Collaboration In A Complex Environment
Collaboration is an expectation in today’s business environment. At its most fundamental level, collaboration is defined as working together on a shared task, project, or goal. Collaboration typically involves identifying roles, sharing knowledge, and creating consensus. Organizations tend to rely on collaboration to share information and expertise, solve complex problems, and develop innovative new processes, products, and services. Coupling the engrained role of collaboration in business with today’s complex work environment (e.g., remote workforce) creates its own sets of problems in terms of methods and investments in tools and technology.
In September 2016, 1,046 people participated in APQC’s Envisioning the Workspace of the Future survey. The research was designed to help organizations understand how looming technological and cultural shifts may influence their priorities and investments. Of the survey participants, 241 were from process and performance management functions (e.g., process, performance, project, and quality management). This article explores communication and collaboration practices and tools for process and performance management professionals.
As a baseline for understanding what tools and practices organizations need, APQC first asked the survey respondents to indicate what percent of their time is spent on collaboration (Figure 1).
The data supports the assumption that collaboration is an expected activity in how people conduct work. The majority of respondents, regardless of function, spend up to 50 percent of their time in collaboration with their peers and colleagues. However, process and performance management professionals are even more likely than their peers in other functions to spend even more time—up to 75 percent—in collaboration. This makes sense given the service oriented nature of their work (e.g., workshop facilitation and group problem solving activities).
To further understand the complexity of collaboration in organizations, respondents were also asked to indicate what percent of the colleagues they collaborate with are remote employees (Figure 2).
The majority of respondents indicate that approximately a quarter of the colleagues they regularly interact with are remote. Process and performance management professionals are less likely to interact with as high a percentage of remote employees as their peers in other function. In fact, they are half as likely to report that more fifty percent of the colleagues they work with are remote. So, though process and performance professionals spend large amounts of time in collaboration, it is often spent in a traditional office or face-to-face setting at this time.
COMMUNICATION AND COLLABORATION TOOLS
As noted at the beginning of this article, a high-level of collaboration requires understanding what methods and tools are a best fit for the organization and its employees. Hence, respondents were asked to indicate their preferred method of collaboration for innovation and problem solving (Figure 3).
Overall, respondents tend to prefer face-to-face collaborative engagements, either scheduled or spontaneous. This is even truer for process and performance management professionals. The preference for scheduled face-to-face meetings is directly proportional to the amount of time they spend in collaboration. As noted in Preparing for the Future of Work, “the desire for contact is hardwired into the human psyche, and organizations benefit when they take steps to accommodate employees’ need for in-person interaction.”
Additionally, collaboration efforts for process and performance management professionals also serve a secondary purpose—establishing buy-in and adoption. Hence, face-to-face interactions are necessary to establish a rapport. For example, the use of facial cues helps the facilitator pinpoint enthusiasts and even resistors for engagement. This would explain why process and performance management professionals—who use virtual collaboration methods—are twice as likely as their peers to prefer ones that include video conferencing.
To further understand the current state of collaboration tools, respondents were asked to indicate how important and satisfied they were with their current collaboration tools (Figure 4).
Regardless of function, respondents all agree that collaboration tools are a priority for success. They are also generally satisfied with their current tools’ ability to help them meet their goals. Which then leads to the question, what tools are they using?
In addition to asking about preferred collaboration methods, the survey respondents were also asked to indicate how often they used a wide array of communication and collaboration tools, since communications is one of the foundational elements of collaboration (Figure 5).
The most commonly (i.e., daily) used communication tools are thematically similar to process and performance management professionals’ collaboration methods. The emphasis is on person-to-person or face-to-face communications and interactions. Furthermore, the majority of process and performance management professionals rarely or never use broader, social based methods like enterprise networks, forums, or even virtual collaboration platforms. Again, given the direct project and service model for most process and performance management professionals, this preference for targeted communications makes sense. However, they seem to be missing out on opportunities to provide information to and solicit feedback and insights from the broader network within the organization.
Given that this study was focused on the future of work, APQC also wanted to understand the gaps and future collaboration needs of the respondents. Hence, the survey respondents were asked to indicate if they needed more, less, or no change for a list of collaboration tools. Figure 5 indicates the three tools process and performance management professionals want to use more of and the tool they most want to use less.
The vast majority of process and performance management professionals want to extend their ability to connect with colleagues. This capability will be a boon in their work because it will help them unearth subject matter experts and stakeholders for their projects. Process and performance management professionals’ preference for targeted communications remains true. Almost half of the respondents indicate that they not only do not use social media channels for collaboration, but they would actually prefer to have less activity in these channels. However, the same does not hold true for virtual collaboration. Though process and performance professionals tend to prefer in person collaborations, they acknowledge the need to expand their interactions to include more virtual tools. Their third preference—for policies and guidance—helps provide some context around process and performance management professionals’ traditional preference for in person collaborations. Some of the reticence for virtual interactions is likely due to guidance around how to keep virtual collaboration sessions productive. For example, the need to provide guidelines or training to ensure all voices are heard, keep the conversation focused on the desired outcomes, or even ways to ensure the full undivided attention of those in the collaboration are common struggles in a virtual environment.
Overall, collaboration and remote staff are driving forces in employees’ work environment. There is still a high level of dependence and even preference for targeted rather than broader interactions for collaboration and communications—namely, the preference for in-person meetings and one-to-one communication mechanism like email and instant messaging. Though these types of interactions provide structure and help support services functions achieve their goals, they limit the reach and engagement to a select few. Though process and performance management professionals tend to work less often with remote staff than their peers, this will not always be the case. Respondents acknowledge the need to improve and grow their capabilities to provide virtual collaboration. However, that is tempered with the need to provide some of the benefits of in-person communications through well-developed guidelines and policies.