How Not to Be a Jerk on Collaborative Projects

I want to introduce you to someone, but I suspect you know this person already. I’ve deemed this person to be Idea McStealerson, and he or she likes getting all the credit for ideas that were a team effort. You know this person– when it comes time to present group ideas, they walk away looking like the hero while the rest of you end up looking like you didn’t contribute at all. Idea McStealerson is a jerk.

Sure, it may seem like a great idea to commit collaboration crimes – why wouldn’t you take credit for a great idea in front of the boss and look like the smartest person in the room? Well, there’s one very simple answer for that – your boss knows it was a collaborative effort. While you might feel like you look like the smartest person in the room, you just look like a jerk.

The temptation to further your own career is great – I get it. Everyone wants to look like the superstar. It’s important to remember that when you’re working in a group everyone knows that you didn’t come up with all the ideas. Even if it’s not you’re intention to take credit for the group project, you can still end up looking like that’s what you’re trying to do, unless you’re using the right words. Here are some tips to keep from looking like a jerk in the eyes of your boss, and in the eyes of your co-collaborators.

Words like me, my, and I are possessive and indicate sole ownership. Instead, you should try using phrases like our team and other words to establish shared ownership for an idea. If everyone came up with it, it’s not your idea and you shouldn’t use the possessive.

When it comes time to present all of your awesome ideas, don’t give the responsibility for presentation over to one person in the group. There will probably be a couple of different categories or sections that you will need to cover. Let everyone have something to present so that you are letting everyone on the team take a turn in the spotlight.

Use names! If you’ve been charged with presenting one of the categories, but it wasn’t your supreme brain power that spawned where these fantastic ideas came from, don’t be afraid to tell the story of how you got to this point. Say something about how Stephanie made a joke that we should do XYZ and it spawned the entire idea. How a simple joke lead the group to these ideas.

Collaboration works best when everyone feels like they get credit for the ideas that they helped to create. Plus, your boss knows when something was a group effort and they have been in the game long enough to have expectations when it comes to group collaboration, and they expect everyone to share in the development of a great idea. You might think you’re being sly, but your boss knows better.

Businesses Continue to Benefit from Audio Conferencing

Despite a reported upswing of the economic recession, businesses are not flying more. Audio conferencing saw a large jump in the aftermath of the attacks on September 11, 2001, but many people speculated that over time, business travel would increase again.

A recent study from WWF shows that is actually not true. The report shows that 85% of the businesses interviewed (among the top 500 in the UK) do not plan to return to their pre-recession levels of travel. Simply put – the benefits of audio conferencing are simply too great.

87% of these businesses have used audio conferencing to stay connected. Despite the bit of a bounce back in the economy, many businesses that still feel the sting in rising airfare, gas prices, and other fees are still very happy with their conference call providers.

In the US, business travel continues, but often without perks or points that were offered by companies previously. The business traveler who is used to first class may find themselves flying coach or not staying in a five star hotel. They may be asked to foot their own cab fare, rental car fees, or expense for food.

In response, hotels are starting to offer fully wired conference rooms to attract the local business who might be trying to connect virtually to a client or department. Instead of flying to China to meet with the manufacturing division, the hope is that you will come down to your local five star hotels and take advantage of renting out their conference room. (Personally I say why go to hotel when you have everything you need at your fingertips?)

Did you go back to business travel and make a move towards conference calls when the price of flying increased drastically? A lot of people did, but what I want to know is if you stuck to it, even when people started to travel again? Are you still enjoying the cost savings for conference calls or have you gone back to travelling, the TSA, and body scanners?

Preventing Virtual Failure

Teams, teamwork, and effective communication have been foundations for success in business, and it’s no different in this new digital age. Virtual teams have the same challenges as those working together in the same space, however, there are certain aspects we should emphasize more in virtual teams to ensure we reach our goals.

There are three things that need extra care in virtual teams: leadership, clear goals, and engagement.

Strong leadership is more important when a team is spread around the globe than when everyone is in the same office. Leadership tools such as setting an example, walking the halls, and mere presence are absent from a virtual team atmosphere. Instead, a leader needs to have solid interpersonal skills, communicate effectively, keep conference calls and other team events on task, and seize every chance for motivation. Other tools a leader can use is honest, detailed feedback, and team-building exercises.

Not just goals, but clear and obtainable goals are a must for a virtual team to be successful. If team members are only expected to “see what happens”, enthusiasm and motivation go out the window. We need to have obtainable goals for the team and--perhaps more importantly--individual team members. This gives them something to work for, with built in accountability to the leader and the the rest of the team, as well as a morale boost whenever a goal is checked of the list.

Engaging team members is more than just making sure if they’re working or not. It’s keeping them motivated, interested, and on task. The basics are including them in the plan, changes in the plan, and sharing feedback on their work and the team as a whole. In every team conference call, it’s a good idea to bring everyone into the conversation, even if it’s just small talk before the actual meeting. We can also do team-building games, hear stories about where each person is working from, or simply let each person make the “big announcement” regarding their own progress.

How is your virtual team doing? Tell us about its leadership, goals, and how you keep them engaged.

What’s Good About Bad Meetings?

A meeting can educate, allow collaboration, and build cohesiveness. For more benefits, check out Part One: What’s Good About Meetings? There are even more ways a meeting can be detrimental rather than helpful, but can a bad meeting be a good thing? And as the Harvard Business Review also asks, can a good meeting be bad?

If the purpose of a meeting was simply to have a meeting, then “we had a great meeting” would always be a good thing. But what is the point to have a great meeting? Shouldn’t we rather have a bad meeting with good results? After all, what we desire is the collaboration, choosing the best ideas, and the swaying of opinions that a meeting can produce. And that can’t happen if everything is nice and good.

In a meeting atmosphere, participants need to be able to vocalize their thoughts, share ideas, agree and disagree... you know, participate. The very best course, thought, or idea is not the first uttered, or the last, or even the most popular. The best comes from the culling of all other candidates, and can be a painful process. If everyone simply agrees with everyone else--or just the boss--then the true potential of a meeting is wasted.

But don’t judge a meeting by the state of mind it creates. Conflict and disagreement can create the best crucible. The length of a meeting doesn’t matter, only what progress was made, (and how much).

It’s okay if a meeting creates more work, as most good things don’t come easy. And if a meeting creates more meetings, it just means the subject is more complex than originally believed. We will always have a place for meetings in business. Remember though, a meeting is merely transportation, and not the destination.

What's Good About Meetings

As soon as two cavemen decided to sell round-rocks together, the first business meeting was born. Since then, meetings have transformed in many ways, such as in protocol, etiquette, time, place, medium, and so on. What hasn’t changed is the need for meetings, and as long as there is business, there will be meetings.

So what’s good about meetings? What purpose do they have? Why risk all the bad meetings--that we’ve all experienced--and waste all that time? The Harvard Business Review makes this defense for meetings:

The Social Aspect - For most individuals, working with others is a necessity. Social interaction is decreasing with the rise of remote workspaces and home offices, but even an office building can be a lonely place, especially in larger corporations. Meetings, quick chats, conference calls, etc. do away with the solitary aspect of business, prevent the stagnation of ideas, and increase the communication necessary to achieving goals.

Everyone in the Loop - More and more there is a decentralization to the business structure. There’s also more specialization, delegation, and delocalization. All this adds up to many people doing many different things from a myriad of places, all towards one common goal. Without meetings, it simply wouldn’t be possible. We need to spread valuable info on progress, changing needs and directions, as well as allow the input and contributions of everyone involved.

Status Symbols - As much as we might deny it, being invited to a meeting is much like being anointed. Inclusion means you are worthy of being informed, or of contributing. There is a danger of meeting abuse inherent as a status symbol though. We should never have a meeting because it’s a Monday, or to socialize, or simply because we can. Not only is it a waste of time, but can destroy morale.

Stay tuned for part two: What’s Good About Bad Meetings

AccuConference | Yapping Again About Productivity

Yapping Again About Productivity

I'm talking productivity yet again. It might be because I tested out as Generation Y (in reality, I'm Generation X) a couple of months ago, but I'm fascinated with productivity information and various ways that companies are trying to improve workflow and process and profit. How do they do it? Measuring productivity, of course!

In the town of Redding, Connecticut, city workers moved to a four-day workweek, working Monday through Thursday, and not working on Friday. The Acorn-Online.com reports on the early results.

"It has been only a little over a week since the town went to a four-day workweek, closing offices on Fridays, but an increase in productivity is already being noticed.
"'I've received positive feedback from employees,' said First Selectman Natalie Ketcham. 'Most of us field telephone calls from residents. With the longer workday, we are able to finish other work that may have been put aside when responding to those calls.'"

Smartbrief.com has a nice round-up of stories related to productivity, but the main point is that there are many options out there and it can't hurt to try a few and see how your employees do.

"If you want employees to work nights and weekends to complete a project, you've got to give something in return. Some companies find that something can be flexibility in employees' schedules, which not only allows workers to pursue outside interests, but also benefits the company.

"Flexible schedules can be completely open-ended -- as long as the work gets done -- or can be scheduled around a graduate student's school schedule, pro bono work or even a second job.

"Companies find that flex time helps their employees become more productive and helps create a 'good workplace environment that begets good work.'"

Business24-7.com, based in the United Arab Emirates, talks about ergonomic issues as a factor in productivity.

"Two out of three employees suffer from work-related repetitive strain injury (RSI) and this costs companies a fortune in lost working hours, says a new report from the UK.

"RSI - widely linked to the use of computer keyboards - costs employers in Britain £300 million (Dh2.2 billion) annually in lost productivity and sick pay, according to a study by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy. The condition accounted for an estimated 3.5m lost working days in 2006-07.

"The problem is also acute in the Middle East with the hot summer preventing staff from taking breaks from their desks. And the region is not as advanced as Europe at preventing the disabling condition."

So what ideas have you put into place to improve productivity? Post a comment and let me know!

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