Managing Director Laughlin Consultancy
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Four collaboration tips for enhancing customer experiences

Some best practices for CX leaders - from choosing the right tools to helping your team manage their time. 

24th Jul 2020
Managing Director Laughlin Consultancy
Columnist
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Collaboration

Throughout the coronavirus crisis, I have written about the importance of customer experience leaders and managers having a  firm grasp on the 5 C's of leadership, in order to be able to steer through these difficult times.  

By way of reminder, the 5Cs in question (as outlined at the start of this series) are:

  1. Understanding the Challenge each team members faces.
  2. Role model Compassion in how you interact with them.
  3. Provide Clarity as to what matters most and now.
  4. Ensure regular and effective Communication to the whole team.
  5. Create the environment for increased Collaboration.

In this column, we turn our attention to final C on that list, collaboration. Why is it so vital and how can you encourage greater collaboration?

Here I will seek to share some tips that I have seen help in practice, avoiding the current hype around improved collaboration through following the latest greatest agile working methodology. Some help, many do not (especially outside software development teams). So, if you want to read more about agile working, you can checkout my previous column on that topic.

For this column, I’ll consider four elements that each contribute to creating an environment in which collaboration is fostered. From my own experience as a leader, those are:

  1. Making effective use of collaboration tools
  2. Creating and using a stakeholder map
  3. Training your team to use their time effectively
  4. Foraging and curating for your team

The right tools to help you collaborate

My simple tip here is to take a fresh look at the tools that you already have available. Yes, there are suites of software and even whole ecosystems (to use the new buzzword) that promise to provide a collaboration environment. However, I don’t want you to encourage you to focus on a major digitisation of your working environment as the first step. Rather, I’d recommend first focusing on changing your way of working using what you have to hand.

Whatever tool you are using to enable digital collaboration across your team, invest in learning its features. For decades I have come across office workers who have never been trained to use the MS Office suite of software. As a result, they only know what they have picked up along the way & so are normally sub-optimal at best. The same hold true for using collaboration software, none is truly just ‘plug & play’ it rewards time taken to learn how to use it.

This holds true of the collaboration features within other conferencing software (everything from Zoom to Webex to Google Meet to Adobe Connect). It also holds true for other types of software that you may be underutilising:

  • If you use Evernote for capturing notes, have you explored its collaborative working features?
  • If you use DropBox, iCloud or OneDrive to share large files, have you also given time to think about the shared folder structure you need on them or your internal servers?
  • Do you utilise the capabilities for internal Intranet pages, Wikis, SharePoint and many many other options?
  • Plus, the potential of shared documents and version control within your current office suite of choice.

Treat the software you use every day in your job as your tools of the trade. Learning their features and how best to use them is akin to sharpening your saw if you are cutting down trees for a job. Don’t waste your time by not doing it.

Stakeholder mapping helps when it is not an academic exercise

When I train analysts and business leaders in effective stakeholder management, I routinely ask them if they have a stakeholder map. Invariably the answer is no. The few rare cases when the question is answered in the affirmative reveal out of date maps or once not used in practice.

For a technique that is widely understood and still taught in business schools, it is sad to see it fall into such neglect. I fear it happens because all too often managers have only been introduced to it as an academic exercise or sole for use in formal projects.

The first step is to use free format mind mapping to think in 360 degrees from your current role. Pause for a moment to think about three types of people. Those who are more senior than you in the organisation, including your boss and your boss’s boss. Those who are you peers, across all the major functions (or silos). Those who are more junior than you, in both your own team and the teams of your peers.

Now the key question to ask yourself is: Who could be influential in whether or not my team achieves our goals (key targets for the year)? Intentionally think more broadly than those you currently mix with. Who could help? Who could hinder? Who could be interested? Who might be concerned about the work you do?

Collaboration

The second step is to draw a two by two grid. The vertical axis represents the level of influence a person has on you and your team being able to deliver. At the top are the most influential, those who can make or break your ability to deliver. At the bottom are those whose view make little or not difference to the outcome. The horizontal axis represents the level of interest in the work of you and your team. On the left are the apathetic, on the right are the actively interested (whether supportive or opposing you).

Collaboration

Using this grid, you should place all the potential stakeholders whom you identified during the mind mapping exercise. One rule is that everyone must be placed in a quadrant (no fence sitters here). As a guide you should also challenge yourself to have more people in the bottom left and then bottom right, with less in the top two boxes.

The names shown in the above illustration guide you as to how you should use this stakeholder map. Protect time to build relationships with the key players and encourage your team to look for opportunities to collaborate with them and their teams. Spend some of your time as a leader keeping the top left quadrant satisfied or engage them with the relevance of your work and move them to the top right.

Avoid the time wasting of too much time spent ‘below the line’. Stop inviting the bottom left to your meetings or calls and do not copy them on your emails. Find a low effort way to keep the bottom right stakeholders informed of progress, perhaps through a blog or brief update at a standing meeting.

Using this approach will help you to identify where you and your team should focus for collaboration. You could start with open questions about their challenges, goals and listen for opportunities to collaborate to help them.

Training your team to use their time effectively

Most people working in business today will express the frustration that “there is never enough time” or “where did the time go”. Yet my experience as a leadership coach has taught me that few do anything to fix this frustration.

As we all know managing your time is in fact a misnomer. You can’t, even if you are really disciplined and try your hardest, summon up more minutes in the hour or more days in the week. The real challenge is prioritisation. How can you ensure that the time you have is spent on what matters most.

Here you can build on the work I recommended when writing about clarity. In that post, we applied a 2x2 grid to help you prioritise the work that matters most now. Ensure you keep that in view and regularly refer to it when communicating with your team.

But even that is not enough, especially when you get down to both the detailed To Do lists for you team members. The devil as ever is in the detail. Add to that your challenge for them to be proactively collaborating with the Key Players you have identified through your stakeholder mapping. It’s beginning to sound unworkable isn’t it.

I share this because the most frequent reason I hear for leaders and their teams not collaborating is that they “couldn’t find the time”.

So, I recommend reading the simple system proposed by Peter Bregman in his classic guide called “18 Minutes”. In that easy to read book you will find some simple principles to help you focus on what matters most. This includes exercises to help you get clarity on what matters most this year, this week, this day and this hour. His everyday tips also include:

  • Start your day by setting a plan for your day (5 minutes)
  • Check-in with what you are actually doing and refocus if needed (1 minute per hour)
  • Review what you achieved and learnt that day (5 minutes)
  • Use a To-Don’t-List as well as a To-Do-List
  • Move the Big 3 and other priorities from your To Do List into your calendar

If you want to go one better than most leaders who seek to improve in this skill, then I urge you to also train your team. They struggle to get through everything too. So, once you have a system that works for you, don’t keep it to yourself. Take time to share it with your team, get them to trial using it and then gather regularly to share tips and pitfalls to avoid. Keeping ‘time management’ (or prioritisation) as a focus will help encourage all your team to find time for thinking and collaboration, not just slogging away with their heads down.

Foraging and curating for your team

Of the many metaphors applied to managers in business (captain, expedition leader, controller, actor, coach, role model etc) rarely have I heard managers likened to hunter-gatherers.

However, I’ve seen how managers can help their teams (especially remote teams) when they embrace this challenge. By the terms ‘foraging’ and ‘curating’, I mean both seeking out resources that may help your team. They might be helpful tips, free apps, new relevant knowledge or introductions to expertise or contacts. But they might also just be images, news items, research papers, blogs or podcasts that made you think. Don’t feel you need to have answers. Rather you are providing kindling for a fire.

Before the fire of innovation, or quality thinking, can get started though - help your team by also curating. The first stage is that you have been selective in what you have gathered (no damp wood, to continue the analogy). The second stage is that you provide some order or structure to help them quickly see what is available and how it might help them. Akin to separating fuel into everything from slower burning logs to kindling, don’t just deluge your team with emails - develop an ordered source for them.

What order helps will depend on your team, business and context. Some may want to separate technology tips from commercial information, others may want to pull together the ‘quick reads’ apart from those that will take longer.

Either way, providing relevant information, ideas and tools on a regular basis can express a care for your team and inject some enthusiasm if done well. So, it’s worth thinking how to provide this too. Will an MS Teams or Slack channel work best, or would they prefer a folder of internal Wiki that they can access when they have time?

But perhaps the best thing you can bring your team is your attention. Undistracted, truly interested attention is perhaps one of the rarest things people experience. Even though research and personal experience often tell leaders how powerful it can be when experienced. So, above any other useful resources you can bring your team, I recommend bringing them some of your precious time and use it to listen to them.

When a few people do the thinking, most people do not. When most people do not, most perspectives, most insights, most fresh ideas, most analyses, most of the inspiration are lost. Most shinings of the light never happen.” - from ‘More Time to Think’ by Nancy Kline

Whichever tools help you gather to collaborate; whichever stakeholders you identify should be involved; however you protect time for collaborative thinking - I urge you to prioritise gathering together to think through the most important issues. Then when you do, after having briefed everyone well beforehand, ask a few questions and spend more of your time listening.

 

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