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- April 09, 2015
- Business Strategy
If you're a business professional, then you probably hear the word collaboration a lot - maybe more than you'd like to. Collaboration has rightfully earned its place in the Hall of Fame of business buzzwords. But what does it really mean? And how do you ensure that you are doing it well?
Collaboration is simply the process of working together with others to create something. The reason why it’s perennially a hot topic is that organizations know that teams produce better, richer work than individuals working alone. Bringing multiple minds together to collaborate on a project can produce astonishing breakthroughs. But collaboration can be anything but simple, because people are complex, and the more people involved, the greater the complexity.
There are five things you can do to set the stage for a collaborative effort that unleashes everyone’s best efforts.
1. Make sure you have only the most vital people in the room
Too often, committees get formed and quickly become too large. The maxim, the more, the merrier does not apply to collaboration. There’s a temptation to include everyone your project touches, but you’re better off with only those who are going to be highly engaged. The overhead of having to communicate to extra and possibly overextended people usually outweighs the benefit of their limited participation. Stick with the minimum viable group in order to stay agile and maximize impact.
2. Make sure everyone knows their role
Ever been in a meeting where participants look disengaged or confused? Collaboration is an active process and everyone needs to know what they’re delivering at all times. If people are looking disengaged or confused, there’s a good chance they don’t know why they’re in the room, or what’s expected of them. The project owner needs to give every contributor clear ownership of an area from the beginning and then track progress to completion.
3. Keep the end goal in focus
Often, collaborative projects kick off with a grand vision, but people can get lost in the collaborative process and the harsh realities of having to deliver by a certain deadline. This causes confusion at best, and at worst, severe productivity loss and frustration. Don’t let that happen to you! Review your final goal at the start of every meeting. Better yet, write it at the top of every document and communication to keep everyone focused and on track.
4. Make sure everyone knows what the action plan is
This is especially critical for complex projects with multiple stakeholders from various departments - which is to say, most projects. These types of projects require constant reallocation of resources, and frequent and sometimes last-minute changes to the grand plan. Set expectations accordingly, and maintain a shared, living document that is simple enough for all stakeholders to understand and use.
5. Use the right tools
Despite the recent rise of collaboration and social media tools, most people still rely on email and Microsoft Excel to manage highly complex projects. The benefits of leveraging social technologies to collaborate effectively are huge. A recent McKinsey study, The social economy: Unlocking value and productivity through social technologies makes the case that social technologies can aid collaboration and improve the productivity of highly skilled knowledge workers, managers and professionals by 20 to 25 percent.
With these new tools, multiple people can access and edit the same document at the same time. Most of these tools are cloud-based, enabling collaborators to work from anywhere. Whatever the tool, it must be easy enough to understand at first or second glance, and it must add value immediately.
Collaboration can be incredibly valuable and almost always results in a superior work product and better outcomes when practiced correctly. Part of the beauty of a successful collaboration is that the results can be surprising, but that doesn’t happen by accident.
You can’t control people, but you can control how you set up the collaborative framework. The last thing you want to do is throw a bunch of people in a room with a vague goal and no specific action plan and then keep in touch with endless email strings. That’s the kind of setup that gives collaboration a bad name. Collaboration can be energizing, exciting and rewarding. Follow these best practices and people will jump at the chance to collaborate with you.
Sunny Manivannan is a senior product manager at Coupa focused on collaborative features and products. He is passionate about helping people get more done in less time with less work. When he is not working, he likes to play tennis and poker.