If you want to create brilliant products and solutions, you should hire the best geniuses, give them an environment to flourish, then do what you can to keep them, right? Tim Sanders says it’s what business leaders naturally think—but it’s the wrong approach.
His research shows brilliant solutions aren’t born from lone geniuses. They’re developed by diverse teams. And today’s teams aren’t what you’re probably thinking.
Sanders is a technology pioneer. He was on the ground floor of the quality movement, the launch of the mobile phone industry, and the birth of the world wide web.
In his presentation at Upwork’s Work Without Limits™ Executive Summit, Sanders explains how companies solve tough problems by focusing on collaboration. Here are highlights from his presentation.
Collaboration is the new teamwork
Many people think the hit Pixar movie, Toy Story, was a great idea that came from genius creatives. But Pixar CEO Ed Catmull clarifies Toy Story wasn’t genius, it was 1,000 problems solved.
Toy Story was the first movie ever made on a computer. The team faced so many technical challenges during its first few months that Disney wanted to shut the project down. Pixar prevailed by solving each problem through lean, diverse teams called the brain trust.
Brain trusts are centered around collaboration. Teams are made up of several people from different functions. This diversity gets people out of their siloed perspectives.
Then everyone works together in a sharing environment where anyone can say anything. Ideas can come from anywhere. If they require outside experts, they reach out to their freelancer community.
Pixar believes teams are more important than ideas, says Sanders.
He paraphrases Catmull’s thoughts: “You can give a perfect idea to a group of knuckle heads and they will screw it up every single time. But you can give a highly problematic, over ambitious idea to the right team, and they will improve it and bring it to life.”
Eliminate false constraints
Collaboration creates rapid problem solving. Because when you bring people together, especially in lean and diverse teams, you create an environment where everyone reveals what they know. They’re willing to come together at the information level to do joint work. This enables companies to solve blind spots like false constraints.
Sanders recalls a stunning example of false constraints during his role as chief solutions officer at Yahoo. While in a meeting with Yahoo’s co-founder and CEO Jerry Yang, they listened to two entrepreneurs pitch an SMS-based idea. The entrepreneurs wanted to create a short messaging service using 140 characters.
Yang leaned over to Sanders saying the idea will never work. Years before, Yahoo bought a company for $400 million based on the same idea. But the service never took. Yang’s conclusion was that people want longer messaging.
The entrepreneurs they denied ended up founding Twitter. Sanders warns that sometimes, organizations become obsolete when they’re in a leadership silo where no one tells you things have changed.
Collaboration in lean, diverse teams can help you avoid that. What’s more…
Collaboration fattens the bottom line
Sanders says over nine out of 10 top sales and marketing organizations make collaboration part of their culture’s DNA. Individuals from cross functions come together to either win a big account, save a critical account, or launch a breakthrough product.
Sanders cites a Miller Heiman Institute study of what they called World Class Sales and Marketing Organizations: Those who collaborate outperform their rivals in key revenue KPIs by double digits.
The study further notes when you bring a second perspective into a meeting, your chance of moving forward increases by 50%. If you add a third perspective, your chances of moving forward with the next play goes up to 100%.
How’s that possible? Because when you bring in everyone who has a stake in the outcome, they work hard to keep the promise and create mutually beneficial solutions.
Sanders adds a caveat: balance teams with the right number of people. Having too many perspectives can slow progress.
Among the companies Sanders studied, they all have one thing in common: proximity. This enables them to have face to face, high levels of communication. From these interactions, they build trust, empathy, and stronger relationships. Think of it as teamwork 1.0.
Teamwork 2.0 involves collaborating with remote workers. At Sanders’s company, Deeper Media, 90% of their talent either works remotely or is a freelancer.
Today, technology enables organizations and individuals to work differently. “Proximity, much like premise computing, is moving to the cloud,” says Sanders. “The right talent may not live in your market, or want to live there to join your organization.”
Researcher John Seely Brown said the future of enterprise is extended beyond geographical constraints. The business leader of today must learn how to collaborate with remote teams.
Tips for collaborating across time zones
The two biggest challenges with a remote or distributed team are: communication quality and the ability to build relationships. “If you still use email, it’s like using index cards and glue sticks to run your applicant tracking system. E-mail is not how you build relationships,” says Sanders. For more effective collaboration, Sanders suggests these three tips:
Favor visual communication
When you use linear technology like phone and email, there’s no screen sharing, no human sharing. People feel divided and like they’re being delegated to. When you use video collaboration tools, people feel united and more motivated. And it helps people care about the people they work with.
Phone conference calls aren’t effective because people usually work on other things during these calls. As a result, these meetings usually end with the issues still left unresolved. Sanders cites a study where participants reported teams who met over video got the job done 90% of the time. As opposed to 50% for email or phone users.
Show up prepared
Don’t throw people into a room and toss out ideas. At least two days before a meeting, send everyone a project brief. The brief should state the problem, the opportunity, what’s in place now, and how it’s working. Then give everyone an assignment. Keep conversations very idea based. Make it clear you expect collaboration from all participants.
Get the right tools (and lots of them)
Many online collaboration tools are easy to use and some are free. For most teams, the basics should include:
- a project management software like Basecamp or JIRA
- video conferencing tools like Google Hangouts or Skype
- online document sharing like Dropbox or Google Docs
Promote individual growth
No matter where your collaboration partner is located, you can’t work with people you don’t care about deeply. Sanders concludes, “Love, in the business sense, is when you devote yourself to promote growth in every person you do business with. Not just your top performer who makes you look good. Our ability to use high telepresence tools like video allows us to make those super human connections that give us mentorship opportunities, real connections and bonds, and the ability to show empathy.”