Even before the COVID-19 crisis hit, collaboration was already acknowledged as a critical competence of businesses. Today the capability of collaborating with effectiveness, focus, and efficiency will be a vital element for the success of any strategy for surviving, and later getting back to business and (hopefully) growth.

In the new reality we’re facing, we will need a greater capacity to collaborate among all kinds of organizations, and as independent professionals joining skills and competences.

We have been living in the Age of Information. The challenges we face today and the very near future will require us to build on all the amazing technologies that this age has produced to enter a new Age of Collaboration.

To achieve this, we need a new understanding of what collaboration truly is and leave behind certain wrong assumptions and perceptions.

Communication and information are not collaboration.

As valuable as the new IT technologies and tools have proven, what they are fundamentally designed to do is allow us to share more information with more people, faster. This is very important, but it is not collaboration.

True collaboration is a deeper human process that requires the integration of assumptions (I think that you think what I think because it’s just common sense. Right!), objectives, and the main processes we use to collaborate.

This integration requires formal fundamentals of operations, which is what we use in many other areas of our business. A few examples:

  • We provide our teams with a budget, and also with the policies and guidelines for using it.
  • We provide workers with safety equipment, but also with the safety rules, procedures, and metrics for safety.

In almost all other areas of activity, we recognize the absolute need of providing these formal fundamentals to ensure that there is a human-side integration. In almost all professional activity, except in basic collaboration, we have been providing a multitude of new tools without the corresponding fundamentals to ensure integration, alignment, and effectiveness. We need to change that and replace “common sense” in collaborative activity with formal fundamentals.

Collaboration is a system.

The previous statement seems an incredibly complex challenge unless we recognize that collaboration is an operating system that exists in every human organization.

Once we recognize this system and understand how it operates, we realize it is not so complex or intangible. We also realize that it can be managed for amazing, consistent performance by applying the proven fundamentals and methods that have worked so well in other systems. The collaboration system operates at three levels as the graph shows:

As we understand the collaboration system in our businesses or teams, what needs to be done at each level becomes quite clear.

At Level One, organizations must ensure that everyone delivers what is expected and in time. To achieve this there are three items to take care of:

  1. Clarity, alignment, and clear ownership of objectives.
  2. A unified way of managing objectives, from setting them to delivering the outcomes.
  3. Provide individual means for measuring effectiveness (the achievement of objectives) and efficiency (the expected vs actual schedules for accomplishing objectives).

These three items provide individuals and teams with focus and purpose in daily activity, as well as a sense of achievement and clarity of performance. All vital characteristics in remote or in-person collaboration. Organizations that have accomplished this show increases of more than 30% in effectiveness and efficiency, greater motivation, integration at all levels, and enhanced self-management; the cornerstones for the amazing collaboration.

At level Two, well-operated collaboration systems require the full integration of collaboration processes, applying fundamentals that also ensure that each meeting, message, or project is focused on providing value. When teams achieve this, they reduce the volumes of messages that go back and forth up to 40%. They also reduce 10% of meetings (in-person or online) that do not provide tangible value outcomes. This allows teams to collaborate seamlessly across distances, functions, and departments since everyone does it the same way.

At Level Three, many negative issues tend to vanish once levels one and two are integrated and under control. The additional actions required are:

  • A clear, unified cycle of collaboration where there is clarity on how team objectives are set, and when and how the team gathers in person or online for reviewing their collective effectiveness, efficiency, and to determine agreements or initiatives for improving collaboration and results.
  • Leadership focused on managing through results and not activities. A critical shift for effective collaboration, and even more important in a remote work environment.

Collaboration can be formally shaped and even unified across borders and cultures.

Each era in human development has created greater connection, first through better, faster, and more reliable ways of traveling. Then with new means for communicating such as the telegraph and the telephone.

Today we can be in real-time contact with multiple parties across the globe. We can load slides on a flash drive with the certainty that we will be able to play them on another computer anywhere in the world. But the critical integration of human collaboration has lagged.

By formally understanding and managing collaboration systems, we have the opportunity to establish amazing performance quickly and seamlessly in our organizations. By taking the next step and setting common collaboration fundamentals globally, we will finally reach a unified way of collaborating.

Ushering in a new era of collaborative integration and alignment will be fundamental for coming out this crisis stronger than ever, and ready to better collaborate in meeting other urgent global challenges.