BLOG: The Importance of Collaboration
What are you an expert at? Where do your strengths lie? What are your weaknesses? What kind of problems do you naturally enjoy solving? Which problems make you feel anxious and you want to avoid tackling?
Personally, I am an expert in cyber security, and more broadly in technology integration and change. My strengths are in understanding exactly how computers work at the physical level and being able to layer that up to provide an in-depth bottom-up understanding of technological systems. I like numbers, but I struggle with language. My main weakness is in understanding the social interactions between colleagues and how those play a pivotal role in developing business-process best-practice. I am highly analytical so like to solve problems involving numbers and facts that have robust and final conclusions. I struggle with problems where there is no clear “right answer”, and those that involve conflict or compromise.
As humans, we will all have different strengths, weaknesses, likes, and dislikes, and how we react to and solve problems is based on those factors (and more). There are very few people you know who fit into exactly the same mould and are doing exactly the same job as you. If all of your colleagues were given a series of work-based problems to solve, as individuals, with complete freedom it’s highly unlikely that any two people would solve every problem in the same way. Each would use their own strengths to come up with a way of solving the problems that is most intuitive for themselves. It’s also unlikely that any colleagues would come up with a way of solving the problems that the majority would agree is optimal.
We all have strengths and we all have weaknesses. Even when we attempt to tackle a weakness head on and improve upon it, another arises to take its place. A strength you had yesterday, may not be a strength you have today if you had little sleep because of a teething toddler crying through the night.
I believe the key to solving problems in a way that the majority can agree on is collaboration. By collaborating across your organisation to solve problems you can utilise the strengths and experiences of individuals to solve problems as a collective. I wouldn’t want you to take my word on this of course, after all I am someone who struggles with social interaction and the use of the English language. I shared the strengths of other individuals more expert in this area than me to reach this conclusion. Here is Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, describing the importance of collaboration in his organisation. Many successful organisations, not just apple, have understood the importance of collaboration over individual success for a long time. This is nothing new. What is new though is the understanding that even within a single organisation, there may not be sufficient diversity of strengths to reach the agreed optimal solution. In the private sector, we recently saw Tesla release all of their electric car patents in order to promote start-ups in the electric car design field. The theory here is that someone, somewhere, has a nugget of expertise that only they hold, and this will cause a revolutionary change in the solution to the problem of how we switch away from fossil fuel vehicles. Combining this with the theory that a rising tide floats all boats in the emergent technology industries makes inter-organisational collaboration a great business decision for Tesla.
Here in the public sector, where we have no profit targets to hit and no shareholders to please, our opportunities for inter-organisational collaboration, resulting in optimal service delivery for citizens, are infinitely higher than in the private sector where it is already happening. Inter-organisational collaboration used to be hard. We worked in separate buildings, in separate towns and cities, using frustrating conference telephones and resource intensive journeys to far flung parts of the country. That has all changed with the shift to remote working being the norm. Even if your organisation ultimately decides to get their staff back into the office, the experiences we have gained in remote working give us a unique opportunity to expand inter-organisational collaboration for the benefits of all, both colleagues and citizens.
The majority of Scottish Councils have implemented, or are now implementing, Microsoft Teams as their main internal collaboration space. I have witnessed great improvements in internal collaboration using Teams in both the Digital Office, and in our Digital Partnership organisations. The great news is that Teams does not just support internal collaboration, but also boasts a number of features to facilitate inter-organisational collaboration.
Find the right person to talk to and start talking immediately
Teams allows your organisation to find and communicate with people trying to solve the same problems as you in other councils, and across the wider public sector. Microsoft call this feature Teams Federation. If you imagine federation being like a giant phonebook, you won’t be too far from the truth. This feature let’s you set up calls and to message people you want to collaborate with in other organisations.
Work on problems together
Teams allows your organisation to invite colleagues into a collaborative space where you can post ideas to the entire group and work on live documents together whilst in a group video conference. The file structure enables those collaborating to share their existing best-practice solutions to problems or proposals, and for the rest of the group to review. MS Planner integrates into the Teams environment and enables the group to allocate actions, to sub-groups or individuals, and track their completion. Microsoft call the feature to enable inter-organisational collaboration Teams Guest Access. If you imagine guest access like hosting an inter-council workshop in your conference room, you won’t be too far from the truth.
The realised benefits
Whereas previously I would have had to schedule a meeting with a council weeks in advance, buy my train tickets, and spend longer on the train there and back than the length of the actual meeting, I can now instantly talk to the person I am interested in collaborating with, and if we are both free then start the meeting immediately. Problems are solved collaboratively, with a more optimal outcome, in a shorter space of time. All participants in the collaboration solve more problems, more quickly, delivering efficiencies to our organisation and enhanced service delivery to citizens.
Just so as this doesn’t come across as a Microsoft sales pitch (it’s not, and I didn’t receive any perks from Microsoft for writing this blog), there are other collaboration tools available and some of them are equally as good. The sole reason that Microsoft Teams is fast becoming the collaboration tool of choice is because of its ubiquity the Scottish public sector. The first hurdle that must be overcome in order to collaborate between organisations is deciding on a common collaboration platform. Our recent emergency response to the COVID-19 crisis has naturally driven us towards a (mostly) common solution for internal collaboration. It just makes sense to leverage that same platform for inter-organisational collaboration.
To find out more about the federation and guest access initiatives across Scottish Councils please get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org, or message us on teams if we are already connected.
Chief Information Security Officer
Digital Office for Scottish Local Government