Simple Collaboration Tips and Tricks

Posted on by Brandon Klein


For many of us, being a business person is the opportunity to show off our knowledge and expertise, providing answers to their challenging problems.


At the same time, we also have to find ways to collaborate with and facilitate work with the client, making sure that the knowledge and the improvements will continue to live and grow with the client after we've left. 


Here are some principles that may apply to any type of collaborative environment:


- Before a meeting, send out the questions
- When preparing for meetings, we are good at creating a set of objectives.  But also take the time to convert them into a set of questions that have to be answered 
- Send those questions out to the meeting invitees beforehand, setting the expectation that we intend to answer them, not just discuss them
- Ask invitees to come armed with their point of view on these questions 
- Starting a meeting with an individual exercise
- Begin the meeting by taking a few minutes for each participant to write down their input on the questions you sent out beforehand.  Use flip chart paper, so everyone can see it
-Then have each participant present their material 
- You will discover the areas where they already agree, and don’t need to spend further time getting into “violent agreement”  
- You will discover what the points of view are where they don’t agree, and can focus the meeting on those.
This also ensures that everyone “has their say,” and that ideas matter more than where those ideas came from 
- Get the work up on the wall. When work is displayed out in the open, the entire team is better able to engage with it
- Don’t hide project work/draft deliverables in computer screens.  Get it on the team room wall where everyone can see it and interact with it 
- Use the walls of your room to create a “memory” of their project to date and to post interesting/provocative materials 
- You can create “horse blankets” with brown paper to display a PowerPoint deck, depict process flow diagrams, post project updates, etc.  
- Constantly update what you have!  Keep all the work visible! When the work is visible, it is much easier to engage with
- “Lather, rinse, repeat.” Iteration is the process of taking multiple, rapid cuts of detailed work.  It creates that work faster and produces better quality than trying to do the entire piece in one long burn.
- Lather - Ask yourself if there is any way to structure the project into a series of short term deliverables (one week maximum).  This gives you regular project “check points” and team deadlines 
- Rinse – Report or post the latest version of the work so that you have ‘delivered’ a product.  Get feedback, a review or just a good night’s sleep.  Also, make early versions of later solutions.  Ask yourself how to pull work from a subsequent phase into the current one 
- Repeat - Regularly return to the most recent iteration to revise it and add another level of detail.  
An iterated “storyboard” of a presentation under creation is a powerful tool—print and post your materials every hour for review.  This requires a strict cut-off!
- Less PowerPoint is more (Not PowerPoint the software, but PowerPoint the LCD projector.)  
PowerPoint is an excellent tool for “one-way” presentations.  But it is not effective at fostering interactive discussions.  We tend to add details and polish slides instead of thinking of what we want to accomplish when a “deck” is being created.  We tend to run through a presentation as a speech instead of a dialogue.
Ask yourself – is there some way I can do it without PowerPoint?  How can we be more interactive?
A dynamic speaker with a flipchart can make a better impression.  Some of the best “orals” presentations used only a few plotter-sized posters.
- If you have a deck, print it, post all the slides and do a “poster session.”  
- Nobody is more limited than the expert
- Subject matter specialists are an important source of information.  But, sometimes they can’t think “outside the box” of what they believe to be true. So, don’t invite ‘experts’ to define what your project can/can’t do.  
Your team will ask better questions and be more creative if they ignore the experts and create what needs to be created.  
“Man who says something cannot be done should not get in the way of man who is doing it.”  --Confucius
- Read weirdly widely - Consultants need to be well-versed and current on their industry or functional specialty. But fresh ideas and inspiration often come from outside your area of expertise, by understanding how others approached a problem or providing fresh ways of thinking.
- So read, study, and travel widely.  Topics as diverse as art, gardening, history, community service, anatomy, music, sports, etc. can be of value.  Often it is the “weird” or “fringe” knowledge that yields the best insights.
One client, struggling with too much to accomplish with too few resources, drew inspiration from how Cortez conquered the Aztec Empire and adapted his “leverage techniques.”  Another created a “Lion King” single frame model to explain their business approach.
- Integrating Work Streams. We are very good at structuring work into “work streams.”  But they tend to turn into a different variation of silos, and don’t integrate well.
- Set up “integration events” such as simulations, poster shows, ambassadors, or other techniques to foster cross-team sharing.  “High frequency, low amplitude” connections are best (frequent, low-key contacts).
Wherever there is an integration touch point (such as data passing between two processes in a system design), create a hand-off template that specifies what each group will give/get from the other.  Force each team to agree on the hand-offs.
- “Think globally, act locally” is your watchword.  It is easy for teams to sub-optimize if they are not keeping the big picture in mind.
- Simulations help anticipate problems Ask yourself how to simulate the dynamics of the work your team is doing.  Simulations can highlight unanticipated market challenges or systemic issues. One project team did an “E-commerce Market Simulation” that flagged a critical channel conflict. Another team did a “process walk” following data through a systems design (sort of a pre-conference room pilot) that identified 212 issues to resolve. A third team used agent-based simulations to discover a bifurcated market in biotech drug sales that translated into sales opportunities
- Finding problems when you simulate is success!  You can’t fix the problems you don’t know about
- Different vantage points – discovery requires movement
- Physical travel, visiting another company or organization, perception of a journey within the project, seeing the problem “at a distance” are all helpful. A “field trip” to other organizations broadens the client’s perspective and suggests potential ideas. An account team “field trip” to other projects can widen perspective and view on the challenges facing one’s own project