I’ve read that some leaders and project managers prefer not to collaborate when engaging in a new initiative because they fear losing control. I’ve also heard of decision makers who start their information gathering before involving the full complement of those who will implement.
What sort of success is possible when one source is driving change without the express buy-in from the group? Without the full group providing vital input? I believe that until there is true collaboration and buy-in, and everyone understands the implications of any change, the group
- may potentially sabotage a project because of their own biases, causing
- outcomes and creativity restricted to a specific set of possibilities that may not meet the full group’s criteria,
- work from biased or insufficient data from a restricted set of sources, and
- risks alienating those involved.
WHY COLLABORATION IS NECESSARY
To ensure the best data is available to make decisions with, to ensure all risk issues get managed, to ensure consensus throughout the process, we must have these questions in mind:
- How will we share, collect, and decide on the most appropriate ideas, choices, and alternatives? How will we know we are working with the most relevant data set?
- How can a leader avoid prejudicing the process with her own biases?
- How are collaborators chosen to ensure maximum representation? Are some stakeholders either absent or silent? How can we increase participation?
- How can we recognize if we’re on the path to either a successful outcome, or the route that sabotages excellence? What markers should we be looking for along the way?
Let me define a few terms (albeit with my own bias):
- Collaboration: when all parties who will be involved in a final solution have a say in an outcome: a. to offer and share ideas and concerns to discover creative solutions agreeable to all; b. to identify and discern the most appropriate data to enable the best outcome.
- Decision making: a. weighting, choosing, and choosing from, the most appropriate range of possibilities whose parameters are agreed to by those involved; b. understanding and agreeing to a set of variables or decision values and knowing how these will effect the ongoing functioning of the system.
I’ve read that distinctions exist between ‘high collaboration’ (a focus on facilitating an agreeable route to the most congruent solution) and ‘low collaboration’ (leading from the top with rules and plans that match the needs of some).
Since I don’t believe in any sort of top-down initiative (i.e. ‘low collaboration’) except when keeping a child safe, and believe there are systems issues that must be taken into consideration, here’s my rule of thumb: Collaboration is necessary among all involved in order to identify accurate data gathering and consensus for any sort of implementation, decision, project, purchase, or plan that requests people to take actions not currently employed.
THE STEPS OF COLLABORATION
Here are the steps to excellence in collaborative decision making as I see them:
- Assemble all representative stakeholders to begin discussions. Invite all folks who will be affected by the proposed change, not just those you see as obvious. To avoid resistance, have the largest canvas from which to gather data and inform thinking, and enhance the probability of a successful implementation, the right people must be part of the project from the beginning. An international team of Decision Scientists at a global oil company recently told me that while their weighted decisions are ‘accurate,’ the Implementation Team has a success rate of 3%. “It’s not our job. We hand them over good data. But we’re not part of the implementation team. We hear about their failures later.”
- Get buy-in for the goal. Without buy-in we lose possibility, creativity, time, and ideas that only those on the ground would understand. Consensus is vital for all who will touch the solution (even if a representative of a larger group lends their voice) or some who seem on board may end up disaffected and unconsciously sabotage the process later.
- Establish all system specifics: What will change? Who will manage it? What levels of participation, disruption, job alterations, etc. will occur and how it be handled? What are the risks? And how will you know the best decision factors to manage all this? It’s vital to meld this knowledge into the decision making process right up front.
- Specify stages to monitor process and problems. By now you’ll have a good idea of the pluses and minuses. Make a plan that specifies the outcomes and probable fallout from each stage and publish it for feedback. Otherwise, you won’t know if or where you’ve gone wrong until too late.
- Announce the issues publicly. Publish the high-level goal, the possible change issues and what would be effected, and the potential outcomes/fallout. Make sure it’s transparent, and you’re managing expectations well in advance. This will uncover folks you might have missed (for information gathering and buy-in), new ideas you hadn’t considered, and resisters.
- Time: Give everyone time to discuss, think, consider personal options, and speak with colleagues and bosses. Create an idea collection process – maybe an online community board where voices are expressed – that gets reports back to the stakeholder team.
- Stakeholder’s planning meeting. By now you’ll know who and what must be included. Make sure to include resisters – they bring interesting ideas and thinking that others haven’t considered. It’s been proven that even resisters are more compliant when they feel heard.
- Meet to vote on final plans. Include steps for each stage of change, and agree on handling opposition and disruption.
- Decision team to begin gathering data. Now that the full set of decision issues and people/ideas/outcomes are recognized and agreed to, the Decision Making team is good to go. They’ll end up with a solid data set that will address the optimal solution that will be implemented without resistance.
- Have meetings at each specified stage during implementations. Include folks on the ground to weigh in.
These suggestions may take more time upfront. But what good is a ‘good decision’ if it can’t be implemented? And what is the cost of a failed implementation? I recently heard of a hospital that researched ‘the best’ 3D printer but omitted the implementation steps above. For two years it sat like a piece of art without any consensus in place as to who would use it or how/when, etc. By the time they created rules and procedures the printer was obsolete. I bet they would have preferred to spend more time following the steps above.
Here’s the question: What would stop you from following an inclusive collaboration process to get the best decisions made and the consensus necessary for any major change? As part of your answer, take into account the costs of not collaborating. And then do the math.