Transparent Collaboration: Becoming a Learning Team

Business Analysis Training - Transparent Collaboration

We get busy.  So many details are flying around that cubicle.  Knowledge and information gets gathered up into emails and files on hard disks.  The amount of information that we human beings produce on a daily basis is staggering.

Every minute:

  • 48 hours of YouTube videos are uploaded – that’s a lot of funny cat videos
  • Facebook users share 684,478 posts – that’s even more funny cat videos
  • 3,600 picture are posted on Instagram – mostly of food people are eating
  • 347 new blog posts about news, industry changes, and a few cat videos
  • 204,166,667 emails are sent – less then 1% are hitting your email box

I think I’m lucky getting through the day not having having less then 200 emails.  Seriously it’s like I’m on vacation or something.  Actually better then vacation because for some strange reason I leave for vacation and I get more email then when I’m actually in the office. 

Now think about your organization.  All those initiatives, projects and products being worked on.  They are producing and editing hundreds of documents everyday.  Someone is always trying to sell me an application that consolidates all these data changes in one place but I’ve yet to see it work.  No algorithm is going to figure out my data needs.  Look no further then Facebook feeds.  Some of my most closest friend never show up on my feed.

In this chaos it’s easy to get overwhelmed and put on your blinders.  It’s impossible to get the tasks done you need to without focusing on them.  But overlooking the importance of what others are working on – even learning – creates a new set of problems.  Stepping on toes is common place and duplicating work happens over and over.  “I didn’t know you were working on that” is heard in break rooms everywhere.  It’s time for the Badass Collaboration technique called transparency. 

Transparency is about being open to letting others know what you are working on and openly sharing information and lessons you learned.  It’s not a therapy session.  It’s not a data dump and run.  Think of it like a daily scrum.  Here’s what I’m working on, I need help with these things and this is what I learned all wrapped up in 5 minutes or less.  This takes a little practice to stop and think for a few minutes everyday on things are are working on or completed, where you are having problems and need help from others and finally things you learned.

Talking about what you are working on can help create awareness with others on system, processes or projects you are working on that might overlap with your colleagues.  “If you need any help on that xyz system let me know, I worked a lot on it last year” or “hey I’m working on that too – let’s collaborate” are the greatest statements that can be made. 

Talking about what you are working on doesn’t mean sharing every little thing you do during the day.  I seriously don’t need to know what you eat for lunch on a daily basis – that’s between you and your stomach.  Telling me about all the drama on your project isn’t helpful.  We are not in a soap opera.  If we were we would be paid a lot of money.  Share the important stuff- but keep it simple and direct.  Formulate your statement to give enough information it would makes others aware of what you are working on but not overwhelm them with details.

Hording that knowledge creates the environment where it’s easy to distrust.  It’s frustrating to discover all the work and effort you just put in was already completed by someone else.  It even more frustrating when you hear “well it was out on the shared drive”.  Oh yeah it was out there with the other 10,000 documents in a folder structure hundreds of folders deep.  My physic abilities of mind reading and clairvoyance are limited.  Sharing knowledge in a way that your colleagues can use is important.  Short concise verbal statements are more quickly digested and understood.  They also get filed away for later recall.  “Oh yeah I remember Harvey talking about something like that a few weeks ago”.  People learn a lot of a short conversation.  Never underestimate the power of a brief hallway conversation or stand up meeting. 

Talking with stakeholders in brief concise conversations in the standup format is powerful.  Stakeholders are just as busy as you are and sometimes miss that email or other document.  Those quick conversations everyday or every other day keep you in touch with each other.  I worked with a great BA that was amazing at building relationships with his stakeholders and keeping them informed.  He actually “planned” on bumping into his stakeholders in the hallway.  He knew which conference rooms his stakeholders were in and arranged to conveniently walk around the corner as they exited the room.  Instant messaging was his best friend (to be honest I’m not a big IM fan) and he would respond within seconds.  Every one of his stakeholders loved him and thought he was always readily available to help them out. 

Depending on your stakeholders another technique is the daily summary email.  It’s literally 3 – 5 bullet points and probably as long as a tweet.  Stakeholders felt they knew what was going on and could digest it quickly – it took less then a minute to read the email.  The subject line was also consistent and very clear “Daily Update for Project XYZ”.  I even started throwing in the date on the subject line to make it more clear.

Roadblocks happen.  Things don’t always work out perfectly.  Having built trust through transparency, it easy to engage colleagues and stakeholders to ask for help.  In those daily stand-ups or chance encounters in the hallway, it’s good to share road blocks you have encountered.  Even if you resolved those roadblocks, it good to share you encountered them and resolved them.  This allows your stakeholders the chance to provide their input.  If the roadblock isn’t resolved, it’s a great way to ask for help.  Verbally stating “So lucky bumping into you in the hallway, I’m having a problem with this – can you help me?” is a powerful way of getting your stakeholders attention.

Don’t get caught up in drama.  Sometimes road blocks can be pretty big.  Don’t be shy about letting your colleagues or stakeholders know that the roadblock can’t be solved by a hallway conversation, but let me schedule a meeting to resolve it.  I’ve had a lot of 2 hour hallway conversation where I was trapped in the copier room with colleagues trying to resolve an issue.  In the end is better to have a meeting and to be sure to include everyone needed to resolve the roadblock.  Standing and talking for 2 hours just gets my feet really tired.

Talking about and sharing roadblocks helps other avoid the same roadblock.  The best example of this was when I was working with a client to bring in a new hardware platform.  I spent hours figuring out the purchasing process and system to get the hardware ordered.  I shared a quick statement in the daily meeting with my colleagues that I figured a way through the process and to contact me if anyone needed help.  Several months later a colleague remembered I had experience with the purchasing process and asked for help.  A brief meeting was held and my colleague got through the process in less then a week – 75% less time then I spent!

Sharing lessons learned is just as important as sharing roadblocks.  Giving others insight into your experiences and lessons learned allow them to not repeat the mistakes you made.  “I learned that using this approach as better for the XYZ project, because…” is powerful.  It gets your colleagues and stakeholders thinking about what you learned and if it applied to them.  There is no greater gift than giving someone the knowledge on how to avoid a painful situation.  I have been very grateful for countless colleagues who gave me insight into situations that I was later able to avoid.  I’ve shared many lessons learned in return.

It’s not about therapy or complaining.  Lessons learned is about what happened and how it could be avoided.  It’s not about blame storming or pointing fingers.  Take the emotion and drama out of it and be subjective.  Big lessons learned should be summarized and short.  If there is a strong interest setup a separate meeting to walk through the lesson learned in greater detail.

Lessons learned do not need to be huge and significant.  Something simple such as “I learned this keyboard shortcut with Skype” is a great way to help others with tools.  Let your colleagues and stakeholders know you learned something and you are willing to share it in more detail.

In a nutshell:

  • Use quick informal stand-ups to verbally share information with the team and stakeholders – everyone shares what they are working on, roadblocks and lessons learned.
  • Set aside time to put your thoughts into clear concise statements before the stand-up
  • Don’t be a hoarder – share your knowledge in a concise and well though out way
  • Hallway conversations can be powerful – don’t underestimate the importance of running into someone in the hallway (planned or not!)
  • Share roadblocks and their solutions – help others to avoid the roadblocks and painful situations you experienced
  • Lessons learned – whether big or small – help others to learn and work more effectively

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