Welcome to the age of collaboration!

In my article ‘How to enhance collaboration between teams’ I explain how we can enhance collaboration in the company through the use of technology, methodology and collaborative leadership.

If you have started a project of this type, you will have realized that one of the biggest complexities is for teams to adopt this new way of working naturally. In short, that they incorporate it into their DNA, as the ‘natural’ way of doing things.

The new organization through collaborative communities.

Today, everything is collaboration in companies. Hierarchies blur to make way for peer communities in which each member promotes shared purpose. It is time to organize, at least partially, in the form of collaborative communities.

A collaborative community is not exactly the same as a work team. Thus, like successful teams, successful communities have goals, deliverables, assigned leadership, accountability for results, and metrics. But they are different in three ways:

Long-term vision: 

Teams focus on a specific deliverable in a specified period, usually a year or less. Communities, on the other hand, are responsible for developing a body of knowledge or long-term actions, usually longer than one year. The latter does not mean that a community cannot have annual goals (or less), always within the framework of the project they are developing.

Horizontal collaboration: 

Communities are based on their members occupying a position among peers (P2P, acronym for peer to peer). This means that leaders, which exist, serve to set community direction, connect members, and facilitate discussions, but they have no authority over members.

Knowledge management: 

Communities manage knowledge with a view to solving problems that have not yet been discovered. Teams, on the contrary, focus on a problem that has been given to them and that exists today.

How to organize collaboration to be effective.

Although it could be inferred from the above that communities can become a kind of self-managed teams, it is very important that, if you decide to set them up, you organize them strategically. It’s not just that they work independently and self-organizing, it’s about serving a higher business interest through purpose, goals, and structure.

Here are some tips to help you successfully lead the transition to collaborative communities.

First tip: Focus on issues important to the organization. 

The real problems that a community must enter into in practice must be defined by a senior leader (or the steering committee) who must launch them in the form of challenges. From there, the communities function as research centers. 

Second tip: Set goals and deliverables.

One of the most important tasks at the beginning is to establish the community’s contribution to the organization, setting goals and deliverables. In any case, those goals and deliverables should serve to energize the work of the community. For this, they should not be set too explicitly or specifically and, above all, they should attend to long-term needs (that is what differentiates them from teams, as we have seen).

Third tip: Provide real governance. 

For full integration into the organization, communities, like teams, need formal relationships with company management. For this it is very important that you name a sponsor, a senior leader who can guide the work, provide the necessary resources and serve as an ‘intermediary’ in the community’s relationship with other senior leaders.

Fourth tip: Try to maximize your impact. 

Traditionally, companies and individuals pay little attention to what the community of trainees does because they understand their participation in them as a fringe activity intended to benefit the members and not necessarily the company. But it is a mistake, you can make that perception withdraw in three different ways: reserving a part of your time to participate in them, training leaders in the role of leading a community and organizing face-to-face events, when the pandemic allows it.

Go live!

Now you can start your first collaborative community. Choose a cross-cutting project or process that affects multiple teams or departments. Appoint a sponsor, a level executive. Choose the team, try to make it as transversal as the project or process itself. Set goals, preferably quarterly. Follow up on them. And set the ultimate, aspirational, long-term goal.

An example: are customers and employees our most important assets? Are you sure that their perceived quality is optimal? Put a community to work on it, collecting data and proposing measures to maximize their experience. Contributing the different sensitivities of the members of the community, but with a firm and determined shared purpose.

You will see how, in a very short time, just with this pilot project, you will get the culture of collaboration to be incorporated into the company.

Author: Ricardo Alfaro

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How to build an employee risk matrix

How to create an environment conducive to innovation

The art of leading a virtual meeting