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6 Reasons Why Collaboration Doesn’t Make Me Cringe

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I’m well aware that the word collaboration causes many people to shudder. Believe me, I’ve been haunted by projects gone awry because of long meetings, dominating personalities, group think, or design by committee. I’ve been on the road to Abilene, and these experiences taught me to dread group work.

It’s true that collaborative efforts can be lousy and unproductive. But this doesn’t mean the idea of collaboration in itself is the problem.

As a writer, I love to collaborate. I know this sentiment is quite countercultural for the writing breed. Before I fell for collaboration, I’d throw on headphones and get lost in the cadence of my own voice instead of inviting other writers into my process. And when I came out of my hermitic retreats, it was tough to see how the ideas of an outsider could fit into my polished prose. I produced something great, thank you; I’m taking no comments at this time.

But, even though it’s in my nature to be the lone authoritarian of my written words, I’ve come to see that when I let other writers in, we produce something better than I could have alone. And because I want my writing to be its best, I now try to collaborate as much as deadlines allow (even if it drives fellow writers bananas).

Here are 6 truths that changed my mind about collaboration:

It makes me a better writer

We have a team of great writers here at Bethel. Whenever I let them speak into my work, I learn something valuable. With each revision and draft, I get more practice. And with more practice comes better first drafts.

It produces a useful product

In the end, what I write for Bethel is not about me.

I should care chiefly about creating the best product for my readers, audiences, and users, even if it means letting go of phrases I love. Having someone else read and speak into my work helps me focus on the bigger picture to make sure the words I’m choosing match the priorities of the project.

It creates consistency

Writers have a voice, a method, an approach to their writing that allows who they are to peek through. They have strong preferences about style and word choice. They believe in right and wrong.

But writing for Bethel requires that I quiet my voice and push aside partiality for the sake of the brand I represent. When other writers dig into my work, they take out the stuff that embodies too much of me and not enough Bethel.

It builds trust

I know I’m flattered whenever a teammate asks for my help. It validates my skills. It makes me feel valued, wanted, and appreciated. And I’m more eager to ask them for help in return because we’ve established an understanding that it’s okay to be vulnerable. It’s okay to have questions. It’s healthy to rely on others and to support them in return.

It strengthens relationships

The pressure to write something useful each day is daunting, stressful, and draining. If I didn’t have such insightful and caring teammates, I’d be nearing the end of my marketing stint. So I involve my colleagues in my work because it creates meaningful conversation that builds our bonds. And it’s these relationships that keep me coming back to work each day.

It broadens my thinking

It’s easy to fall into familiar patterns for approaching the same content year after year for the same audiences. But when I invite a new voice to speak into my work, someone who has less history with what I do, they can help me break out of routines and habits. They free me up to take risks that might produce something incredible.

Ultimately, I do better work when I invite others to help me out. Sure, there’s often heated editorial debate and disagreement, but I believe the benefits of this tough work far outweigh the complications. And I always have a few personal side projects going just to feed my domineering tendencies.

So instead of shying away from feedback, I’ve learned that my work’s more fun when I have colleagues eager to pitch in and produce something great—together.

 

Overcoming Complacency

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A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the 8 obstacles to change, and it’s possible I left many of you discouraged, overwhelmed, and ready to give in. Then I didn’t post for a month. That was cruel of me, and I’m sorry.

What happened? Well…things changed. Our team was reorganized, new projects and tasks were added to already full plates, and blogging slipped down the priority list.

Hold on just a minute. Didn’t I say in my last post that change is hard and the process is full of obstacles? How could things have changed so suddenly?

Situations arose that gave us a valuable tool in the change toolkit and allowed us to leap over that debilitating first obstacle – complacency – in a hurry. But more on what that was in a moment.

Where does complacency come from?

Before we talk about beating complacency, it’s important to look at where it comes from. In Leading Change, Kotter outlines 9 sources of complacency.

  1. Absence of a major, visible crisis
  2. Visible signs of success (fancy board rooms, expensive cars in the parking lot, first-class flights)
  3. Low performance standards
  4. Focus on departmental silos rather than overall organizational success
  5. Unambitious, non-specific goals to ensure that everyone meets them
  6. Lack of performance feedback
  7. Discouragement of people who deliver bad news, lack of confrontation
  8. Tendency to deny things we don’t want to hear
  9. Happy talk from management

Does any of this sound familiar? Then you might be stuck in the complacency rut.

It that’s the case, and the people around you think everything’s hunky-dory even though you can see the writing on the wall, then all of your panicking and frantic yelling won’t make a bit of difference, and nothing will change.

How can you overcome complacency?

Urgency. Lots of it. That was the tool we had that allowed us to make rapid changes.

Kotter suggests that for change to take place, “a majority of employees, perhaps 75 percent of management overall, and virtually all of the top executives need to believe that considerable change is absolutely essential.”

You need to make people see that change is necessary. And that the time for change is now. Kotter gives us 9 ways to do it.

  1. Create a crisis, allow errors to blow up, expose weaknesses
  2. Get rid of visible signs of success
  3. Raise standards so high that they can’t be reached through business as usual
  4. Hold everyone accountable for overall success, rather than departmental goals
  5. Share specific performance data with all employees
  6. Force people to regularly meet with unhappy customers
  7. Hire consultants and outside sources to provide honest feedback
  8. Discuss weaknesses and competitive threats in open, wide-reaching forums
  9. Emphasize opportunities, rewards for taking advantage of those opportunities, and factors leading to missed opportunities

I admit, some of these ideas sound a bit risky. Others sound a lot risky. But we can’t make changes if we aren’t willing to take risks.

Are you willing to take the risk?

We’re all guilty of complacency at times. It’s easy and safe to accept routines and status quos. New processes and strategies take thought, and planning, and work. Implementing them also takes a lot of courage. Setting out on a new path is a great risk wrought with danger. What if the new way doesn’t work? What if it turns out the old way was better?

What if I fail?

We’re terrified of failure.  Maybe it’s time to get over it.

I’ve failed before and I’ll fail again. But I’ve realized that I’ll survive. So will you.

I know that wasn’t the best pep talk. Maybe one more cliché to drive the point home: with great risk comes great reward.

We can’t start getting better until someone is willing to put him or herself out there and take a risk. Will that someone be you? Cool. Check back for the next post.

8 Obstacles to Change and How to Overcome Them

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Most of us recognize that higher ed is changing. A lot. And on the web, our users’ expectations, needs, and wants are changing at a pace that’s tough to keep up with, let alone get ahead of. These changes to our universe mean that we must also change as a web team (everyone who contributes to Bethel’s site included). We must adapt. We need to get better, faster, more responsive.

Change is scary and painful. It takes us out of our routines and comfort zones and into uncharted territory. It makes us feel uncertain, insecure, and (quite frankly) a little bit dumb.

But the difficulty inherent in change doesn’t give us an excuse to avoid it, or to ignore the fact that change is often necessary.

I recently finished reading former Harvard Business School professor John Kotter’s Leading Change. In the book, Kotter outlines the 8 obstacles we’ll face anytime we try to make changes. He then uses case studies, personal experiences, and well-known examples to illustrate the consequences of ignoring these obstacles and to offer practical advice for navigating through them.

Leading Change got me thinking about the change efforts I face every day in my web work here at Bethel, and what I can do to be a part of the solution instead of becoming a potential roadblock.

The obstacles to change:

1. Complacency

For change to happen, everyone involved has to believe that change is needed. So often, we get stuck in our routines and processes that have worked for years and we catch “this is the way it’s done”-itis. We accept the status quo.

This is how we write emails.

This is what our website looks like.

This form is good enough.

But in today’s higher ed climate I need to remind myself that “good enough” is rarely good enough. Our users call for our absolute best. To deliver our best, we need to be willing to change. And before anything can change we all need to have a sense of urgency.

2. Lack of power

This is one I’m sure we all recognize. We know a change is needed. We’ve done the research, developed the strategy, and come up with a process to get it done. But when it comes time to execute we realize that we have little (if any) support.

3. Lack of vision

A lot of times we’ll jump into new projects or try to change things without taking the time at the beginning to create a vision. What’s the change we’re making? Why? What are we hoping for? A lack of vision means that we don’t have any direction, and we’ll quickly lose sight of where we’re trying to go. Plus, the people we’re asking to change won’t have any reason to support us or buy in.

4. Failing to communicate the vision

You’ve created your vision. Great. Dodged that pothole. What do you do with it? Let it sit in your Google Drive to collect (virtual) dust? That doesn’t do much good, does it? To provide our teammates with direction and give them a reason to buy in, it’s not enough to have a vision. We need to share it.

5. Letting obstacles get in the way

Every project has obstacles. That’s just reality. And projects that call for change have even more obstacles than normal because change is hard. You’ll never make changes if you let these obstacles stop you. If you believe in your change and want to see it succeed, you must be relentless.

6. Failing to create short-term wins

When you’re trying to make changes, the big picture is important. Where are we and where do we want to end up?

But it’s a long, hard road from here to there. And to stay motivated and focused we need some wins in the middle. We need reasons to celebrate, signs of success, affirmation that all our efforts are worthwhile. Think of it as stopping for ice cream in the middle of a family road trip.

Failing to create short-term wins will leave us all exhausted and discouraged.

7. Declaring victory too soon

When is a change effort done? If you’re changing your email strategy, are you done when the first new email is sent?

Don’t even think about it. Real change runs deep. The job isn’t done until the change becomes the reality. When it’s ingrained in your processes and your projects to the point that the new way is second nature.

When it’s no longer the “new email strategy,” but just the “email strategy.”

8. Ignoring organizational culture

Now that the new way is accepted as business as usual, it needs to become a part of how we operate and how we think. It needs to become part of our culture, part of our identity and story. Failing to appreciate organizational culture and failing to anchor our change efforts in the culture will lead to regression. We’ll use the new process while it’s fresh in our minds, but what about 6 months from now? A year? Five years?

There you have it. 8 obstacles. It’s a bit overwhelming.

But there is hope. Change is possible. And in my next 8 posts I’ll dig into each of these obstacles and do my best to offer some tips and strategies (some that we’ve used, some aspirational) for leading change.