Key Lessons for Collaboration in a Virtual World

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With that impact of the Corvid -19 virus a lot more of us are working in isolation at home or at other venues. This article focuses on things to keep in mind and provides some ideas to help you and your team. The focus is on collaboration and working together better looking at collaboration and technology. This is not new. What is new is the expansion into this area and seeing the opportunities that it provides.

 

Collaboration

What is collaboration? Very simply collaboration is more than one person working with another person to accomplish a task or goal. It really is that simple. Working in isolation all of the decisions are made by one person. As soon as a second person or more are involved the complexity grows exponentially taking into account technology, information and people. Collaboration is both a process and an outcome with expected results by stakeholders. Collaboration results in a better solution than could have been achieved by one person working alone.

When not communicating face to face it Is more likely that the attitude associated with communication may be miscommunicated. This can lead to negative conflict and miscommunication. So how can you avoid miscommunication and negative conflict when you cannot see each other face to face?

 

Ideas for Collaboration

Keeping others engaged is hard when there is limited contact. It takes a real effort. This is especially challenging when not working together face to face.

If you are on a phone conference for example, consider an ice breaker at the start of the meeting with something related to time of year, season, personal activities, or something else. This ensures that everyone is on time for the meeting to catch up with others and to share something about themselves. Continue to look for ways to connect with each other on a personal level. Could you ask questions about pets, children, spouse, weather, sports, activities etc.? Demonstrate concern and listen. Encourage others to jump in too.

During the meeting pause and have a specific time for feedback, questions, ideas or concerns and call upon specific individuals to provide comments. It is very tempting to work on something else that you may deem more important as a listener, when no one else can see what you are doing. By engaging others this keeps everyone on their toes. It reduces the likelihood that others are doing something else during the session.

Have a list of questions ahead of time. Have an agenda. Share the agenda at least a day ahead of time and if you want input from others, indicate you will be asking them for their ideas, questions or concerns. Make it a team effort. Encourage others to ask questions too. Thank others for their questions. This will encourage others to ask their questions too.

When you ask for input or ask questions, listen. Really listen. If you are the “know it all” or you have all of the answers, be careful, you may not be encouraging others to really ask what they want to know. Rather, be open and indicate you don’t have all of the answers. You want them to help with developing solutions. Ask open ended questions like:

  • What else should we be asking?
  • What am I missing?
  • Can you tell me more about your concerns?
  • Why do you feel that way?
  • What information can I give you?
  • Was that helpful?
  • Do you need more details?
  • What else can we explore?

Collaboration requires good, connecting relationships, listening actively and educating judiciously to help both you and the other party to collaborate together to reach a resolution or a solution.

 

A handy list of ideas to help you

To help you here is a handy list that can help you going forward based on a scholarly article written by Dr. Deborah B. Gardner, PhD, RN.

  1. Know thyself: your biases, strengths, weaknesses; your team their strengths and weaknesses and set them up for success. Be there to help. Have an attitude that demonstrates caring, compassion, consideration and professionalism.
  2. Learn to value and manage diversity: Consider primary (visual), secondary (below the surface) and tertiary (personality, preferred learning style, emotional intelligence, conversational intelligence)
  3. Develop constructive conflict resolution skills: This is the corner stone of the collaboration process. Continue to explore ways to enhance your skills in this area.
  4. Use your power to develop win-win situations: Get behind positions, explore interests and listen to understand the feelings behind the issues. An interest-based solution considering diverse inputs provides for the best solutions.
  5. Master interpersonal and process skills: Include competence, cooperation and flexibility. Ensure your technical ability is up to date. Focus on and reward cooperation. Demonstrate flexibility on your part.
  6. Recognize that collaboration is a journey: It evolves over time. Give it time. Don’t blame yourself or blame others. Stay focused on the goal. Be tough on the problem and gentle on the people.
  7. Leverage multidisciplinary forums to increase collaboration: By physically present when you can. Make sure you are mentally present when involved virtually. Be prepared. Focus on the problem. Be conscious of when to get together as a best time. Write down action items and identify who will do what by when.
  8. Appreciate that collaboration can occur spontaneously: Other members simply catching each other in the hallway, a phone conversation or text between members, an ah ha moment between two people.
  9. Balance autonomy and utility in collaborative relationships: Cooperation is based on meeting others’ needs. Assertiveness is based on meeting my needs. Work to find the optimal balance. This takes practice and being attune to all of the participants.
  10. Remember that collaboration is not needed for all decisions: It is best to be applied to hard, complex and “wicked” problems.

 

Technology Ideas for Collaboration

If you cannot meet in person, video chats are the next best thing. This keeps people engaged. When you can see each other, you tend to be more engaged and you can react to facial and body language clues beyond simply the words in a text or email, or the tone on a phone call. This provides a much better alternative and reduces the chances for miscommunication. You are definitely more connected when you are able to see each other. There is far less chance you or the other party is working on something else and “not really listening”.

If you are involved in a chat rather than video conferencing be creative and ask for responses or ideas during the meeting to ensure interaction. Be considerate of time zone changes. Working with stakeholders around the world be sensitive to day and time of day interactions. For example, Friday afternoon here in the U.S. is the weekend in India. Similarly, work on time of day considerations to ensure it is the end or beginning of the day with your counterpart around the world.

Consider virtual lunches. That is everybody brings their lunch and you have an informal catch up during lunch on line. As an employer you could schedule a lunch where you the employer have lunch delivered to everybody at their location. Is that fun or what? Think about celebrating a success, a birthday, a special occasion.

 

Conclusion

We are in strange times right now with the Corona virus Covid -19. This provides us with a unique opportunity to really look at collaboration in a new light. We can provide even better outcomes if we focus on the problems at hand. The world is now more complex than ever. Conflict is natural and to be expected. Conflict provides an opportunity to further develop relationships and come out for the better if we focus on the comments offered here.

 

About the Author

Mike is a professional speaker, and a mediator/negotiator that helps clients resolve issues and be more productive as a conflict resolution expert. You may contact Mike directly at mg@mikegreg.com and at (651) 633-5311. Mike has written 11 books including, The Servant Manager, Business Valuations and the IRS and Peaceful Resolutions that you may find helpful. [Michael Gregory, ASA, CVA, NSA, MBA, Qualified Mediator with the Minnesota Supreme Court]