Avoiding Collaborative Turbulence This Holiday Season

As a frequent business traveler, the hardest thing about flying over the holidays is the amateurs. And by amateurs, I am referring to the infrequent flyers, the ones who end up in the TSA pre-check line but still ask – “Do I need to take out my iPad?” The ones who stop on a dime in the walkway as they contemplate where to grab a snack. The ones who spend 5 minutes digging something out of the bottom of their suitcase before putting it into the overhead, causing a 20 person pile-up on the freezing jet bridge.

The problem with amateurs, of course, is not that they are deliberately sabotaging my airport experience. It’s that they are unaware of the tacit norms that frequent fliers have adopted. We cede the arm rails to the traveler in the middle seat. We don’t start a conversation unless the other person has sent a strong signal of invitation. We don’t eat aromatic foods (no French fries!) sitting in coach…

These norms make flying a little easier for those of us who do it constantly. It’s one less thing we have to think about while traveling.

The best teams use norms the same way – to ease the friction inherent to collaboration. By adopting a set of shared expectations for how to use email, meetings and collaboration tools like Slack, teams can dramatically reduce the cost of collaborating with one another. But it rarely happens by accident. Most often, it is the result of time and trial and error.

Intact teams that have worked together for a long time will have settled into a routine... However, many teams today are not permanent and need to establish their shared practices quickly or suffer the consequences.

If you’re launching a new project or team, there are a few questions to answer together right from the start which can save you countless hours of wasted time and frustration:

  • For what primary purpose do we use email, IM, text and voice?
  • If we need to reach each other urgently outside of business hours, what is the best vehicle per person?
  • What is the expected response time to an urgent request? To a routine request
  • When do we use Reply All to an email?
  • Do we need to send an acknowledgement of an email request or do we assume that it was received?
  • Where do we store documents that we are working on together?
  • What is each person’s greatest collaborative pet peeve and what norms can we set as a team to avoid them?

If you’re operating from the belief that answering these questions out loud is unnecessary because we would all answer them the same way, I challenge you to try it. I am consistently amazed at the variety of work patterns and preferences people have. Once you establish shared norms on your teams, you’ll find it’s much smoother air for the rest of the journey.

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