Making collaboration magic

By Heidi Sundin and Hamish Anderson

For centuries we believed ‘knowledge is power’.  In the 21st century the belief is shifting to recognise that ‘collaboration is power’.

Isn’t it ironic that it has taken until the 21st century for a term which is derived from Latin to rise to such prominence. We have finally moved into an era where there is growing understanding of the magic that collaboration can bring in creating ideas, actions and momentum to solve issues, large and small.

Collaboration is more than an alliance, relationship, network or a partnership. Meaningful collaboration arises from the coming together of people with greatly differing experiences and views, united by a common mindset and goal.

Hamish and I have both worked in many different types of collaborations and in our experience the coming together of different knowledge sets, organisations, groups and individuals enables a process of discovery that spans disciplinary divides; and ultimately one that creates something unique. So, we thought we’d share with you our views on the key ingredients to making collaborations successful.

Common purpose

From the outset it is important to be really clear about the common purpose the collaboration is working towards. Of course individual parties may have specific goals and interests in participating in collaborative efforts, but we believe there needs to be an overarching common goal.

There may be times in collaborative processes where the different interests of participants are in conflict, so having clarity over ‘why’ you are collaborating and your common purpose can break down impasses, and bring discussions back to the reason you’re all there.

Rules of engagement

Collaborations often involve different organisations, groups or people who come together to share IP, ideas, and engage in various ideation processes. To ensure there is mutual benefit from the collaboration (in whatever form that benefit takes) it is essential that you determine the rules or key principles of engagement.

What we’ve found works well for us is to adopt the principles: ‘openness’ ‘curiosity’ and a ‘high level of debate’.  As collaborators we acknowledge that from open and rigorous debate better solutions will emerge. Part of signing up to these principles is that debate is always about the interrogation of ideas not about the person putting them forward.

Being open

If we wanted to get to an answer that we already ‘kind of knew’ there would be little point in collaborating. For collaborations to be successful, the people within them must be genuinely open to pushing the boundaries – committed to discovery and the belief that through sharing they will arrive at an answer they never could have in isolation.

Trust in your collaborators

Sharing brings some vulnerability. There are different types of trust: contractual trust, competence trust and goodwill trust. In collaborations, a higher reliance on competence trust (trust that the individual / collaborator has the abilities to perform the task) and goodwill trust (trust that the individual has the intent to perform the task) will more likely lead to better outcomes as they provide a platform for more open and creative engagement.

Trust in the process

The process of discovery and invention can take you down uncomfortable paths that you may not have arrived at alone. To uncover the gold that comes from collaboration, give yourself over to the process, rather than fixate on the immediate solutions and outcomes.

Utilise new tools available

Collaboration is not just a talk fest, and it’s important to capture the thoughts, ideas and decisions as you go. If you cannot get into the same room, there are many online cloud based collaboration tools that can be used to bring your teams together in a virtual space and record the process. Consider using tools such as: Stormboard,  Confluence, Trello and Google Drive – these tools allow the collaborative team to brainstorm, organize, prioritize ideas, create a shared workspace to chat, share documents, work on documents together and move things along.

Bringing it together

Collaboration is magical. By working together collaborations provides us a powerful process of discovery to take knowledge and creativity to a new place.

Those who do not believe in magic will never find it.” – Roald Dahl

Collaboration is about achieving something purposeful – be it a specific outcome, open innovation, or the skill of collaboration itself – but for long lasting collaborations we believe that a large part of it should also be fun! So, above all else, we encourage you to incorporate fun, joy, and energy into your collaborations.

About the authors

Heidi Sundin is a management consultant working with businesses to drive growth. Her approach is to collaborate with leaders and teams to develop customer centric tailored solutions. Her experience spans creating transformational programs and change across corporate, professional services, academic, government and the non-for-profit sectors. 

Hamish Anderson is the Founder and Director at Mesh Consulting. Hamish is passionate about pushing the envelope and has a track record of success across offline & online marketing, strategy development, customer acquisition, web, SEM, social and content development.

Career choices: a linear path or add a little colour?

By Heidi Sundin

Looking for a role is a challenging process. As I’ve looked for roles at different points in my career I’ve often had the feedback ‘you’re very colourful’, ‘I don’t know how to place you as you’ve done lots of different things’, ‘you need to pick one path to go down’.

A linear career path takes more of a straight line with fewer twists and turns into related or different fields. There are loads of benefits to taking a more linear approach such as incredible depth of knowledge in one subject matter area or skill set, networks specific to your subject matter, building a portfolio of demonstrated success in an area, developing heuristics to create short cut solutions when familiar problems arise, and clear next steps in your career.

It is always a delicate balance to strike between working on something that you love and are passionate about, making money, and making ‘sensible’ choices that enhance your CV. For many people the linear path will be aligned with their passions and that’s wonderful, but for many others the steps in their career can take a more meandering path.

The advice one receives in making these choices is often conflicting, with “helpful comments” such as:

  • ‘There’s no such thing as a linear career path – don’t let anyone tell you that’
  • ‘Follow your passions’
  • ‘Life’s too short – love what you do’
  • ‘You need depth – stick with it even if you hate it’
  • ‘Choose a career based on the characteristics that are important to you’
  • ‘Keep moving – if you stay still too long you get overtaken’

Mostly in my career have taken a path that is winding. There are common themes and principles in my choices – I find really interesting and complex problems to solve where I believe I’m best placed to make a real and tangible difference through a strategic, engaging and collaborative approach, with disciplined project management and execution.

The question of whether to take a more linear career path or to follow your passions that may take you in different directions is a personal one to answer and comes down to what’s right and authentic for you.

One of my favourite books is Sideways To The Top by Norah Breekeldt. The book follows the paths of 10 exceptional women who have become leaders in their field – either CEOs or owners of their own firms. Breekeldt explores the concept that the path to the top is not linear and rather may require sideways moves. The sideways moves that these women have taken shows how they built their breath of skills, experiences and networks necessary for the CEO role – and got to the top in non-linear and unpredictable ways.

What makes you exceptional through your non-linear path?

As a non-linear candidate you can provide great benefits to teams and organisations – that are not always obvious from reading your CV. So if you’re like me and you’ve chosen a path that’s the road less travelled here are some of the great things that give you an edge to add to your narrative.

High level of comfort with uncertainty and agility: In today’s organisations with so much change, transformation, disruption and convergence of industries – if you’ve worked in lots of different environments it can often mean you are more comfortable with change and can adjust to restructures more easily. The fact that you have moved outside comfort zones could mean that you are more comfortable taking risks and going hard after opportunities.

Depth in variety: A non-linear path may also mean that you have depth in variety – you know about a lot of things. You may not be the subject matter expert on every topic but you know about how to bring the right people to the table, how to read situations and how to get things done regardless of the circumstances that you are presented with. You can figure out how to solve most problems – because you’ve worked in lots of different areas and usually have a diverse network that you can draw on.

See the linkages and make connections: You can connect the dots which is important for general management and leadership, work across multiple disciplines and speak the language of the disciplines that your people and teams are specialists in. You may see convergence opportunities – because you can draw on different industries and identify how they could fit together. This has the benefit for bringing new ideas and ways of looking at things to an organisation that may be doing the same things in the same ways.

Empathy and consensus building: Getting things done requires seeing the world from another person’s perspective, getting behind the language that a certain discipline may use, and really listening to what someone is saying. Personally I have worked for government, non-profit, academia, professional services and corporate – so I have the ability to try to put myself in the shoes of the person I’m negotiating with to understand what they are really trying to say. The non-linear path can often give you a deeper empathetic understanding that the linear may not.

In my view good organisations will build teams with a combination of employees and leaders with linear and non-linear backgrounds – as this provides a wonderful opportunity to bring new ideas, approaches and viewpoints to deep knowledge and experience.

My tips for the colourful

A couple of hints to make sure that you are able to keep moving forward, sideways, upside-down or which ever direction you would like:

Listen to feedback: Feedback is a gift and while sometimes the feedback you may receive during the recruitment process can be uncomfortable – it is very useful to understand how best to pitch your skill set and experience. Thank you to those recruiters who have taken the time to provide such frank and constructive feedback to me and other candidates.

Listen to yourself: Ultimately you’re the person who has to wake up every day and find inspiration to work on something – so listen to others but most importantly listen to yourself – choose a path that is not just about success but also about fulfilment.

Know your narrative: Since you may not always be the obvious choice it is important that you are well equipped to speak to your strengths, passions and the value that you can bring to an organisation. Make it easy for people to see why you’re the right choice, not necessarily the obvious one.

And finally a tip from Dominic Moore, specialist in search and recruitment:

Keep your networks fresh: Those who know you best know how to use your varied and complex skills to their fullest. Applying for roles when you are colourful can be difficult so be prepared to dig a bit deeper into the ‘hidden’ market to find the opportunities that make the most of who you are and what you do best.

I’d love to hear your stories on how you’ve made choices in your career. What has been some of the feedback, advice, comments you’ve received?

heidisundin.com

Fair go, but she’ll be right – Taking steps to address gender related pay gaps in your organisation

By Heidi Sundin

I’m often asked about the reality of the gender pay gap in organisations – people always seemed shocked that these gaps occur and question whether they are gender related.

So here’s the first thing I always say – it’s great to ask questions about gender pay gaps and be open to a discussion.

The kinds of questions usually asked are

  • Aren’t the pay gaps just related to women who work part-time?
  • How can it be commercial for small businesses to address gender pay gaps?
  • Aren’t pay gaps just about the national average, which is more about participation in the workforce?
  • How do I know if my business has gaps?
  • What can I do if I find any gaps?

These questions are totally understandable because what we often hear reported in the media is the national gender pay gap – which can be harder for individuals to then understand how gender gaps may relate to their own role and organisation.

For you to take action, focus on organisational gender pay gaps

For individuals to feel they can take meaningful action on pay gaps within their organisation, it is more useful to focus on the three types of gaps that typically arise in organisations:

  • Organisation-wide gender pay gap
  • By-level gender pay gaps
  • Like-for-like gender pay gaps

The strategies to address each of these types of pay gaps are different and I’m going to focus on how best to address like-for-like gender pay gaps (same job, same performance rating, different pay) – as these are the gaps that  are primarily related to conscious and unconscious gender bias in recruitment, promotion, pay and performance decisions.

Identifying like-for-like gender pay gaps – they are real

Like-for-like gaps are pay gaps between women and men undertaking work of equal or comparable value (comparing jobs at the same performance standard), for example, comparing two senior management consultants in the same organisation who perform at the same level.

These like-for-like gender pay gaps are caused by*:

  • Inequality in commencement salaries
  • Bias in performance ratings
  • Bias in performance management system
  • Inequality in access to discretionary pay
  • Negative impact when women negotiate (because either women negotiate less or because there is often a gender backlash when women do negotiate)
  • Cumulative effects of pay inequality
  • Impact of long term leave
  • Impact of part-time employment
  • Discrimination (conscious and unconscious)

And yes these are real, with evidence and anecdotes from both the employee and employer side. Many employers who I have worked with over the years initially could not believe they had like-for-like gender pay gaps and it was only  after conducting a payroll analysis they identified these gaps were occurring.

I have been contacted by numerous women since working in the field of gender equality who have shared reasons given by employers for receiving lower pay than their male colleagues in the same role such as ‘well he has a family to look after’ and ‘he has financial commitments’. To be clear remuneration needs to be based on the role and responsibilities, performance and outcomes. Personal circumstances are irrelevant in determining how much an employee is paid.

And what can you do about it?

It is important is to recognise that like-for-like gender pays gaps are rarely intentional and may have been the result of a range of pay and performance decisions. Addressing these gaps is not about placing blame or pointing fingers – it is about looking objectively at the data to understand if there are issues and tailoring solutions to addressing them. Here’s some simple steps that both large and small organisations can do:

  • Become aware of the issues, what causes gender pay gaps and the business case for addressing these issues
  • Ensure commitment from the top level of leadership to address pay equity
  • Conduct a payroll analysis (there’s great resources you can download for free to do this)
  • Develop a strategy and action plan specific to the issues you find
  • Continue to review and monitor gaps

Detailed resources on specific pay equity strategies and actions can be found on the WGEA website here.

It is a core value of Australians that everyone deserves a fair go, but we also have the approach that ‘she’ll be right’ – we want fairness, but we often assume it or passively support it, often ignoring the issues when they arise rather than being proactive.

Sometimes we have to stare at the cold hard reality of data, if you conduct a gender payroll analysis and find no like-for-like gaps, that’s awesome, keep it up, but if you do – then it’s a great opportunity to demonstrate that you are serious about addressing the issue and promoting a truly fair, merit and performance based workplace by taking real action.

I’d love to hear your questions and experiences related to addressing gender pay gaps within organisations.

*Workplace Gender Equality Agency, Guide to gender pay equity, Practical steps to improve pay equity between women and men in your organisation (available at https://www.wgea.gov.au/sites/default/files/Pay_Equity_Toolkit_Main.pdf)

heidisundin.com