Have you ever made one small change in how you work which turned out to be a game-changer in ways you never expected?
That’s the experience teams both big and small usually share with me after a strategic collaboration meeting (and again when they reach out a few weeks later once the long-term benefits really start to kick in).
If you’ve never heard of collaboration strategy meetings before, check out my previous article where I explained what they are and how the seemingly counterintuitive advice of adding one more meeting to your already busy schedule might just be the secret sauce you need to accelerate your organization’s performance and impact, as well as the wellbeing of your people.
In this post, I’ll share 5 powerful reasons to make collaboration strategy meetings a core part of how you operate, whether you work remotely in a young startup or are an established name looking for ways to bring out the very best in all your team members.
Let’s imagine a team is facing some challenges. Maybe there are non-verbal signs in the (virtual) room which give you the sense something is going on. Maybe some people talk about interpersonal challenges they have with others. And ideally, some direct feedback also reaches the team leader.
What I often experience when working with teams is that people are prone to misinterpreting team issues as personal issues. Someone might get annoyed when a colleague who isn’t her boss keeps assigning her tasks. Someone might get frustrated because he doesn’t get the support he expects from a senior colleague. And this same senior colleague might get frustrated by the continuous demands of junior colleagues and the amount of work he has on his plate at the same time.
At first glance these scenarios might seem completely different, but they all have one thing in common: interpersonal tension due to differing perspectives on a situation. People are looking at the same thing, but interpreting its meaning differently. And as a leader, when they bring these issues to you it somehow seems that everyone’s viewpoint is valid. It’s hard to say who is right and who isn’t since these conflicts point to a lack of clarity.
Collaboration strategy meetings are accelerators in these situations because they help the people involved come to a shared understanding of what isn’t working and what could be improved regarding collaboration. The team creates a list of issues that impact their everyday work and establish priorities, all the while making sure everybody has a clear picture of what success looks like for the team.
When we create a common understanding of collaboration with a team, we reframe these issues as problem statements. For example:
This not only makes it easier to come up with solutions together, but also ensures that people involved work on solutions that will work for everyone on the team.
Defining these issues together as a team is powerful. It suddenly becomes very obvious where the cracks are when it comes to collaboration.
There are always team members who naturally flag issues and channel info to managers, leaders, or clients. But for most people, raising issues is difficult or uncomfortable, and sometimes they don’t even realize they have the option to get to management or their team leader regarding certain topics.
For example, if someone doesn’t understand why certain things are done the way they are and things seem ineffective from their position, but no one else questioned these methods before, that person might not immediately share their opinion with others because it could feel risky to go against what they perceive as the norm. Not sharing could lead to frustration on their part and missed opportunities for growth for the team.
What many teams don’t realize is that if one team member is frustrated about how things are done or how they collaborate and communicate, it affects the whole team. Probably in ways they are not even aware of.
Collaboration strategy meetings are designed to bring these issues to light. If there is dedicated time and space to talk about problems and opportunities for improving teamwork, ways of working, or processes, people who are generally less proactive or more afraid of confrontation might feel encouraged to put their observations and ideas on the table.
In a meeting like this, once an issue is raised by one person, it’s no longer only their problem, but the whole team’s. So people get a platform to voice problems in a safe space and those problems get put on a shared map as something to solve together.
If people get to feel heard and understood by their team members in a way that is both meaningful and productive, they become motivated to keep communicating and come up with solutions. A desire for true collaboration and a sense of agency is established and reinforced.
I already know what you’re thinking: “Well, we already use Slack and have an open-door policy for this exact reason…”
If that’s the case, I’d like to encourage you to ask yourself these questions:
If any of these ring a bell, you should definitely consider utilizing the structure of collaboration strategy meetings.
Being able to freely share what someone believes to be an inefficiency in the way things are done, what’s challenging for them in their role or in certain relationships with other team members, or what they think management should do differently requires a certain type of personality AND a feeling of psychological safety.
People who are very introverted or who feel that speaking up could result in negative repercussions and/or conflict are less likely to be proactive in bringing up difficult issues or questioning the status quo. And by not actively seeking their perspective (in addition to those of the more vocal team members), the organization loses a huge amount of innovative potential and opportunity for growth.
Collaboration strategy meetings work because they bring the question of “what’s not working as effectively as it could be” directly to the people, and they are designed in a way that enables everyone to participate.
Having a dedicated space where everyone feels listened to and can express their needs not only boosts engagement, but also allows you to gain insight from more diverse sources.
In short: if it takes a ton of effort and personal courage to talk about what bothers me, I might not do it. If there is dedicated time and space and an expressed invitation for me to do so while everyone else in the team is doing the same, I am a lot more likely to feel that it’s normal and accepted to talk about challenges and issues.
A lot of teams that reach out to me struggle with feedback. Despite the organization’s elaborately designed processes, skill-building workshops, and best intentions to build an open feedback culture, people are still reluctant to voice things that might be difficult to hear. When conflicts inevitably do arise, some team members tend to take them personally, while others try to avoid them completely.
Collaboration strategy meetings make things easier on both the person giving the feedback and the one(s) listening to it. As we take a closer look at topics that might hinder collaboration on the team, the stage opens up for feedback and requests for certain colleagues involved in these issues.
This makes feedback a lot less personal, because even when it’s directed at a particular person the focus stays on the effectiveness and wellbeing of the team, not on the individual’s perceived shortcomings.
Many organizations I work with are quite young. For them, figuring out who they are and how they do things and running their daily operations often happen at the same time.
Running strategic collaboration workshops across the organization can provide them with a wealth of insights about how they want to run their organization, how they make decisions, what the organizational chart should look like, and what kind of rituals they want to make a part of their culture.
These meetings can also be about smaller stuff, and they don’t have to involve everyone all the time. If there’s an issue the team hasn’t encountered before, like who gets to make the final call in a decision or who needs to be informed about certain things, collaboration strategy meetings can help you set a precedent for the future in an intentional way.
You can then use the decisions made for these specific issues to create your organization’s ways of working, develop better role descriptions, or define how your core values should show up in the day-to-day work of your team members.
I’ve experienced countless collaboration strategy meetings both as a participant and as a facilitator, and I’m convinced that they are among the most powerful organizational development tools you can use to strengthen your teams and your organization as a whole by empowering people to be part of the conversation and solve their own issues in a productive way.
If the benefits above made you at least a little bit curious, make sure you read this article on how to run effective collaboration strategy meetings.
And if you would like to explore doing something like this with the help of an experienced facilitator, don’t hesitate to reach out!