Over the years, I have been privileged to work with many companies, and individuals within those companies, whom I would describe as being leaders in their field. The chance to do this is one of the real thrills of the work I do, and one of the primary reasons why I do it.
However, even amongst these leaders, there are some who stand out above the rest.
The post I have written for you today is an excerpt from an email conversation between myself and one of those types of people; a true pioneer in his arena. This gentleman is household name around the world and I still consider being asked to work with him and his team one of the highlights of my professional life. Many of you will be familiar with the project we worked together on, and the high levels of collaboration it demanded. I consider it an excellent case study on the topic of collaboration…
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Dear Mr Laurence,
I have been referred to ETC by a mutual acquaintance of ours, with whom you worked recently, helping him to pull together a project team to collaborate effectively on a very difficult assignment. I have been charged with a similarly complex challenge, and am interested in exploring the possibilities of working with you. The end goal is to achieve a high level of collaboration within my team, the members of which have been sourced from vastly different backgrounds. In fact, in many cases, there are fierce and factitious histories between individuals in my team. This, naturally, worries me greatly. Are you free and available for several months work beginning in December next year (2001)? I look forward to your reply.
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Yes, I am free and available over the time you have mentioned, but will need more detailed information regarding the nature of your project before I can commit.
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Esteemed Mr Laurence,
I am including with this email a video link which I had my PA record during the initial gathering of the members of my work group. Please watch, and the nature of our assignment will become clear to you. I believe our challenge to be one of utmost importance, and would dearly love your consultation and assistance. You may view the video here.
Best wishes, GTG.
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Gandalf The Grey,
I have heard of your assignment, and I must say from the outset that it appears fraught with danger and peril. Until now, I was planning on spending the summer at Whangamata, taking walks on the beach with my lovely wife and sipping cocktails during sunsets. Because of this, I politely decline your offer to work with you and your team. Best of luck with your endeavours.
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Did I mention the pay is 17.50 an hour and I’ll throw in a couple of tickets to watch the Warriors play the Broncos at Mt Smart Stadium next week?
Gandalf The Grey.
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I’m in, lets get started! I have had a look at your situation, and from what I can see, your challenge is this: lead a motley crew of no-hopers across some of the most unimaginable terrain which is defended by nightmarishly foul beasts who are hell-bent on your destruction, to throw a ring into a volcano. Fortunately for you, I attended Waikato and Loughborough Universities, where I was trained for just such challenges. You are going to require outstanding levels of collaboration amongst your team members for this one Gandalf.
I consider effective collaboration as having three key components. They are:
1. Strong external orientation
2. Proactive engagement with key stakeholders
3. Utilisation of feedback loops
In order for your team to have every chance of success, I would recommend you instigate the following steps as their leader:
• External Orientation: Look at your quest through the eyes of your external customer. In your case, you have been charged with the responsibility of saving Middle Earth and the millions of souls which inhabit it. I hope you have given this the respect it deserves, as it is not your average Sunday stroll mate. Try to imagine you are a Hobbit housewife, and picture how she would like you to succeed. I would hazard a guess she prefers the ‘Shire to the eternal fires of Mordor. Also, make sure each of your partners in the quest understands, buys-in and commits to the shared vision. It certainly seems to be one hell of a BHAG that demands collaboration from all to have any chance of success. I most definitely can’t see any of them achieving it on their own! “One for all and all for one” or something like that seems to be the motto, which is an essential behavioral component for collaboration in any instance!
• Key Stakeholders: Bearing the above in mind, you are going to have to be a highly effective collaboration catalyst that facilitates the synergy of your extremely diverse virtual team members. You have identified they are all from somewhat conflicting backgrounds. I suggest you concentrate on utilising the unique individual talents by playing to their strengths and minimizing their weaknesses by having them work in complementary partnerships. From what I can deduce, the guy with the pointy ears doesn’t like the humans. He’s pretty good with a bow and arrow though and he’s not bad with swords, so you’ll have to work through that. The little hairy fella seems perpetually grumpy, and takes interest in little else besides killing Orcs. That is likely to be a useful skill, so look for ways to assimilate him into the group, and beware of ridiculing him for his height or partnering him with females in high heels. The little short quartet who call themselves Hobbits appear tenacious and determined. Look past their physical stature and use them in roles which will inspire and lead the group in times of desperation. (However, be mindful - they eat two breakfasts a day which will slow you down.)
• Utilize Feedback Loops: Considering you won’t have cellphones, video conference suites, WiFi, Bluetooth, E-mail, SMS, Skype or even a postal service where you’re going, you’re going to have to rely on smoke signals and walking talking trees as your collaboration technologies. This could pose a problem when you are reviewing your performance against your goals and objectives. Still, only a poor tradesman blames his tools, remember that Gandy. Try a subtle mix of straight talking and active listening as your core feedback techniques. I find the “Keep Stop Start” speed-dating feedback format is a beauty for keeping virtual teams on task as well. If you are cognizant of these main issues Gandalf, I believe you to have all the ingredients necessary to achieve your KPIs, and rid your world of evil. I wish you all the best in doing so. Kerri will be in touch shortly with your invoice. What’s the postcode for Middle Earth?
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Thanks for your advice, which I’ll certainly put into effect. However, I have decided to get an extra boost for our collaborative endeavor by outsourcing a mixture of magic and special effects from a Kiwi guy called Peter Jackson to ensure we get the job done. It just seems that our collaboration may need an extra boost on this occasion. All the best for the future.
Gandalf The Grey
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