Collaborative Communities – The New Normal?
20 May 2020
Posted by: Katie Taylor
The strange working environment we have found ourselves in over the past few months has prompted many to think about what the ‘new normal’ will look like once restrictions are lifted.
There is much in the press about how working patterns might change, many of us have had direct experience of home working and who wasn’t been challenged by online collaboration tools! Is this the beginning of a reset of office-based work as we know it?
It certainly feels like much will change but this is also a great opportunity to reflect on what has worked well in more recent times to build a better long-term work environment for us all.
What has been so striking and so heartwarming in the current crisis is how such diverse groups have come together to fight a common enemy together. Collaborative communities really have achieved more than individuals alone.
Can we continue to build on this positive phenomenon in the ‘new normal’ working environment? Business Agility has always championed ‘individuals and interactions over process and tools’ together with collaboration between co-located teams.Yet the practicalities of these ideals are challenging in a world where split working patterns, more home working and less face to face interaction may be more prevalent.
Evolution is key, how do we adapt what works well whilst losing less helpful practices. The 9 Principles of Agile Leadership encapsulate the essence of agility; by looking at Principle 8, ‘collaborative communities achieve more than individual’, can we learn what we might adapt in our ‘new normal’ work environment?
What we know about Collaborative Communities
Organisations that build collaborative communities encourage people to continually apply their own unique talent to the group[i]. This requires leaders to bring together ‘common purpose’ with ‘supportive structure’ to allow knowledge, talent and expertise to flourish.
Research points towards collaborative communities as an organisational structure that deals well with 21st Century imperatives such as competitive advantage, profit generation and social conscience.[ii] Other evidence has identified a range of tangible benefits achieved through collaborative working including: Improved business and operational performance; Increased business winning; Enhanced risk management; Innovation; Multi-million pound efficiencies; Increased client confidence and repeat business; New product development.[iii]
Collaborative communities are typically structured horizontally rather than vertically. There is less concern regarding traditional job roles with influence gained through expertise, local knowledge and context together with strong networks across surrounding teams and stakeholders. Communication where possible is face-to-face with processes transparent and visible.
Three elements emerge as key to building a collaborative community – ‘shared purpose’, ‘supportive structure’ and ‘trust’.
A shared purpose outlines what everyone at all levels are trying to do. It influences work from top to bottom through an organisation. Paul Adler’s work highlights the example of Kaiser Permanente, where their Value Compass succinctly defines the organisation’s shared purpose as: “Best quality, best service, most affordable, best place to work” giving every member of the community clear responsibilities to work towards each day. A shared purpose is articulated through an ‘Interdependent process management’ that is explicit, flexible and interactive, designed by those doing the work to ensure buy-in and accuracy.
Most organisations organise work based on teams. These are commonly cross-functional but individuals are rarely dedicated to one project at a time, creating governance difficulties. This requires ‘participative centralisation’, where everyone’s knowledge is utilised whilst knowledge is also coordinated in order to scale.
Trust is the glue of collaborative communities. However, it is a vast subject with a large and diverse amount written on the topic. In the context of communities, Blockchain[iv] may offer some interesting insights and learning. Blockchain technology is based on trust, processing thousands of financial transactions honestly and consistently.
The whole blockchain community runs on a very simple premis or rule, ‘whenever you do something important, shout and let everyone know.’[v] For example, announcing and recording what task you are going to complete today is harder to go back on once many people are aware of it. Trust is built by proving honesty through actions on more than one occasion.
Agile and Collaborative Communities
Based on the thinking about we can apply a range of existing Agile practices to our team working to leverage the many benefits of collaborative communities.
Agile (and other) Support Practices
1. Shared Purpose
· Workshops – to engage a range of stakeholders in developing purpose
· Visualise information – walls, whiteboards, Kanban boards to aid transparency
· Values, Incremental Delivery and Customer-oriented approach – to show how individuals contribute to the organisations shared purpose
2. Support Structure
· Shared planning and estimating – planning poker, bucket estimation, etc for buy-in, ownership and greater accuracy
· Team-based decision-making, problem solving and creative techniques – documented and followed by all
· Team-based process mapping and kaizen - for continuous improvement
· Regular retrospectives - so that stakeholders adapt and improve the processes they have developed
· ScrumMaster role – to mentor and support process
· Agile Coach – to develop positive culture, mind sets and working environment
· Collaborative communication - regular ‘standups’, User Stories, ‘show and tells’ to aid understanding and demonstrate control
Will future research point to collaborative communities as one of the ways that organisations used to successfully navigated the COVID-19 pandemic?
Guest blogger bio
Katie Taylor has been a Consultant, an Academic and Researcher bridging the gap between industry, practice and research. She specialised in enabling communication between diverse groups of staff, especially during times of radical change.