Why Collaboration really is Child’s Play

Yesterday, I took my 10 year old son to school. We discussed why the dirty football kit was still in his school locker, the baffling contents of his pencil case and the need for (yet another) missing water bottle lost property search. It’s the sort of conversation parents have with their children everywhere each weekday morning.

Then, out of the blue, he said: “Daddy. I’ve been thinking. Let’s smash down the garden fence on each side of our house. Then all the other children can play with us in a much bigger garden together.”

After a few seconds contemplation, I explained that while this might be the good idea, the neighbours might not want this. They might want some privacy.

“What’s privacy?”

I tried to explain what “privacy” meant – not very well.

“But the grown-ups will get more privacy if the children are in the garden playing together. You keep telling us that we play so nicely together – and it will give you time to get on with all that “other stuff” that you always say you like doing but can’t, because we interrupt you all the time.”

Fair point. So I told him that even if the neighbours thought it was a good idea, the removal of the fences could create all sorts of highly complex issues long term around property rights and boundaries.

“What does “long-term” mean?”

I tried to explain what “long-term” meant – not very well.

“But you always tell us to enjoy each day of our childhood – and not to worry about the future. And if there’s no garden fence, isn’t it easier anyway for the grown-ups to talk to each other and sort it all out?”

Hmm. So I told him that while this may be so, the neighbours could sell the house one day and the new neighbours might not want someone else’s children in their garden. This could involve a lot of fence-building DIY for grown-ups and maybe even discussions with expensive property lawyers to help us remember where the fence used to be. It could all get very messy.

“But why would people pay other people to do things that stop them talking to each other? Isn’t talking a good thing? You always tell us to try and sort out our rows first, before coming to Mum or Dad.”

I was on the ropes, but fortunately the school run is a short one. But it made me realise that while we all instinctively “get” the benefits of collaboration, in work as well as home, entrenched thinking and systems can sometimes obstruct otherwise excellent common-sense ideas.

My son returned from school later, once again without the dirty football kit or the missing water bottle. But at least he reminded me that in some respects, collaboration really can be as simple as child’s play, if we only have the imagination to let it happen.

Manchester: how the “business as usual” workplace brings us hope from despair

Like many people this week, I found it very difficult to sleep on Tuesday night, having woken to such dreadful news from Manchester earlier in the day. I tossed and turned – and eventually gave up at 5am. So I went downstairs and turned on the radio …

I was very fortunate to tune in first to BBC 5 Live’s daily business show Wake up to Money. A special edition included a panel of Manchester business men and women talking about how the local business community can best help everyone recover following the terrible events. In fact, just listening to them talk helped. I would recommend anyone to listen again – 45 minutes later I had a much greater appreciation of the power of earthy and relentless business pragmatism in accelerating our return from despair to hope.

Those who have suffered most – and those nearest to them – of course need a whole different magnitude of time and space in which to grieve. For the rest of us, the need this week has been to work our through our collective shock, sorrow, and anger on their behalf. The Manchester business community, as represented in the BBC panel, to me represented the best possible response – a perfect alchemy of genuine empathy with the strongest sense of resilience imaginable.

Hearing them talk, it struck me that for many of us the workplace this week has been an essential forum for the recovery of our collective self-confidence. The panellists saw instinctively that every factory, shop or office in Manchester that opened as normal, every meeting or conference that went ahead as planned and every “business-as-usual” discussion that took place all accelerated a return from the depths of despair. And the workplace should never be a place to deny or suppress our emotions – heartfelt discussions with clients about the tragedy and several messages of sympathy for the city of Manchester from overseas work colleagues this week all played an important part for me in the recovery from horror.

For many of us, the “business-as-usual” workplace has been a really important place to be this week….

A football lesson for work: write down your principles & the results will follow

Three years ago, I found myself in a new role I hadn’t dreamed possible. Eleven boys of mixed ability, complete strangers to one another, were thrown together and a new Under 9s football team was born – yes, we are “The Mighty Orient”.

They needed coaches, so another Dad and I rolled up our sleeves and got to work.

Three years later ….

The headline story is that we have played around 90 games and won about 75 of them. In each season we have been promoted – and we’ve also won 2 cups along the way.

The real story, though, is MUCH more interesting. We’re very proud of our record – of course we are – but the best thing we ever did, by far, was to write down the principles by which the boys, the coaches and parents needed to abide by in order to play for “The Mighty Orient” – it’s about a page long, but below is probably the most important para….

For the boys, to win a game of football is an important source of this enjoyment – but not the only source. As coaches we will focus on our purpose ahead of the “end-product” in order to help the boys enjoy their football to the utmost.

Therefore winning to us means:-

a) developing the best in each and every player, for the benefit of the team;

b) instilling an atmosphere of mutual support within the team, and respect towards the opposition & officials;

c) win, lose or draw – a commitment to learn collectively in order to play better football together in the following game. 

The emphasis is on developing the boys ahead of winning games. But this does not preclude having a “winning mentality”; we want all the boys to have that – they enjoy winning, and so they should!

As coaches, I would give us about a 7 out of 10 so far in sticking to the above – there have been many mistakes, like thousands of amateur football coaches up and down the land, that we have made along the way. But perhaps the most interesting thing is that the parents – and sometimes the boys themselves – have at times reminded us of our own principles, when we have been in danger of losing sight of them ourselves. Our proudest achievement is that they have become as aware of the importance of principles and values as we have – and it is they who have sustained us when we have felt weak and weary.

This is a an example of a genuinely successful collaboration and sense of collective ownership here – and football coaching has taught me more about the importance of having strong values in teamwork in the workplace than any other experience.

All the research shows us that if you write down your beliefs and values, you are more likely to keep to them. And if you focus on your conduct everyday, then better results are sure to follow.

After the Big Show is over: How to make sure your brand new ideas get delivered

On Wednesday this week, I had the good fortune to attend the excellent Learning & Development Show run by the CIPD. Every year, this show is flooded with like-minded HR and L&D professionals. We are a pretty positive lot – and every year we return to our workplaces full of hope and new ideas.

Once the Big Show is over though, the equally Big Question has to be:

“What happens next?”

As somebody who writes about collaborative working and learning a LOT, for example, I’m constantly inspired by the positive impact on innovation, engagement and productivity that better collaboration brings within any organisation. But I’m also acutely aware that not everyone feels as passionately as I do.

To make real change happen in a business, therefore, we must find a way to take the cynics with us. So I’m indebted for this blog to a tweet from Paul Duxbury, a learning and development professional at the show who wrote what for me was the tweet of the conference:-

#cipdldshow whatever you encounter at the Show ask yourself “what would the most cynical member of the Board say about this?” #grounded

This is absolutely spot on – a wonderful question for everyone to test themselves against. The best innovations and the biggest differences we can achieve come through staying grounded.

“Grounded” doesn’t mean becoming cynical, sceptical or inert yourself – quite the opposite. Instead it simply means putting yourself in the shoes of the person who is most likely to oppose your initiative.

Try first to collaborate with them and to at least understand their cynicism, even if you don’t agree with it. This is the key step to modify and develop all those ideas and good intentions you bring back with you from any seminar or conference.

Even if you feel you can only go part of the way to meeting your sternest critic’s concerns, it is essential that you try. And, in the process, it also means you will be going most of the way to meeting the concerns of most of the vast majority of those whose support you need to make change happen.

So I’d love to know – when you get back from this or indeed ANY seminar, show or conference, what tactics would YOU recommend to others to make sure your new initiatives and ideas get delivered?

Winning workplace collaborations: start with the end in mind

There’s an excellent report just out – “Guidance for Collaborative Working” just out from the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution. – that provides great advice on how best to make workplace collaborations more effective.

The report makes the important point that the word “collaboration” is very much over-used or misapplied. For example, technology solutions are often referred to of themselves as being ‘collaborative’ yet technology, on its own, can’t bring success to collaboration, even if it can make it easier to achieve. This in turn makes it harder to understand when collaboration can – and cannot – work.

Everyone instinctively “gets” collaboration – but many don’t really know how to talk about it with real business value in a workplace context. This is why we worked recently with 10Eighty to engage 100 leading HR and L&D practitioners to understand how businesses can harness collaborative working.

It quickly became clear there two camps of understanding- those who thought about collaborative working either in terms of the business benefits it could bring; or simply as a process through which work was organised.

Among those thinking mainly of the business benefits we found:

a) Over 7/10 (72%) said they thought of collaborative working as a way to bring together a broad range of talents to a project or task;

b) More than 6/10 (62%) said they considered it as a means to break down silos in an organisation;

c) A third of those who replied (37%) saw it as working in ways that “unleash energy” in an organisation;

Among those thinking mostly about collaborative working more as a process:

  1. Over half (55%) believed the collaborative working simply meant working on projects or tasks in close physical proximity to one another;
  2. A significant minority of over 4/10 (43%) believed that collaborative working effectively meant “making decisions by consensus”.

It’s heartening to see that both CEDR and we both believe that collaboration, when explained simply as a process with no clear line of sight to the business benefits, leads to confusion rather than clarity. One leading blue-chip HR director put it superbly well in our recent report: “When creating a debate around collaboration in your organisation, start with the end in mind. Those who successfully introduce more collaborative forms of working into their organisation do so by first understanding and then explaining its benefits to other stakeholders, rather than attempting to “sell” the detail of the process too soon to their colleagues.”

Merriborn Media is a business dedicated to developing clever content, engaged online communities and effective collaborative working and learning for clients. Both Merriborn Media and its founder Trevor Merriden were ranked in the Top 3 of social learning evangelists for 2016 in a recent major study.

Sir Winston Churchill and the lost art of dictation

I spent part of my summer holiday reading Boris Johnson’s “The Churchill Factor: How one man made history.” Love or loathe Johnson as a politician, he’s a fantastic storyteller and one chapter – revealing the extraordinary writing habits of the great wartime leader – grabbed both my professional and personal attention.

On Sir Winston Churchill’s love of dictating late into the night to one of a team of fatigued typists, Johnson speaks for all writers when he says: “I don’t know anybody else who is capable of knocking out first-class copy after a long drunken dinner.” Yet Churchill somehow could – and did.

Reeking of tobacco and alcohol, he would pace the wooden floorboards of his home at Chartwell Manor in Kent, dictating for several hours at a time to one of his typing team. Sometimes he would even take the flummoxed assistant with him into bathroom and bedroom, dictating and disrobing simultaneously to save time, if not their blushes. Then, once they had been sent away, he would go through and correct mountainous sheaves of paper by hand and send the whole lot off to be retyped, before finally turning in for the night.

Chartwell Manor, says Johnson, was effectively the home of one of the world’s first word processors before they even existed – with Churchill as the “gigantic engine for the generation of text.” And almost uniquely, he managed to reconcile quantity with quality – he generated more published words than Dickens and Shakespeare combined, while winning the Nobel Prize for Literature and many other accolades for his works along the way.

There will never be another Churchill. And I don’t suggest you try to become one late into a drunken evening at home – it’s likely only to cause difficulties in your personal relationships. But for all those who struggle with writing – and every day I hear from people who tell me they do – I would recommend that you adopt at least one of Churchill’s habits, that of the lost art of dictation.

Churchill of course could afford to employ a team of typists. You probably can’t – and you are unlikely to have a PA willing to following you all over the place. Or indeed you may be the PA. It doesn’t matter – we all have something to say and we are blessed these days with affordable voice recognition software, which Churchill never had.

So I always say to clients who tell me they can’t write to speak instead. It takes a supreme mental effort to assemble the right words in your head in the right order, so don’t. Just talk as you would normally and if your words come out in a jumble, so be it.

It’s time to rediscover the lost art of dictation. Like everything else, writing is a habit. So whatever is in your head, just get it out of your head. And when the wonders of technology allow you to see down on paper or screen what you have just been saying, you will find it much easier to edit quickly.

None of us will be like Sir Winston, but before you know it, you will be creating something you didn’t know you had in you.

Merriborn Media takes 2nd AND 3rd Spot as Top Collaborative / Social Learning Evangelist 2016

View the full Infographic

We are thrilled to gain not one, but two top spots as Collaborative / Social learning evangelists 2106 in a recent study by JollyDeck Ltd, “What WILL BE hot in the workplace L&D in the upcoming year?”.

As part of the study, they analysed over 7 million tweets from 2016 which were shared by 20,000 L&D related Twitter profiles. One of their findings from this was that both @TrevorMerriden and @CleverContent took 2nd and 3rd spot respectively as having the highest number of subject related tweets about Social and Collaborative Learning.

So, what ‘will be hot in the workplace L&D in the upcoming year’? We recommend you read the full report; However, without spoiling anything – we think you might well benefit from following us on Twitter this year:


Let’s see more women breaking down the walls and ceilings in technology

It was my very great pleasure to help to coach a session on building your professional reputation through #networking with the #Women4Tech group at the Mobile World Congress (#MWC17) in Barcelona last week. For those who don’t know, the #GSMA run the Mobile World Congress every year. It is a mind-blowingly huge and impressive operation – your feet will ache from the miles you walk each day from one end to the other of the venue.

We met many great and amazing female technology/mobile professionals at our event, yet in the nearby exhibition halls what I really noticed, as a first-time visitor, was that this is an industry still largely dominated by men. So what heartened me, even more than our audience giving us a good and kind reception, was how much our audience all valued meeting each other.

It’s imperative that bonds forged, made both at our event and in a half day dedicated to women in technology the following day, should not be broken. Progress has been made, but women in this industry told me that they still struggle to break down walls and ceilings. So I urge all women in technology (and elsewhere) not to hesitate to develop every contact made, participate wherever they can in networks and generally help each other as much as possible.

There is much more of course that men can do to make the big changes that will help women in this industry and every other. But big changes can also happen from many small actions – when many people make small changes in their daily habits.

So make a start today – and begin with the way you build and maintain your networks.

Trevor Merriden is the founder an owner and MD of Merriborn Consulting – a business dedicated to helping businesses and indivduals to build relationship and networks via engaged online communities and effective collaborative technologies. He is also Head of Collaborative Learning Technologies for10Eighty and was working with Think Purple during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Smash down the walls (and let your leader swing the sledgehammer)

I am greatly encouraged by the reaction to this series of blogs on collaboration in the workplace.

In the first, we showed that the cleverest organisations are finding that a step change in intensity in collaborative working is unleashing enormous gains in engagement and productivity. They smash down unnecessary hierarchical and functional walls within their businesses to realise these gains.

In the second, we talked about how businesses can harness this potential. Most of us try gamely to collaborate with others in their everyday lives, but are rarely incentivised to do so by organisations. The value from a step change in collaborative working lies in an intensified “project mentality” – that is to say learning in specific situations or projects through sharing knowledge across the business.

Most recently, we argued that business has a powerful role in the current climate via collaborative working and technologies to play in making sure that people and countries do not turn in on themselves and against one another. Smart businesses ask themselves which of the physical or psychological walls within their business actually need to be in place. This, at a time when many politicians are seeking to build rather than tear down walls.

The benefits of a collaborative culture in your business can build quickly over time. But initially, it may feel difficult to decide whether the investment in learning to collaborate will pay off. So the collaboration mentality must start at the very top, with the leader swinging the sledgehammer to smash down the walls that damage and divide businesses from within.

It’s not good enough for current CEOs to spot the potential for collaboration and then throw their most talented people together with a vague “get on with it” message. They must set the standard by being good collaborators themselves in deed, as well as in word.

I’ve had the good fortune to work with a CEO already enlightened in swinging the sledgehammer, in order promoting closer collaboration within and across his business. He wanted to eradicate the infamous “silo mentality” – that cause of so much wasted energy and mistrust. We asked him how he would know when a culture of collaboration had truly taken hold. He told us: “When we as leaders are delighted to tell our teams that we don’t have all the answers. They are right to look to us for a sense of direction, but it’s clearly time for us to collaborate too, to embrace knowledge and ideas from our teams.”

In other words CEOs must lead the culture of collaboration, not merely encourage others to do so.

Collaboration vs confrontation: 2 worlds collide – with only 1 possible winner

There’s a mighty battle brewing…. between the cultures of business and politics. Between collaboration and confrontation. And between smashing down the walls that damage and divide us, or building them afresh.

The news that technology giants Amazon, Microsoft and Expedia have backed a legal challenge to President Trump’s immigration curbs is likely to be the first of many battles between the cultures of big business and politics over the coming months. Others are on the way over the withdrawal from international trade deals, environmental agreements and, of course, THAT wall.

Business has a powerful role to play in making sure that people and countries do not turn in on themselves and against one another. And it also has a strong commercial incentive to do so. And my strong guess is that the digital, collaborative mindset of business will outsmart and outpace the creaking analogue machinery of government at every turn.

The truth is that in 2017 the cleverest organisations are finding that a step change in intensity in collaborative working is unleashing enormous gains in engagement and productivity. These businesses ask themselves which of the physical or psychological walls within their business – within hierarchies, between departments or functions – actually need to be in place, at a time when the political narrative is about the opposite. Technology and collaboration are the new key drivers for business, so seeing technology leaders collaborate on this issue is highly appropriate.

There is nothing new about the idea of collaboration per se and until recently business and politicians were at one on its benefits. But now things are changing – and very quickly. The impact of technology – and the radical redesign of the workplace that it has driven – has raised the profile of greater “collaboration” to a competitive necessity, all at a time when the political narrative is heading in the other direction.

We are moving into an era of “full-on” workplace collaboration where the business rhetoric of yesterday potentially becomes the business reality of today And in the process it will lead them to: a far more effective blueprint for organisational working and learning; A positive step change in employee engagement levels; and greatly increased levels of productivity.

So the stage is set – Collaboration vs Confrontation. To my mind, the distance travelled by business along the road to the former means that there, in the end, will only be one winner.

Trevor Merriden is the Managing Director of Merriborn Media, experts in building Collaborative Communities through Clever Content and Online Engagement. Email trevor.merriden@merribornmedia.co.uk for an inital free consultation.

To download our joint free whitepaper with 10Eighty – “Surfing the Collaboration Wave – How Collaboration can boost your L&D, Engagement and Productivity” Click here!