Building and running record companies, airlines, shops, mobile networks and train services requires being smart, but read anything about how he achieved his success and it is quickly pointed out that Sir Richard Branson places a lot of capital on the importance of connecting, collaborating and delegating. Britain’s most dynamic (and most bearded) of billionaires, Sir Richard Branson, achieved great things through being able to work effectively and talk persuasively – with other people, across his business and outside of it.
Branson is not alone of course in pointing out the importance of building networks and smart teams. Scan any management magazine, airport business book shelf or leadership advice column and you’d be hard pressed not to be advised to strengthen your networks, promote innovation and encourage greater collaboration across your business to drive efficiencies and get rid of hierarchies and stodgy processes. But although it sounds the right thing to do – and we can all agree on it, it is harder to do in practice.
Writing in Forbes magazine in 2012, Ron Keshanas puts it nicely;
“True collaboration is difficult and time-consuming. It requires subordinating individual goals to collective achievement; it means engaging in tough, emotional give-and-take discussions with colleagues about strategies and ideas; and it often leads to working in new ways that may not be comfortable or easy. So given these difficulties, most teams find it easier to talk about collaboration rather than do it.” – Ron Keshanas, Forbes Magazine, 21 March 2012.
Another commentator, Morten T Hansen, offers five useful tips on how to encourage a collaborative culture.
First he suggests – Build Outwards. You need to find connections across and outside of your department and get into other units and other areas.
Second – Aim for Diversity, Not Size. You need different opinions, skills, knowledge and variety, not hundreds of in-house marketing executives.
Third – Look For ‘weak ties’. Casual and quick interactions, not highly involved communications are valuable and low touch is better than high maintenance.
Fourth – Find ‘Bridges’. The people who can connect you to distant shores of knowledge and skill.
Fifth – Swarm. Enlist others to help you discuss and open up the right connections and conversations. And finally,
Sixth –Build Strong Ties. Know that when you have complex projects, teams and knowledge, you cannot rely on weak ties and ineffective links. You need to build cohesive plans with a high degree of personal trust and commitment.
Building the right kind of conversations across a business was a question we explored in more detail during Powwownow’s Spring Webinar featuring globally recognised Knowledge Management and Leadership Guru, David Gurteen.
David speaks and consults across the world on how leaders can build smarter knowledge networks. He stresses the importance of not making assumptions and understanding that you may have different cultures across the organisation. Most importantly, he points out managers must give people time to create the social and personal connections between team members, so they can work well together. Again, as Gurteen and others have pointed out it is important to understand that although our work is often technical, it is at its heart, a highly social process.
Whereas in previous times, being a manager meant controlling, ordering, directing and essentially administrating and approving things a competitive edge today is more likely found within a leadership style that steers, coaches, connects people right across the organisation. And that means creating a meeting and conversational culture that supports healthy debate and where questioning, exchanging ideas and sharing information is the norm.
So, what kind of conversations are you encouraging within your business? Are your meetings ways to simply report and update? In modern offices, with tight deadlines and pressure to deliver it is sometimes difficult to not simply focus on the delivery, the results and get meetings over with as soon as possible. And with a lean and productive culture, short and regular meetings and phone conferences are certainly a great way to build momentum. Or in the spirit of the social era of business, do you build your meetings and calls to be something more – promoting questions and fresh ideas?
Here are three things that you may want to introduce on your next call or meeting to encourage this kind of fresh conversation.
(1) Ask For Answers: Get everyone to bring along an answer or idea to a key question – and get everyone to share their answers in turn.
(2) What If? Ask everyone to bring along a question to the meeting, beginning with the words – ‘what if?’, for example; What if we reduced our price? What if we attended that trade show? Or what if we changed our website design?
(3) Get A Guest: And finally, why not liven up a regular team or project meeting by arranging for a special guest (a supplier, customer or industry colleague for example) to present their view of a topic for 20 minutes. Getting some outside thoughts and opinion can make it easier to encourage some fresh thinking from inside your organisation.
Ultimately, as Sir Richard points out, business is about getting the most out of people. By promoting a culture that encourages better meetings with open questions, whether by audio, video or face to face – you may not end up a Bearded Billionaire but you will be on your way to building smarter conversations and more effective teams.