No Getting Out of It
Maybe you’ve had a bad experience working on a collaborative project. Maybe you are currently working on a collaborative project, and there are problems.
You can’t ignore the invite, and you probably can’t get rid of the current project. You can’t enter the witness protection program and disappear. No. The fact is that collaborative projects are here to stay.
Problem Solving Collaborative Projects
If the thought of working with others – collaborating – leaves you with a sour taste in your mouth, it’s time you understand the real problem. How do you do this? With some good old-fashioned problem solving, my friend. Let’s review a few situations:
One of the members of your team, let’s say Tom, loves to wear lots of hats. Meaning, he likely wants to control and/or oversee various pieces of the project. Not good. Energy and overall ability is lost when you try to do too many things.
Solution – Describe the problem
Do the old 5 W’s and H exercise. They are: who, what, when, where, why, and how. Be specific and use concrete observations. Simply state facts – suspend judgments. This is a good way to put the problem on the table without emotion.
And if all else fails, give him a copy of “Caps for Sale”. This may help get your point across.
Your nightmare of school collaboration projects has come to life again. You know the one in which you have members of your team that don’t pull their weight. And because you want to get an A with the boss, you take over Sue’s and Tom’s piece of the project. Once again, not good.
Solution – Clear Expectations and Quality Control
First, don’t take on multiple hats. (Remember the first situation we covered.) This does not solve the problem. And although your first reaction may be to go to your boss, you may want to try a few lessons from project management 101.
First, the team should come together in the beginning to ensure every person “owns” and understands their deliverables and required due date.
Also, assign someone in the group to be responsible for quality control. This person’s role is to ensure the work of the team is completed by the due dates and up to the organizational standards. Clear expectations and accountability can go a long way.
When working with multiple people, you are sometimes stuck waiting or forced to track down multiple documents. In your mind, it would be easier to just do it yourself. What’s the point of collaborative projects when it seems to take longer to get everything done with a team.
Solution – Collaborative Software
We got this problem covered. If you have an easy-to-use collaborative online software, everything should be centralized and easy to access. You should know the status of every task/assignment via this tool. No more tracking things down. This also solves the problem of the team slacker.
With online collaborative tools, everything is documented and the social loafer will be easily identified.
The Process of Problem Solving
Maybe we didn’t hit on your specific problem. No matter what your current challenge is with your collaborative project, most problems can be solved with simple processes. Here are few tools for you to add to your collaboration toolbox:
- Identify the root cause of the problem. There are number of ways to do this analysis. Below are three common approaches. Step-by-step instructions for how to do these are readily available on the Internet. Also, if you are working for a larger organization, you should make use of your Organization Development (OD), Organizational Effectiveness (OE), or HR departments. Most companies have in-house resources including trained facilitators who should be well versed in using the techniques below.
- The Five Whys. Kids are naturals at this! Channel your inner child and pose a question: “Why does X happen?”. Repeat the process asking why to each successive question until you find the source of the problem. The “five” is arbitrary, you need only ask why until you get to the source.
- Fishbone Diagrams (a.k.a. Cause-Effect, Ishikawa). Process that yields a visual representation of the sources of a problem. This method is particularly useful in cases where there may be more than one issue contributing to the problem.
- Identify a solution. (See examples above) Once you’ve decided on the cause of the problem, try one of these techniques to come up with a solution. Again, make use of the Internet or company resources to help you.
- Brainstorming. A process whereby a person(s) offer as many ideas as possible that could solve the problem. All ideas are recorded and no judgments are made until ideas are exhausted. Redundancies are eliminated and one or more ideas are selected for development.
- Ask An Expert. Identify someone with the knowledge and expertise to advise you on how to solve the problem. This person may be inside or outside the company. If outside, get some guidance on whether you can share company information with outsiders.
- Create an action plan. Identify the goal, tasks for achieving the goal, who will complete each task by when, and any resources needed to do the work.
- Implement the plan. Self-explanatory, it’s time to get to work!
Final Collaborative Project Tips
If you are currently working on a collaborative project, consider whether other team members should be included in this process. Likely, the answer is yes. If unsure, consult your team leader.
Match the tool to the problem. Simple issues may not require you to use the Five Whys or Fishbone Diagram. More complicated problems require more rigueur. If you are unsure, go for the more detailed approach. It’s good practice at the very least.
Share, share, share what you learned with others! Chances are, you aren’t the only one who isn’t too keen on the idea of collaborating with others.
From our perspective, the sky is the limit for collaboration! So, start jumping for joy!