Helping hands - purposeful collaboration lessons from CCE2013

Profile picture for user gonzodaddy By Den Howlett October 30, 2013
We've been talking about collaboration for years. Why is it so hard?  This exercise suggests some clues.

helping hands
I'm at Constellation's Connected Enterprise 2013 in Half Moon Bay. It's a very different kind of analyst event. It's almost a non-event in the conventional sense, an unconference of sorts if that makes any sense.

Sure, the vendors in the crowd get to pitch but it is very low key with many panels designed to get to the nub of a particular issue or topic. Put another way and as Alex Williams, TechCrunch reporter and panel moderator said of his group: "Not one of you said big data, thank you very much." Yay to that.

So around mid-morning, the Odyssey team got us to engage in an exercise that can only be completed if everyone collaborates. Make no mistake. This was not some kind of whacked out therapy session or glommed cult job. this was a serious endeavor.

They divided the room into teams of six people and each team was tasked to make two prosthetic hands. We were given kits plus a to-scale instruction manual. What we didn't have were people skilled in assembling IKEA furniture or the dexterity of a 6-year old which upon reflection would have been handy (sic.)

It was an interesting exercise at multiple levels. Here's some factual background

  1. First, the hand has many parts to ensure it is both rugged enough to withstand daily use but at the same time is something that a person who has a hand missing can easily attach to their arm. It is extraordinarily fiddly to assemble and even with a team of three on the job plus a pretty decent manual, getting all the pieces to fit as instructed was a serious task.
  2. Second, the time limiting factor played into creating a sense of urgency and immersion that would otherwise be missing.
  3. Finally, the task was only considered to be complete if all teams' hands were correctly assembled in the timeframe allotted, photographed and packaged ready to go.

Most teams failed to meet the deadline. But as far as I could tell, no-one asked for extra time. As the facilitator pointed out, that was our responsibility. He also said that some 85 percent of teams fail to complete in the allotted time although the extra time needed is usually minimal. From my observations, another 3-5 minutes would have been enough. What we all failed to realise is that this wasn't a time test.

During the event, the facilitator made us swap out at least one team member. In our case this turned out to be a useful thing because the incoming team member was able to show us something that accelerated our somewhat pedestrian efforts. Collaboration? You bet.


Here's what I observed and concluded:

  1. The moment the exercise was announced, a number of people left the room. For whatever reason, they chose not to become part of the exercise. I reckon that accounted for 30 percent of folk.
  2. Collaborating on a project that required a LOT of dexterity and some imagination was an uncomfortable experience, tempered by the fact others were equally uncomfortable. Heck - we use our heads all day...why should we be expected to be equally dextrous with OUR hands?
  3. A number of our group and others with whom I interacted reported a sense of well being from having constructed something that will be of use to others who are less fortunate than ourselves and which they would like to take back to the workplace. Brave words but I wonder how many will follow through. We may never know.
  4. Collaboration requires an emotional investment and if this group is typical, then it is really, really hard and especially for those who are used to operating on an intellectual level. Many of us are not conditioned to operate that way. It's awkward, it's's hard.
  5. It's an inconvenient truth but if 'we' who profess to opine so eloquently at length about these topics struggle then imagine how hard it is for enterprises to make that same jump. It's worth reflecting upon.