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Scalable Collaboration - the Collabforge Approach

The increasing pace of change, complexity in our environment, and interdependence of actors are demanding a more collaborative approach to innovation, change and engagement. From high-level decision makers and frontline workers, to customers and consumers, when more of those who are impacted are effectively involved in the strategic decision making and innovation design process, the more relevant, scalable and successful the outcome.

Delivering effective collaboration is a considerable challenge in its own right, and cannot not succeed without conscious design. For Collabforge, a core requirement is that collaboration must be scalable. It must be able to start with a small group and progressively build towards full inclusion. This is critical, because if new participants can’t be readily involved in organisational, let alone cross-organisation settings, collaboration breaks down and success will be threatened. 

Involving participants in a collaborative process requires that these individuals have a level of collaboration capability. Participants must have the literacies, common approaches, and shared practices necessary to collaborate well. Therefore, this capability is fundamentally a shared capability, which can only be developed in the course of working together. In response to this need, our approach combines capability-building with delivering project outcomes.

Principles of collaborative projects

We use the following principles to design collaborations, particularly within more traditional organisational contexts that require a greater degree of certainty and do not already work in an open and collaborative way.

  1. Authentic collaboration: We commit to an authentically collaborative way of working, which often means slowing down to speed up, and staying open to new possibilities that may emerge.

  2. Start small and scale up: We establish a core project team made up of members from the Collabforge consortium and the client, who work together throughout the life of the project to create the conditions to co-design effectively with other stakeholders.

  3. Co-designing the process: In order to ensure a collaboration that works for everyone, the project team first co-designs the way in which we will work together, in tandem with beginning the actual work.

  4. Outcomes focus: We ensure that participant activities are oriented to a well-understood shared purpose and clearly defined outcomes, thereby balancing the need for predictable outcomes with the open creativity of the collaborative process.

  5. Digital tools: We set up appropriate digital collaboration tools in order to ensure a smooth and orderly flow of information among our distributed team, and efficient engagement with all participants.

  6. Regular rhythm: The core project team meets regularly to co-design the process and solve problems, ensuring that we are able to adapt our approach in a timely manner.

  7. Adaptive project management: We design the project in a modular manner, which means that at key points throughout the project we are able to shift our strategy and tactics without losing sight of promised end deliverables.

  8. Service catalog costing: Where possible, we will itemise the project into discrete service bundles, allowing the client to scale up, scale down, or reconfigure our services as the needs of the project become more clear.

  9. Capability building: Every step of the project is an opportunity for us to learn from each other, whether about the subject matter of our work, or about collaborative approaches, and we will create the conditions for knowledge and capability transfer throughout.

  10. World class workshops: Every time we meet face to face, especially in workshops, Collabforge brings world-class capability in the design and facilitation of group work, ensuring inspiration, focus and productivity at every step of the process.

  11. Single source of truth: Our digital tools will enable us to share our work in progress, so that it can be reviewed, commented on, and contributed to by all members of the project team at any time, reducing bottlenecks associated with traditional modes of document collaboration.

Capability-building partnership

By structuring our projects as partnerships with our clients, we ensure that we have the opportunity to build our clients’ capability while getting the work done.

Collabforge typically has more involvement in project delivery at the outset, while moving toward a support role as client capability builds and the project progresses.

We combine project delivery and capability-building through two key strategies:

Dedicated Project Team: Our clients resource participation in a Project Team that drives the collaborative process as it scales. Collabforge also participates as part of this team. We focus on building your capability through introducing new collaborative processes and technologies that support delivery, while preparing you to lead the process into the future.

Collaborative Work Sessions: The Project Team’s primary mode of interaction is in targeted work sessions, which are focused on delivering project outcomes and outputs. This simply means sitting together, and instead of talking about doing the work and then breaking out and actioning it independently, we actually do the work collaboratively. This practical, action learning approach provides opportunities to transfer both collaboration and subject matter capability.

Scaling the collaborative process

As the number of collaborators, urgency or intensity increases, the risk of collaboration failure also increases. New participants bring different ways of thinking, talking and working, as well as visions and values that may not be well aligned. We call this the introduction of dissonance.

Dissonance is healthy part of the process and signifies increasing the diversity of knowledge and perspectives. The success of a collaborative process is determined by how effectively it resolves this dissonance, while generating increased engagement, quality of outcome and project momentum.

Resolving dissonance is fundamentally about generating strategic alignment. Shared understanding, vision, outcomes and plans all foster consonance - the opposite of dissonance - within the participant group. When people arrive at consonance around a strategy, it enables work to be distributed, enabling progress even while participants are not working together directly.

Effectively welcoming, engaging and resolving dissonance when it arises, in order to maintain overall consonance within the group at any given time, provides the foundations upon which collaboration can scale.

Maintaining project momentum while bringing participants into consonance is most reliably achieved through a cyclical approach. This allows the group to learn-by-doing in incremental steps, while measuring their success and identifying and resolving the sources of dissonance as they go. 

Part of Collabforge methodology is representing strategic alignment of the participant group in a shared Strategy Document. This should include key elements such as background, visions, outcomes, and plans that inform product delivery. The Strategy Document also includes an Evaluation Framework, which is used to measure the results of each cycle, as well as the project as a whole.

A routine approach to evaluating project progress helps the Project Team build momentum by reinvesting in what’s working, and killing off what’s not. The level of clarity and transparency enabled by this approach also facilitates the induction of new participants, who will be more empowered to understand where the project has come from and where it intends to go.

Our experience has shown that this approach is essential to motivate and align participants throughout an initiative, greatly improving the likelihood of achieving the project's vision.