creator. We can feel like others are so much more talented and accomplished because they don’t share our doubts and uncertainties about work.
This morning on the radio a musician, Emma Louise, was telling the story that her big surprise when she meets other musicians to talk about work is the discovery that everybody is uncertain about what they are doing. She described the relief in knowing she was not alone in her doubts.
This is not just a challenge for creative arts. In many workplaces one of the commonest forms of stress is the pressure to hide one’s own doubts and uncertainties about work. Nobody else is sharing any doubt so your own feels wrong. Hidden behind all the artefacts is a whole lot of confusion.
Working Out Loud brings work in progress out into the open. While it will raise anxiety at first to share one’s shortcomings, doubts and concerns, my experience is that it is exactly like the conversation that Emma Louise describes. Others emboldened by openness and vulnerability will admit their own doubts and concerns. Soon we find out that those we most admire and are most intimidated by have a little part of their work where they are just ‘making it up as they go along’. Collaborating together to support one another, to share skills and to close gaps is a powerful way to tighten a team and reduce the intimidating barrier of perception.
If you are concerned to admit that you don’t know the answer through working out loud, remember sometimes nobody knows. You may just have to find the answer together.