“You are cruising along, and then technology changes. You have to adapt.” – Marc Andreessen, software engineer and entrepreneur
It is no secret that technology is changing quickly and that leaders must adapt continuously to keep up. Evidence of a rapidly-evolving mobile economy is everywhere: the burgeoning Internet of Things, cloud-based storage, the expanding frontiers of AI, and real-time data sharing across devices, to cite just a few examples.
Businesses and large organisations need to adapt to this emerging landscape of mobile collaboration. They need to accelerate the process of absorption: recognising and surfacing winning ideas, then channeling those ideas to the right people to get them implemented and onto the market. Innovation needs to accelerate, with readier sharing of information, faster scaling-up and quicker changes of direction.
These demands put considerable strain on many firms. They may have strong hierarchies, a top-down management style or a tendency to develop information ‘silos’. They may also rely on geographically-dispersed teams. Any one of these factors will tend to slow down absorption and innovation, and more than one will simply aggravate the challenge.
What needs to change in these cultures and infrastructures to encourage the mobile collaboration that the times demand? What can leaders do to model and encourage the constant sharing and sharpening of ideas? How can leaders lead in a way that reduces silos, encourages constant improvement, and opens the door for ‘digital natives’ to step into experimentation and influencing roles?
Here are four suggestions, skills and mindsets that leaders should embrace if they genuinely want to drive collaborative technology. These will support integration, coordination, teamwork and transparency in almost any organisation.
Suspend your agenda. This is about being a superb listener. A critical skill for driving mobile collaboration is to listen effectively. This is a constant challenge given the pressures of time, technology, and distractions, but we need to make the effort.
Learning to suspend your agenda — disciplining yourself to put aside your own concerns and priorities temporarily in order to truly listen to others — is a technique that will distinguish you as a superb listener. And as you get better at this you will discover that others are paying more attention to you. This will pay dividends in driving collaboration because a key objective is the rapid spread of ideas.
Challenge assumptions. Challenging assumptions is a technique that brings more rigour and clarity to decision-making. It is a visible, efficient way to pressure-test ideas and help ensure that the best ideas and solutions prevail. Last but surely not least, challenging assumptions is a useful way to minimise or avoid mistakes.
Unfortunately, there are several excuses we use to rationalise not challenging the assumptions behind a course of action: ‘This isn’t my area of expertise, so even though those numbers look weak I’ll just stay quiet.’ Or, ‘I don’t want to embarrass my colleague (or client) by questioning their assumptions.’ Or, ‘We’re on a tight deadline so we don’t have time to dig into the data.’ We need to overcome these objections and challenge assumptions when it is called for.
Ask implication questions. These are the ‘What if…’ questions that can inspire people to think creatively and find ‘out-of-the-box’ solutions. A powerful technique is to clearly identify the obstacles or constraints that are blocking progress or preventing a resolution, and then ask, ‘What if we could remove this obstacle?’ ‘What if we could reduce that constraint?’ ‘What if there were another way?’
It is often the pressure of time that keeps us from asking these implication questions: we have so much to do and so little time that we think, ‘Well, this is good enough; I’ll just go with this answer.’ And we don’t ask the powerful follow-up questions: ‘This is pretty good, but can we do better? What if we looked at this from another angle?’ Many times it is that extra question that takes us to the next level of insight and creativity.
Summary and synthesis. Summary and synthesis are both important for driving collaborative technology, and there is an important difference between them: summary is essentially condensing a list of ideas to make them more readily understood or remembered.
Synthesis goes further, combining concepts to generate insights or connections. Good synthesis can ‘connect the dots’, highlighting implications or consequences that were not apparent: ‘I hadn’t thought of it that way.’ Done well, synthesis offers new perspectives on an issue and opens up fresh avenues for analysis and discussion. So we need both to drive collaboration: summary and synthesis.
Today’s leaders are increasingly being asked to leverage collaborative technology via the mobile Internet. Four skills will help with that challenge and also bolster your thought leadership: suspending your agenda, challenging assumptions, asking implication questions, and effective summary and synthesis.
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