Developing effective collaboration? a case


A Japanese subsidiary of a large global manufacturing company literally launched a new phase in its IT transformation initiative with two dynamic, interactive business simulation workshops. Two teams played the Operations Control room of the Apollo 13 space mission, launching three astronauts on their fateful, near disastrous journey to the moon. The participants were challenged to become high performing teams, saving the astronauts and bringing them safely home through effective collaboration.

Collaboration is a global theme within the organization, underpinning the IT strategy to support business growth, provide sustainable performance, and deliver customer satisfaction.

But what is ‘effective’ collaboration? How can we translate it from a simple word in the strategy into actual behavior that delivers results?

The simulation workshops were aimed at translating theory into practice, at demonstrating effective collaboration, and at capturing concrete improvement suggestions to drive forward the IT maturity initiative. The workshops were also aimed at creating buy-in and for identifying possible resistance and barriers to the transformation initiative.

In the simulation a team must design and apply their own processes, define and agree roles and responsibilities, design and apply tooling to manage their workload and share knowledge. The team must then execute these processes to successfully support the Apollo 13 mission. Incidents, requests and changes all enter the simulation. The workload demand increases, there is a growing pressure on resources as well as critical deadlines to meet. How will the team manage and perform with these challenges?

Effective Collaboration?

At the start of the simulation sessions both teams were asked to describe ‘Effective collaboration’. The simulation facilitator, playing the role of the Customer, asked ‘What will I see today that demonstrates effective collaboration?’ This is what the participants described:

Captured at the start   of the session 28/9Team: ‘Go 4 IT’ Captured at the start   of the session 29/9Team ‘Make IT work’
  • Set clear, shared goals
  • Face-to-face meetings goals
  • Exchange opinions
    – Listen to people first and show you understand
  • Share knowledge and Information
  • Find the advantages of others – Use their strengths
  • Understand OWN strengths and WEAKNESSES
  • Talk to each other
  • Shared goals – same direction
  • Consistent message to customer and to IT
  • ALL give ideas for improving and solving problems
  • Truthful, complete information exchange: give & take
  • Use strengths of various team members & understand own weaknesses
  • Attitude of team to achieve goals together. “Ownership”

The teams were then challenged to demonstrate this in the simulation game. After designing their processes the simulation started. The rocket was launched, the mission was underway. In the first round the team struggled and identified significant similarities to their own working environment, unclear roles; frustration; inability to cope with the workload demand and effectively allocate resources; lack of management insight; poor match of aligning processes to business priorities, and people not following the procedures. The Customer was not happy and the mission goals were at risk. The team had not achieved their key performance targets or service level agreements.

At the end of the round the team reflected on what went wrong. ‘Were they effectively collaborating’? ‘Were their processes fit-for-purpose’? ‘Was their tool supporting them in managing their work’?

The team made some new discoveries as to what effective collaboration really means.

Captured after the   first round experiences Team: ‘Go 4 IT’ Captured after the   first round experiences Team: ‘Make IT happen’
  • CONFIRM understanding, don’t assume
  • Clear escalation, prioritization and decision making
  • AGREE, not just define and assume Roles and responsibilities
  • AGREE the process together
  • ENGAGE with the business, what are THEIR priorities?
  • Listen to each other, summarize understanding, give an answer and a decision (yes/no – agree/disagree) or an alternative
  • Engage with business
  • AGREED!! Roles and responsibilities, AGREED!! process, AGREED!! use of tool
  • Ensure understanding

The teams then redesigned processes, clarified and agreed roles and responsibilities, and improved their tool to enable them to effectively manage priorities and resources as well as share knowledge and solutions.

At the end of the second round we examined the team scores. Both teams were successful.

Both teams had managed to significantly transform their capabilities.

The winning team had managed to improve customer satisfaction from 6.5 to 7.8, improved workload throughput from 45% to 80%, reduced resolution times by 40% and reduced wasted costs by 55%.

All this through effectively collaborating and structuring people, process, product and partner capabilities.

The teams captured more than 25 concrete improvement suggestions to take away and apply, relating to People, Process, Product, Partner and Performance.

The top 3 ‘Collaboration’ initiatives to be taken away were:

Successful collaboration initiatives
Improve Face-to-face   collaboration, discussions with each other regarding process improvement;   Spending time until we reach an understanding and an agreement.
Define (and agree) roles, responsibilities, authority   and accountability of each other, ensure people understand and AGREE. Ensure   managers commit to and back up process managers authority to get things done.
Take more ownership for the goals; people must   take ownership & responsibility, we need to confront each other on responsibilities and agreements made.

The teams were asked to nominate the one person in their team who displayed the most characteristics of effective collaboration.

Team lead
‘Go 4 IT’
Listened to what people said. Confirmed each   person’s responsibility, their understanding and agreement. Confirmed   decisions made and took leadership to make the changes happen.
Team   lead
‘Make IT happen’
Tried to create discussion in the team; took   the lead in discussions; she was pro-active; was good at listening to others;   she understood the goals and shared these with everybody; she listened,   filtered, accepted and managed; she motivated the team; she listened to peoples’   ideas and opinions and ensured we all shared the same goals.

Finally the teams, using the ABC of ICT cards performed an exercise to identify the resistance and barriers they expect to see and experience as the IT Maturity initiative unfolds. These were the top 10 issues.

  •   Not   my responsibility
  •   No   management commitment
  •   Saying   ‘Yes’ but meaning (doing) ‘No’
  •   Not   empowering people
  •   ITIL   is the objective not what it should achieve
  •   Throwing   solutions over the wall and hoping people will accept them
  •   No   understanding business impact and priority
  •   Not   capturing right knowledge for reuse(4d
  •   Too   little business involvement in requirements specification and testing
  •   Blame   culture

What next?

While we consider when to begin, it becomes too late – Japanese proverb

Now that the mission is ended, the real challenge begins. Transferring what was learnt, and the captured improvements into the organization, and addressing the resistance and barriers to change. The countdown has begun. The transformation has started, and in the words of Gene Kranz, Flight Director of Apollo 13 ‘Failure is not an option!’. The organization must take away and realize these improvements if they are to mobilize the team energy and achieve their strategy. As James Lovell, Commander of Apollo 13, said when we spoke to him about effective collaboration. “There are those who make things happen, there are those who watch things happen and there are those who simply wonder ‘what happened’!”.

It is now time for everybody to take ‘ownership’ to make things happen by effectively collaborating and repeating the successes realized in Apollo 13.