The Art of Collaboration

08 Jun 2005|Leigh Marinner

Collaboration is an important part of any consulting assignment, but to work effectively at Cheskin, I’ve had to take this skill to a whole new level. I’ve had to learn to collaborate remotely with team members scattered in different countries, operating in different time zones, and using different communication tools. I’ve had to adjust to working with people who are at home, in their car, in a client’s lobby or at the zoo with their 3 year old. Usually they have road warrior laptops or web-connected PDAs, but sometimes all they have is a phone.

Collaboration is important here for a number of reasons: Whether we’re thousands of miles apart or sitting face-to-face, we know the only way we’ll succeed is through the sum of our efforts. Our competition is just too tough for a one man act to beat. Because we know how to collaborate across time and space, we are truly flexible about where people work. This allows us to hire from a much broader and deeper talent pool. The type of creative, intelligent thinkers we desire find us far more attractive when they learn they can work from their home in Las Vegas or Redmond or Mexico. And because we invest in the latest collaboration tools (like Sharepoint TeamServices, MS Live Meeting and Smartphones or Treos, we are exposed to new visions of sharing and communicating, which end up regularly influencing and improving our work processes.

But no matter how strong a company’s philosophy and tools are, there’s one aspect of collaboration that matters above all else…

What matters most in good collaboration is the team’s attitude. A team can be sitting side-by-side and still not work collaboratively. At Cheskin, this is not an option. Collaboration is one of three skills everyone is expected to focus on daily (the others are “inspiration” and “transformation”). But developing the right collaborative spirit is not as easy as it may seem. It has to be built on personal connections and a sense of belonging, both of which take time and effort. We haven’t found a way to make this happen over night, but we’ve figured out how to speed it up:

:: An open office with no walls or doors so that people stop by each other’s desks to chat, to share the “high” we got from a recent collaboration, or to interact with a new contact and get fresh ideas.

:: A receptionist (or in our case, our Office Concierge) who knows exactly where everyone is and how to reach them right now.

:: Small, well-managed studios (or Pods in our case) where everyone knows everyone else.

:: Smartly organized knowledge archives that hold dozens of year’s of experience.

:: Internal experts who are friendly, supportive and happy to help when asked.

:: A well-administered IT infrastructure that supports rich, instantaneous digital communication no matter where you are.

:: Walls you can write on and lots of colored markers.

And of course, good coffee, free snacks in the kitchen, and a bottomless bowl of Jelly Belly’s help.

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