Solutions for Better Collaboration are Complex but Not Complicated

Businesses are taking a closer look at team collaboration these days, as it is one of the main drivers for productivity. While geographic boundaries no longer limit the ability to recruit high-caliber talent, this distribution of talent creates challenges related to collaboration. If you are trying to improve workflow and productivity, remember solutions for better collaboration are complex but not complicated. The whole point of deploying the solution is to UN-complicate things. Let's take a deeper look.


To truly move the needle toward better collaboration, do a deep dive

Be prepared to get a little "chaos tolerant" as you listen to proposed solutions. One of the counterintuitive parts of the problem-solving process is that you have to unearth the entire 'mess' in order to develop an elegant solution. That means when you look at the details of the problem and the many interconnected parts, the root system will reach far and wide. That means your implementation plan will be complex.

Think of the Pando, that ancient grove of aspens that is the world's largest and oldest organism. It's a beautiful grove of aspen trees above the soil, but beneath it, the interconnected root system spreads over 106 acres. It has been growing since the end of the last ice age, so you know what you can't see below the surface is beyond complicated, much like your processes, internal communications, and collaboration tools. Your organization hasn't been around that long, but if you've been growing and scaling (or, in the case of the Pando, cloning), you've put on a few Band-Aids and created a few workarounds over the years. Those quick fixes worked for a while, but they are not the solid infrastructure you need moving forward.

Taking a look at all of the temporary fixes, bottlenecks, and broken processes at once can be overwhelming. Get comfortable acknowledging the chaos and trust that the right solution will create a streamlined, clean, reduced chaos environment moving forward. Remember, ignoring or refusing to accept the mess will not make it go away.


Look for the intersections because your ecosystem is full of interrelated parts

As you work with your service provider, ask questions and give input. Try to identify where each part of the process impacts other parts. For example, fixing your internal communications messaging will impact not only your newsletter but also your intranet content; addressing your process documentation will impact collaboration as well as administration and possibly reporting; creating greater organizational awareness or structural awareness will drive collaboration and will also drive users to your single source of truth internet.

Good solutions require being able to see the full picture and connect all of the dots.


Don't think linear; think strategic

Complex problems are not solved in a linear, consecutive-step fashion. Addressing focus areas one bucket at a time may seem effective, but that is rarely the case. In fact, it will prevent your teams from accepting the changes and increase both chaos and change fatigue.  (Remember, we are the people who 'create clarify from chaos,' so we know a thing or two about these scenarios)

Consider the following:


As you can see, there are 4 areas of focus to address. It's a common misperception that they should be addressed as 4 steps, one after the other. But ask yourself, which is the priority to tackle first? Do any of these focus areas impact other focus areas (if you see the blue text, you know the answer is yes)?

Instead, the way to start the process is to look at all of the focus areas at the same time and determine which tasks will be:

  1. The least disruptive to other focus areas
  2. The easiest to solve/implement to build confidence in the process
  3. The most simple to explain so that continual communication will build on itself during the change process

Rather than addressing the problem focus area by focus area or by highest priority challenge, the solutions are deployed among all of the focus areas simultaneously in a manner that causes the lowest amount of stress on the team. Instead of thinking 'left to right,' think 'from the ground up and across functions.'


When focusing on collaboration, emphasize organizational awareness

As your organization grows, so will your roster. A few things to keep in mind and to consider adding to your intranet are:

  1. An up-to-date staff roster with individuals' job titles, brief descriptions of responsibilities, and special skills or projects that other teammates may need to know.
  2. A description of what each department does and what the drivers of success are. If you have departments with unique calendars or workflows, share that too.
  3. Profile links with robust fields. When people are encouraged to share about themselves, their areas of expertise, what projects they work on, and where they have worked previously, it's a 'one-stop-shop' to easily find collaborators, stakeholders, or mentors.
  4. Staff Spotlight feature. At a regular cadence, be sure to feature individual staff members in an article, especially if it's an interview-style piece. Have consistent questions for each feature to make it an easy process to keep up with.


What not to do? Forced "fun"

The larger your team or workforce, the more difficult it will be to find "an activity" that resonates with everyone. Cheers to you if you have figured that out - but most organizations haven't and won't. This is especially tricky with distributed organizations with several hubs or workforces. What flies in Washington, DC, won't work in Margaritaville. What works in LA will not work in Omaha.

Be aware that you may need to start using the language of both "culture" and "community" to create more engagement. The culture is the way people identify, i.e., a deskless workforce, a sales workforce, or a call center. The community is the collective, where the Mission, Vision, and Values bind all of the cultures together.

Don't misread my intent. "Culture," as in DEI/DEIJ, is a different conversation. This reference to 'culture' is about organizing the workforce. We need BOTH and for different reasons. For the sake of this discussion, 'culture' is enhanced in the same way good communication is: segmenting (distinguishing), honoring the values and uniqueness of those segments (culture), and pulling them all together under one guiding principle (community) like a diverse neighborhood.

Do not disrespect the various cultures by trying to create a single answer to the question "What is fun?" without building opportunities for culture/workforce/geography-specific events too. Smaller "fun" will lead to bigger "fun" in the long run.


Follow these guidelines to build better collaboration within your workforce. A quick summary is:

  1. Take a good look at the root causes surrounding low collaboration (be prepared to face a messy situation)
  2. Assess how those causes interrelate with other areas within the operation (have faith in the system and know that the right solution will create clarity from chaos)
  3. Think strategically rather than linearly when implementing solutions
  4. Focus on educating your population about what different teams do and who the stakeholders are
  5. Acknowledge and celebrate different groups, allowing them to bring their culture into the larger community for a richer experience


Contact us today at 202.415.6987 or if you want to enhance collaboration and engagement. Together, we can create an environment that drives success through effective communication.

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About Lizabeth Wesely-Casella

Lizabeth Wesely-Casella is a skilled strategic advisor specializing in attrition mitigation, workflow management, process improvement, and culture.With over 20 years of experience as an administrator and policy and programming consultant, her work has contributed to successful project outcomes in federal health policy, international program development, for-profit, and non-profit/association management.

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