[As is the case with our 8 things series, the opinions expressed in the 5 myths guest columns are those of the guest contributor and not necessarily mine or AIIM's. This guest post is by John Keadle, a Principal Architect for CSC and a SharePoint Administration Trainer for the USPJ Academy (uspja.com). As usual, contra perspectives welcome.]
Myth #1 -- Communication is simple.
Reality -- We may hope “It will help management get their message out. The executives can clarify their mission. The managers can state the teams’ goals. Issues can be resolved quickly and clearly.”
Collaboration can’t change the fact that, most often, it's impossible or even illegal to say anything of substance down the chain of command except in an office with the door closed. Long term success requires continuous improvement which requires change. Change always causes pain. Pain cannot be allowed to be expressed except in private.
Never mind that no leader wants verbiage appearing above his or her name that has the first typographical, spelling or grammatical error. Consider also the fact that leaders are leaders because they "can accomplish" not because they "can write." They all fear the day some newbie underling just out of freshman comp points out their glaring misuse of passive voice.
As a result, the only thing a leader can say in print is yesterday's news, items that have been exhaustively vetted, approved by all the stakeholders and already implemented. This guarantees that the moment they are posted, they are obsolete audience killers.
Myth #2 -- Task management is simple.
Reality -- We may hope that “Team management software will keep everyone on track. We'll just make a list of everything that we need to do and assign each task to a capable worker. Everyone can check their task list every morning and check off two or three items before lunch and a few more in the afternoon. When those tasks are completed, they are reviewed by subject matter experts and approved by the chain of command.”
First of all, collaboration does not overrule the Peter Principle. Paraphrasing, this assures us that no task is ever assigned to a capable worker. Attracted by higher salaries, capable workers have already left for jobs that they are not capable of doing.
In addition, we can’t ignore the management overhead associated with the task list life-cycle. For example, even if the original list was 85% accurate each imperfection will gate at least two other tasks so that, on day one, only 55% of the list can be acted on and only half of those will actually be started. That leaves us with 27.5% effectiveness on day one. Of course, each gated task will either a) be worked on by a worker oblivious to its futility or b) delivered substantially short of expectations.
This means that on day two, nothing will have gotten accomplished and the task list author will have taken the day for an interview leaving a less capable assistant with his or her own list that's probably only 70% accurate. From here, the math only gets worse.
Myth #3 -- Technology is simple.
Reality -- Somewhere, “teleconferences and web meetings are just as good as working in the same office. We'll share work spaces and track changes. We'll post our documents to the team site, enforce check in\out and control versions.”
Collaboration doesn’t change the fact that our overmatched and overpaid coworkers are under way too much pressure to allow us to spend valuable time troubleshooting a shared meeting solution. Out of kindness, they will offer to let us "take some time to figure it out and reschedule.” By that time, our agenda will be obsolete any we'll have to rework our content. Heaven forbid we've spent any time on a slide deck because it will all be worthless. Even if we get our slide deck to work on everyone's screen, PowerPoint's infinitesimal information transfer rate means, by the third slide, remote attendees will have us on mute while they work through their Facebook backlog. In fact, the only slides that anyone ever pays attention to are the slides they built or slides that have their name on them.
So we post the document and email a link to the team. Let's hope we have not turned on "Track Changes" which will mean that no one will make any because of all those ugly red marks it makes. This means that each of our team members will download the document, make some changes and, because the check in\out process is so onerous, they'll email it to everyone who will do the same. In less than two days, you'll have n^2 irreconcilable versions where n is the number of people on your team that don't know how to use "Track Changes" or "Check in\out."
Myth #4 -- Skills development is simple.
Reality -- We all spout the clichés that “this team site and our office applications will drive productivity. The discussion boards will help with how-to’s and on-boarding. We'll eat our own dog food and never have to reinvent the wheel.”
When we hear ourselves saying these things, we need to ask just how well do we know our team? Does the Venn diagram for our team's software, social and collaborative skills looks like a polka-dotted bedspread where the dots don't even touch?
Typically, in a team of ten, one will know the URL for the team site. One will know how to check in\out, unlock versions and roll back. One will know how to add a second page to Excel. Two will know how to make coffee and the rest little more than the combo numbers at the Wendy's Drive Thru. Anything more involved will be way too complicated for anyone else to understand and the last thing we want to do is make anyone learn how to navigate a new dialog box or edit a host file. However, should one of our team members convince the chain of command to publicize a new solution, the necessary "how-to" documents will be fatal to the author’s productivity and of such low quality that no one will ever figure out how it works.
Myth #5 -- Quality is simple.
Reality -- Of course, we all believe “our collaborative product is superior. We get more people to invest in more, better ideas and end up with a best of breed product.”
In contrast, we can’t ignore the correlation between nobility and capability; our most capable people are also the most considerate, meek and humble. As a consequence, our least capable people are the most stubborn, selfish, ambitious and most determined to leave their mark. To them, "COB Friday" means "lunch-time on Monday," "Code Cut-off" means "I can ignore change management to get my last modules in the build until someone deletes my access," and "user acceptance" means "but it's plated with gold."
Ultimately, our deliverables will be a curious mix of their most outlandish ideas bound together with just enough cleverness and thoughtfulness to meet the lowest level of most critical requirements. All others will be slated to a later release.
So, as you drive your team to be more collaborative, keep in mind how complicated our operations are. Remember that we have star performers and the only collaboration that matters is collaboration that supports them. If their teammates don't appreciate their role, there's no collaborative solution. No matter how sophisticated your approach, or how much technology you employ, your success is really dependent on getting people to get along.
Some other 5 myths...