Does your organisation need to pivot? Here’s how to do so collaboratively

Does your organisation need to pivot? Here’s how to do so collaboratively

Many people have mixed feelings about workplace collaboration. Social Psychologist, Deb Mashek, draws on her experience as a relationships researcher and collaboration facilitator to reveal everything you need to know to make workplace collaborations less painful and more productive. She offers five steps to making a road map for collaborative pivots.

Some business pivots must unfold quickly. In such instances, leaders make the best decisions they can with the information currently available. The Great COVID Shutdown of March 2020 is a case in point.

Other pivots, while no less important and clearly needed, unfold over longer periods. Questions about if and how to return to the office and how best to create equitable workplaces are obvious examples.

When looking to address big questions like these, executives can choose to make a truly collaborative pivot by engaging a wide range of perspectives to generate inspired possibilities and building both authentic buy-in and strong relationships along the way.

The five steps below offer a road map for making collaborative pivots.

Step 1. Explore possibilities by asking, ‘What should we do?’

No single person within any organisation is predestined to have the best idea. Step one thus aims to generate a wide range of ideas from a broad range of stakeholders.

For this step to deliver results, diverse stakeholders must be invited in. Leaders must be open about the problem at hand, as well as what’s at stake if things go swimmingly or if they tank. Frank context setting, followed by fervent idea making, sets the stage for divergent thinking.

Individuals could gather around the conference table for a good old fashioned brainstorming session. Or contributors could share written reflections to a small number of open-ended survey questions designed to elicit ideas. Alternatively, an external facilitator well-versed in qualitative research could conduct confidential, inclusive one-on-one interviews.

Each of these idea collection models has weaknesses. Pre-existing relationship dynamics and power dynamics will play out in any group approach. People won’t share their true thoughts if psychological safety is not already present. And an external facilitator who is unable to establish quick rapport will learn little.

Whatever process is used to gather ideas, it is critical that findings be shared back publicly so that those who participated can be confident that their ideas were heard and will be considered; skipping this step tanks later buy-in.

Step 2: Identify viable pathways by asking, ‘What should we do?’

Step one will generate more good ideas than any one organisation could possibly implement. The goal of step one, then, is to converge on a decision. Different organisations have different norms around how decisions are made; step one needs to honour those norms.

One strategy is to first present the ultimate decision-makers with the full range of ideas generated in step one. Ask: “Is there anything on this list that is so far beyond the realm of possible that we should remove it from consideration?”

Then, with theoretically possible ideas in hand, invite anyone who contributed to step one to a workshopping summit designed to surface stakeholder interests, reservations and valued outcomes. Then, feed those reactions to the decision-makers in a systematic and open way.

Leadership can then work with this information to decide which initiative or approach makes the most sense in terms of mission alignment, resource availability and problem relevance. Once a decision has been made, communicate publicly about what was decided and why and describe next steps in the planning process. As before, this open communication drives buy-in.

Step 3. Plan the pivot by asking, ‘How will we do it?’

Working within your organisation’s existing processes for planning and managing complex projects, look for opportunities to make the planning more collaborative. This does not mean bringing more cooks into the kitchen, which can result in confusion and operational drag.

Instead, take the time to capture, then share, key information with stakeholders via visible and widely available touchstone documents. These touchstones, which help keep focus on the goals and constraints of the shared work, might include a statement of purpose, a project plan, a theory of change and others.

Step 4. Do the work.

Collaboratively implementing the pivot doesn’t mean that everyone within the organisation can or should be involved in every aspect of the project. That approach would gum up the works.

Assuming effective project management is already in place to orchestrate the people, tools and processes involved, the collaborative boost involves building in opportunities for the implementation team to exchange information for mutual benefit, share resources and learn from each other to enhance each other’s capacity.

In addition, the implementation team ideally establishes a clear, well-known and easily accessible mechanism for sharing information out to the various stakeholders and bringing questions, concerns and suggestions in.

Step 5. Optimise the effort by asking, ‘How’d we do?’

While many organisations employ thoughtful metrics to evaluate the success of their projects, programmes and services, few evaluate the health of the collaborative relationships and processes that enable the work.

As part of a collaborative pivot, ask the people doing the work how that ‘together work’ is going. Look for opportunities to upskill, improve relationships and influence culture toward more and better collaboration. Doing so will have positive ripple effects beyond this one particular pivot.

Hold in mind. Before embarking upon a collaborative pivot, remember:

• Collaborative processes take time. Set a reasonable timeline that gives space for people to engage meaningfully and for their perspectives to sincerely inform deliberations
• Prioritise transparency when sharing ideas and engaging in meaning making
• Clearly communicate transitions from one step to another and make clear what sort of input is useful when.

Collaborative pivots are at once intensive and powerful, providing a systematic way to build momentum and to enable the potential of people and their ideas.

Deb Mashek helps business leaders navigate the relationship headwinds that tank timelines, bottom lines and well-being. She is the author of Collabor(h)ate.

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