Creating a Collaborative Company Culture Built for Speed
Making Decisions and Moving the Business Ball Down the Field, Fast!
If you find that it takes a while to create consensus among your cross-functional teams or if you’re hearing frustrated noises from your employees that their ideas are never implemented (or even heard!) I have something you can try: Collaborative Velocity.
Collaborative Velocity is the cultural model by which the LiveWorld team works together, makes decisions and moves the business along. We first developed it when our core team ran Apple’s online services/community division, in part inspired by work of The Leadership Edge, a consulting firm. Essentially, it’s a methodology to collaborate well together with speed to efficiently make effective decisions and implement them, and over the last 21 years (an eternity in the tech sector) we’ve evolved the process into LiveWorld’s day-to-day working model.
Why does it work? We don’t use up time trying to get everyone to agree, and we encourage and enable our people to step up and take charge. As in sports, we use time getting clarity on what we are going to do and then rush towards the goal, keeping in mind that sometimes you need to pass the ball to someone else and trust that they’ll move it forward.
Principles of Collaborative Velocity:
Contribution, not opinion
Everyone can make a contribution, and we want those! Having a voice isn’t tied to a person’s function, group, or title. For example, anyone can have a product idea or contribute to a marketing program. On the other hand, we don’t need just any opinion when we’re discussing direction, especially if it’s a repeat of what someone else said. When we brainstorm and discuss ideas, we want people to really think about what they have to say and only say it if it adds to the conversation, not just to say something or to agree.
Likewise, sometimes people have a great contribution to make, but struggle to get it out. We’ll help them with that, because we value their contributions.
Alignment, not agreement
We can’t always get everyone to agree on every detail. But we can get clarity on where we need to go, make a decision and get everyone to sign on, even if they don’t agree 100%. This is what we call alignment, and once we have that, there’s no waffling about the decision by back channel or one-off action. We stick with our decisions, until we clearly decide to change them. We’re willing to change the plan and often do pivot, but by resuming the contribution process and making sure everyone is aligned to the new course of action.
Leadership accountability, not organizational authority
We have a lot to do and are very project-to-project oriented. For each effort, we need a leader — the best person under the circumstances to lead us on that item. Choosing the leader doesn’t have to be and often isn’t a function of organizational structure; it’s what works now and for the project in question. We will give our leaders the support they need, and count on them to lead based on what we need to do. The leader’s role isn’t to make all of the decisions alone, but ensuring we have an efficient way of making decisions that gets us where we need to go, by adhering to contribution and alignment
Trust and giving people the benefit of the doubt
To effectively work together, we have to trust that everyone is doing the best they can with the team’s goals as their priority. We’re not going to second-guess people’s intentions, but if something doesn’t seem right in another’s behavior we’ll call it out, work through it, understand the contributions, and go forward with alignment. This, combined with the other principles, keeps “office politics” and the associated drag very low.
As an example of how this works, we’ve had major product marketing initiatives for which a mid-level manager has been the lead. Everyone on the team, including execs and even I as CEO, works for that person in that project. The leader pulls the team together, gets alignment on the process, determines how decisions will best be made (by a person, a group, the CEO, whomever) and makes sure it all happens. The same might be true for a project to improve our engagement software spearheaded by a moderation manager who sees a real need and opportunity to deliver a client-friendly feature based on client and customer/end user feedback.
(You can see that along with efficiencies among cross-functional teams, this process also helps LiveWorld identify new leaders internally and develop their confidence in their own management and leadership skills…great for retention!)
All of this collaborating requires a lot of communication, real conversations, and trust in your team. We’re a virtual company, so many of the conversations take place online, often using our own software tools. At LiveWorld we speak and work Collaborative Velocity every day.
We’re not perfect, and it doesn’t always work perfectly, but the idea is to give our team a culture, vocabulary, and toolset to work effectively in the real world. LiveWorld’s solutions are about using social media and messaging conversations to connect people, and build relationships to generate value for them and our clients. We founded the company based on a series of people who had built relationships together at Apple, all creating LiveWorld through online conversations. Collaborative Velocity, a conversation/relationship-based working process, reflects, enhances, and enables how we create value together.
Hence, the solutions value LiveWorld delivers to clients, the circumstances of our founding, and the Collaborative Velocity culture of the company, are all aligned to our vision: The transformative power of online dialogue and relationships, and how this enables people to create value together that they couldn’t by themselves.