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Is This A Good Time To Talk About Digital Teamwork?

As we navigate Lockdown 2.0, it looks like we’re slowly but surely getting the hang of this digital teamwork thing. Good news, considering collaboration will be more important than ever for the foreseeable future for both businesses and government agencies.

So a big shout-out to teams everywhere who have embraced change and done their best to adapt to digital tools, often in a hurry and out of necessity. Evidence suggests that this change has resulted in an uptick in our levels of teamworking.

The NSW Government’s People Matter Survey compared teamwork sentiment in 2019 and 2020. Results show that respondents felt collaboration within their teams has genuinely improved. But the report also highlights that team-to-team co-operation – between different teams that are part of the same larger process, workflow or project – lags behind individual teams and has barely moved from an already low base.

This is the acid test for digital teamwork:
Is it lifting productivity across teams as well as within teams?

Not to put too fine a point on it, the data shows that our teams remain relatively tribal. Of course, there are plenty of reasons:

  • Reduced visibility between teams when working digitally, and therefore fewer informal interactions compared with analogue working.
  • Use of different tools and collaboration practices between teams.
  • An ongoing territorial culture.

And so on.

This needs to change. Team-to-team collaboration is - and will continue to be - essential to organisational success.

So how do we improve to become on par (at least) with internal team collaboration?

Andrew Pope and I wrote about this very issue in 2018 in our book “Designing Collaboration: An Essential Handbook for Today’s Digital Workplace”. We called the chapter ‘Aligning with Work’, i.e., aligning collaboration tools and practices to the shared goal of the teams who are collectively delivering a single business function.

In the book, we write that the answer is simple: put the technology aside and start the conversation not as a technology discussion but as a business one. It runs like this:

  1. Who in those other teams do we need to collaborate with to achieve the shared business deliverable?
  2. What information and knowledge do we need to share/create/transform/transact/decide on to enable that?
  3. What is the nature of that knowledge and/or information, and how often do these transactions need to occur?

We ask these questions for each of the collaboration touchpoints – the points at which one team interacts with others to deliver that shared goal. It’s a simple exercise. To guide you through it, you can download the free Collaboration Touchpoint Profiler.

Once we answer those questions and have articulated the exact collaboration needs between teams, we can look at the technology and ask: what is the best vehicle to deliver that interaction?

Solutions & Ideas

Here are some solutions initiated by Designing Collaboration clients:

  • Creating a shared cross-team working space.
  • Making sure all cross-team-related tasks are in the same tool (e.g. Planner, Trello etc.).
  • Regular function-based online meetings rather than team-based (e.g. project management, communications, HR).
  • Creating an Operating Charter across related teams – a charter that specifies what toolset is to be used to meet the needs of the interacting teams.

Where do you start?

A collaboration touchpoint exercise is a simple and clear action we can take to break teams out of knowledge tribalism and bring about an uptick in team-to-team digital collaboration.

Download the Collaboration Touchpoint Profiler.

Written for Hargraves by Alister Webb
Hargraves Partner, Digital Collaboration Expert, Co-Founder of Designing Collaboration.

Alister is the co-author of Designing Collaboration: An Essential Handbook for Today’s Digital Workplace and co-creator of Digital Team Builder, a game-based methodology for greatly improved digital teamworking. A free Intro pack can be downloaded here.

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