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Have you ever asked why it’s so difficult to get things done in business today—despite seemingly endless meetings and emails? Why does it take so long to make decisions—and even then not necessarily the right ones?
Many organizations address these problems by redesigning boxes and lines: who does what and who reports to whom. This exercise tends to focus almost obsessively on vertical command relationships and rarely solves for what, in our experience, is the underlying disease: the poor design and execution of collaborative interactions.
In our efforts to connect across our organizations, we’re drowning in real-time virtual interaction technology, from Zoom to Slack to Teams, plus group texting, WeChat, WhatsApp etc.
There’s seemingly no excuse to not collaborate. The problem? Interacting is easier than ever, but true, productive, value-creating collaboration is not. And what’s more, where engagement is occurring, its quality is deteriorating. This wastes valuable resources because every minute spent on a low-value interaction eats into time that could be used for important, creative, and powerful activities.
A recent McKinsey survey found 80 percent of executives were considering or already implementing changes in meeting structure and cadence in response to the evolution in how people work due to the pandemic.
Indeed, most executives say they frequently find themselves spending way too much time on pointless interactions that drain their energy and produce information overload.
We’ve observed three broad categories of collaborative interactions (exhibit):
One of the key factors for fast, high-quality decisions is to clarify exactly who makes them. Consider a success story at a renewable-energy company. To foster accountability and transparency, the company developed a 30-minute “role card” conversation for managers to have with their direct reports.
As part of this conversation, managers explicitly laid out the decision rights and accountability metrics for each direct report. The result? Role clarity enabled easier navigation for employees, sped up decision making, and resulted in decisions that were much more customer-focused.
We recommend a simple yet comprehensive approach for defining decision rights called DARE:
Routine working sessions are fairly straightforward. What many organizations struggle with is finding innovative ways to identify and drive toward solutions. How often do you tell your teams what to do versus empowering them to come up with solutions?
While they may solve the immediate need to “get stuff done,” bureaucracies and micromanagement are a recipe for disaster. They slow down the organizational response to the market and customers, prevent leaders from focusing on strategic priorities, and harm employee engagement.
Successful empowerment, counterintuitively, doesn’t mean leaving employees alone. Empowerment requires leaders to give employees both the tools and the right level of guidance and involvement.
Leaders should play what we call the coach role: coaches don’t tell people what to do but instead provide guidance and guardrails and ensure accountability, while stepping back and allowing others to come up with solutions.
All organizations should do more to improve the coaching skills of managers and help them to create the space and time to coach teams, as opposed to filling out reports, presenting in meetings, and other activities that take time away from driving impact through the work of their teams.
As you start this journey, be sure to take a close look at psychological safety.
If employees don’t feel psychologically safe, it will be nearly impossible for leaders and managers to break through disempowering behaviors like constant escalation, hiding problems or risks, and being afraid to ask questions—no matter how skilled they are as coaches.
An increasing number of organizations have begun to realize the urgency of driving ruthless meeting efficiency and of questioning whether meetings are truly required at all to share information.
Live interactions can be useful for information sharing, particularly when there is an interpretive lens required to understand the information, when that information is particularly sensitive, or when leaders want to ensure there’s ample time to process it and ask questions.
Many companies are moving to shorter meetings (15 to 30 minutes) rather than the standard default of one-hour meetings in an effort to drive focus and productivity.
Meetings cannot go beyond 30 minutes. Meetings for one-way information sharing must be cancelled in favour of other mechanisms such as a memo, podcast, or vlog. Two-way information sharing during meetings is limited by having attendees review materials in advance, replacing presentations with Q&As.
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