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The Benefit Of Wrong Collaboration


I recently read an article Why Getting It Wrong Is the Future of Design.  It speaks to how innovative design changes often come from doing things that would be considered completely wrong.  The article focuses on art, graphics, architecture, theater, movies, tableware, and even video games.  Then I read this line "I was following the rules, then selectively breaking one or two for maximum impact." and it got me thinking.  What are the rules to collaboration and can we break a couple that result in benefit?

I've always been one for experimentation in trying different things, using various products, and embracing change.  After reading this article I've been trying to selectively break a few rules and thinking about other rules to break.  It hasn't been easy, because there's a hard and fast best practices on how to collaborate.  Here's some of what I have come up with:

  • Forego physical meeting rooms: even if the entire team is physically located in the same area could they be just as, or even more, effective meeting virtually?  There are a lot of remote workers and most teams at Cisco are geographically dispersed.  There are times that even though most of the team is located in the same building, we still attend virtually.  I can see benefits to this approach.  People who couldn't attend wouldn't have to rely on meeting minutes, they could simply review the meeting recording at their convenience.   The team could also move away from e-mail to using the virtual meeting room ( for correspondence.  Since most projects involve some shared input into documents, room based document control is a great way to provide visibility to changes without relying on a single person to collate individual updates and rely on e-mail to share updates.  Perhaps the biggest benefit would be consistency in attending the meetings in the same way, but also being able to always have a place for ad hoc meetings and tasks while providing visibility to all parties.
  • Blend professional and personal social communications: I tend to keep a strong demarcation between personal and professional channels.  That's not to say I don't talk about personal matters at work or business events, although there are a few personal topics that should never be brought up in a professional setting and anybody who's been around when those few taboo subjects do come up know exactly what I'm talking about.  As an experiment, I've posted a few personal things to my professional twitter (John Gaudin (@JohnG_CSCO) | Twitter) in the form of quotes from books, movies, and such that struck a chord with me.  I ended up getting a couple of likes and a couple of new followers.  This breaking of a rule is a challenge for me as I do have a warped sense of humor and can be a foul mouthed individual, which may offend others.  However, there's a great benefit to bringing personal and professional social channels together.  If I were to leave Cisco, my followers would still be there and could then opt-out if my tweets were no longer relevant.  Otherwise, I'd have to build up a new set of followers and ask them to opt-in.
  • Stop holding standing meetings: a lot of time is spent in reoccurring meetings that are held on a regular basis.  Standing meetings are a best practice to keep a project moving as they're used for status updates and general awareness.  When I look around during standing meetings most of the attendees are multi-tasking and only involved to provide an update.  That tells me the value of the meeting isn't very high for them.  As much as we believe we can multi-task the fact is that we can't.  Instead of requiring attendees to be less productive by forcing them to attempt to multi-task, let's remove the need instead.  Instead of a standing meeting, updates could be provided as needed through an application.  Those concerned with status of relevant tasks could check the app and if more details were needed, reach out directly to those involved.  Project meetings could become ad-hoc with only relevant individuals involved and the time normally used for standing meetings recaptured for more productive activities.

The number one rule of collaboration is to have a common, unifying goal that everybody involved is working toward.  This is a rule that I don't think can be broken.  However, the way we reach that goal may change as we continue to collaborate and use different forms of collaboration that are not only more effective, but also change the way we work.  As you consider the "rules" to collaboration, to meetings, to project plans, and to programs, which ones would you like to break?

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