Improving the Rhythm of Your Collaboration

Alternating between always-on connectivity and heads-down focus is essential for problem-solving.

Count-offs at the beginning of musical performances, whether verbal (“One, two…”) or symbolic (with a baton or a snap), are a fixture of live collaboration for musicians. Conductors use them to establish tempo and feel, and to provide guidance on how to interpret the written rhythms — the patterns of sound and silence — that the ensemble is about to play.

Similarly, in the workplace, leaders help set the beat for their organizations’ and teams’ collaborative efforts. For at least a century, they have done this largely by planning working-group meetings, huddles, one-on-ones, milestone reports, steering committee readouts, end-of-shift handoffs, and so on. Through 30-, 60-, and 90-minute calendar meetings scheduled weeks in advance to prevent conflicts and at odd times to accommodate global team members, they have established the patterns of active interaction (“sound”) and individual work (“silence”) that form the rhythms of their employees’ collaboration.

But such rhythms have gotten much more complex and less controlled in recent years. Organizations now have a treasure chest of digital tools for collaboration — Slack, Teams/Skype, Chatter, Yammer, Jive, Zoom, Webex, Klaxoon — that they didn’t have before. (The global collaboration software market was $8 billion in 2018 and is projected to double to $16 billion by 2025.1) Add to that email, texting, and messaging, along with the meetings that haven’t gone away, and the math is telling: Research shows that executives spend an average of nearly 23 hours per week in meetings (up from less than 10 hours 50 years ago),2 while McKinsey estimates the average knowledge worker spends 65% of the workday collaborating and communicating with others (including 28% of the day on email).3 So collaboration has gone omnichannel. You can see why orchestrating all of this has become such a challenge.

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