Collaboration in IT: a Crowdsourced Perspective

Collaboration in ITSM
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Collaboration. It seems to be one of the hottest words in business, let alone IT service management (ITSM), right now. But how do you and your colleagues -plus other business contacts – get better at collaboration? To help, I asked a number of clever people to share some practical advice on how to improve collaboration within and between teams. This crowdsourced article is the result.

Patrick Bolger

Patrick Bolger, Chief Evangelist at Hornbill

If you want to drive up employee collaboration on your IT service desk, within wider IT operations, and across your organization, then I recommend following these five key steps for creating the right environment for effective collaboration.

  1. Reduce the pressure, and make the room for increased collaboration, with self-service
  2. Acknowledge the barriers to collaboration
  3. Recognize that the role of leadership is critical
  4. Technology must be the change enabler
  5. Watch out for the common pitfalls of collaboration.

These five steps are explained in more detail in my accompanying ITSM.tools article plus you can find out even more by downloading the Hornbill Creating effective collaboration in the remote working organization paper from which the article was created.

Recognize that the role of leadership is critical to your collaboration efforts, and realize that technology must be the change enabler – @patb0512 #Collaboration #ITSM Click To Tweet
Rob England

Rob England, Managing Director at Two Hills Ltd.

I’d like to offer one quick tip: cross-training. Pick a skill that team A can share with team B, and another that B can share with A. Then run alternate training sessions. It’s a great way to build mutual awareness, understanding, and respect.

Want to improve collaboration between teams? Invest in cross training says, @rob_england, it’s a great way to build mutual awareness, understanding, and respect. #ITSM #Collaboration Click To Tweet
Liliana Gary

Liliana Gary, CEO at InvGate

Collaboration within teams is paramount, but fostering effective collaboration between different teams is just as crucial. This holds especially true for IT organizations in the current landscape of work, where teams can start to feel self-contained and isolated. Bearing this in mind, here are three techniques that every company should consider when assessing how to improve collaboration.

  1. Agree on a common mission that’s clear, collaborative, and inspiring. Teams need a cause to rally behind. When you’re trying to create cohesion between teams, you need to present a convincing mission for your company that everyone can feel part of and help build toward. Explain what the company aspires to accomplish, and convey the importance of their part within the stated mission. Team members will feel more passionately about these goals and objectives, leading to better collaboration.
  2. Encourage an idea-sharing culture. The fear of speaking out of turn, or seeming out of their depth, is stifling for team members. In order to encourage participation and bolster innovation, create a judgment-free environment where everyone can share their ideas, question the “why” of things, and explore new possibilities without fear of rejection. The best ideas often come from unexpected sources.
  3. Implement collaboration tools. Everything we know about organization and collaboration has shifted over the last year. Remote work, either full-time or partial, will remain a part of our organizations for the foreseeable future. For this reason, keeping teams connected to each other is crucial in fostering a collaborative environment and avoiding “work bubbles.” A digital workspace is a great solution to accomplish this goal. Collaboration software with multi-departmental support that helps teams connect with each other via channels, instant messaging, and ticket creation, will go a long way towards replicating that in-person collaboration experience employees are missing out on.
When you’re trying to create cohesion between teams, you need to present a convincing mission for your company that everyone can feel part of and help build toward – @LiliGary #collaboration #ITSM Click To Tweet
Karen Ferris Photo

Karen Ferris, Organizational Change Management Rebel with a Cause at karenferris.com

Leaders need to be Connectors both within and between teams. The leader as a Connector creates cultural experiences and means of engagement that allow for better collaboration. You can read more about this here.

Leaders need to be Connectors both within and between teams. The leader as a Connector creates cultural experiences and means of engagement that allow for better collaboration – @KarenFerris #Collaboration #ITSM Click To Tweet
Rajesh Ganesan

Rajesh Ganesan, Vice President at ManageEngine

Data collected during the last 20 years indicates that both employees and managers are spending 50% more time collaborating at work. Related stats also tell us that employees are four times more likely to stay at their company when their boss acts on their feedback.

A good relationship between leaders and their teams plays a major role in how successful collaboration is in your company. To make this relationship a good one, you need to focus on the three Rs of collaboration: responsibility, reflection, and resources.

  1. Responsibility: Create a repository that contains the responsibilities (tasks, activities, and more) of each member of the team, and make it accessible to the entire team. This should ideally be a portal each employee accesses every day and must have a well-defined, transparent set of responsibilities. This solves many problems like lack of clarity of purpose, lack of context in communication, and second-guessing the intent or the purpose of communication.
  2. Reflection: Surveys, success ratings, performance metrics, and other similar methods of measuring collaboration help you reflect on how effective collaboration is in your organization. Creating an open, transparent, and judgement-free space to reflect on the needs and problems of your team members is equally important.
  3. Resources: Create a platform to communicate announcements, context, and intent for various undertakings by different teams and to receive feedback from other team members. You can also use this platform to create smaller chat groups and channels and share resources to help you deal with internal communication and team management.

Having a good understanding of the three Rs and effectively implementing them can serve you well with getting everyday collaboration right, even in the face of major incidents.

A good relationship between leaders and their teams plays a major role in how successful collaboration is in your company. Here @rajesh05 shares three ways to make this relationship a good one. #Collaboration #ITSM Click To Tweet

Julia Harrison, Head of Product at Government Digital Service

All the way back in October 2019 I gave a talk at the SDI Shine conference which aimed to build bridges between ‘traditional’ enterprise ITSM teams and the agile development teams they work with. There was one slide, about how to build relationships across teams, which resonated more than any other:

Building relationships

This drew on my 20+ years’ experience, much of it working with teams in different continents and time zones, having lived through the unsatisfying interactions at the bottom-left of the chart, as well as seeing the benefits of more interactions like those at the top right-hand corner. I wrote a blog post on this going into some more detail.

Then just a few months after my talk, many of us had to adjust to a new reality – that face-to-face interactions wouldn’t be happening much, and possibly for quite a long time. But looking at the chart, even if you cover over the right-hand column, face-to-face interaction, there are still lots of yellow, smiley faces. It is possible to build relationships remotely, as anyone who’s ever become friends or fallen in love online will tell you.

In the blog, I wrote about the value of solving problems together:

“This is rocket fuel for building relationships. Solving a problem with someone (I don’t mean passing a problem back-and-forth, I mean actually working with them), you learn much more about that person than just what they’ve been up to since you last spoke. Is this person detail-oriented or great at seeing the bigger picture? Are they super-technical? Are they the one who seems to know almost everyone in the company? Do they know the history of all the weird, creaky legacy systems? Are they full of energy and excited by the most difficult problems? Are they a stickler for the rules, or more pragmatic and flexible? You don’t have to ask these things, you’ll learn by working with them.

When you and your teammates get to really know your colleagues in another team, the barriers to communication come down. You’ll talk more often because you’ll know each other, and you’ll get to know each other because you talk more often. It’s a virtuous circle and everyone wins.”

I’ve come to realize since then just how much each of us values in-person conversation over, say, video calls varies from one person to another. Some of my extroverted colleagues, who recoup their energy by being around people, have found remote working has added to the stresses of the pandemic. Introverts like me, on the other hand, who tend to recharge by spending time alone, have been relatively comfortable with much less face-to-face interaction. And some people with disabilities have found being away from workplaces and public spaces that aren’t well suited to their needs to be a huge positive for their overall wellbeing.

With many organizations planning a permanent shift to remote or hybrid working, being aware of – and empathetic towards – other people’s needs, working styles, and preferences will be more important than ever. These are the things you learn by getting to know people one-to-one, which – as the enduring friendships I’ve made across continents remind me – remains the best way to build relationships across teams.

Being aware of – and empathetic towards – other people's needs, working styles, and preferences remains the best way to build relationships across teams – @JuliaFromIT #Collaboration #ITSM Click To Tweet
Sami Kallio

Sami Kallio, CEO at HappySignals

It’s an obvious thing to say but the best place to start with the improvement of employee collaboration within and between teams is to assess the status quo – i.e. what’s currently available, what works, what doesn’t, and what’s needed going forward. Especially as the new ways of working continue to evolve post-pandemic

It’s also important to appreciate the need for employee collaboration capabilities to remote workers – our experience data shows us this. At the start of the pandemic, remote workers were most unhappy with their technology – in particular, VPN access and their internet connection. Then, once IT departments resolved these issues and as remote work continued, the ergonomics of the home office became the issue. Because employees were missing their second screen and other office equipment that they didn’t have access to at home.

Once these needs were met, the challenges of collaboration with colleagues received more attention from employees. Especially as people realized that collaborating in person might never go back to what it was before, the best practices for collaborating remotely became more important than before.

Given this evolution of employee issues, it’s also worth ensuring that the improvement of collaboration capabilities is their current top priority. Because other employee-enabling factors might first need addressing ahead of collaboration.

It’s an obvious thing to say but the best place to start with the improvement of employee collaboration within and between teams is to assess the status quo – @SamiKallioHki #Collaboration #ITSM Click To Tweet
Melanie Karunaratne

Melanie Karunaratne, Independent

Improving team collaboration starts with laying a strong foundation by identifying and communicating the service management teams’ shared purpose and objectives – what are they working towards or do they plan to achieve? This will ensure everyone is pulling in the same direction. 

Equally as important are the shared tools and processes. If teams are using the same ITSM tool, then collaboration is easier. However many organizations are in the process of migrating between tools or have departments using different tools. It’s essential in these situations that the team is at the very least using the same language and standards. For example a shared definition of a Priority 1 ticket or when to open a problem record. 

A priority for service management leaders should be to enable teams to stay connected, engaged, and collaborative. As a leader, it’s important to ensure everyone is aware of the achievements and value that the team is bringing to the business collectively. Part of a leader’s mandate is also to participate in leadership coordination with peers to ensure collaboration takes place and is seen to be taking place, top-down.

As more offices move to remote working, it may be necessary to provide additional opportunities for feedback within a team and from those external to a team. For example, through self-service portals, Slack, or Microsoft Teams channels.

As a leader, it’s important to ensure everyone is aware of the achievements and value that the team is bringing to the business collectively – @melkarunaratne #Collaboration #ITSM Click To Tweet

Simon Nugent, CEO at Alemba

At Alemba, we’ve found that one of the biggest contributors to poor collaboration within and between teams is silo thinking. A resistance to sharing resources and people can be extremely detrimental to the well-being of team members and the overall functioning of an organization.

Many modern businesses have started to move away from a strict hierarchical business structure to explore inclusive, agile models that are more supportive of collaboration and open communication.

It’s thus increasingly important to create a culture that will drive innovation through collaboration and ensure that individual team members feel they’re valued, and their ideas are heard and acted upon.

At Alemba, we’ve been exploring practices and tools that improve engagement within teams and help to keep everyone on the same page:

  • Standardizing processes and practices across departments and functional areas of the company.
  • Establishing “crews.” This is based on Richard D. Bartlett’s concept of “microsolidarity” and involves forming smaller, high-impact teams of 5-8 people that support one another to do meaningful work.
  • Trialling the latest collaboration tools that focus on collective intelligence and group decision-making. This includes tools such as:
    • Loomio, which helps teams avoid unnecessary meetings by taking discussions online
    • Miro, which offers a more collaborative approach to meetings and workshops (that does not involve “death by PowerPoint”)
    • Hylo, an innovative community management tool that supports lateral communication to break down silos
It’s increasingly important to create a culture that will drive innovation through collaboration and ensure that individual team members feel they’re valued, and their ideas are heard and acted upon.– @SimonJNugent #Collaboration #ITSM Click To Tweet

Jason Stonehouse, Director, Global Services PMO at Akamai Technologies

From my experience, collaboration is best when three key elements are met:

  1. It’s low-friction,
  2. It’s persistent, and
  3. It’s dynamic.

Now let’s address what each of these elements mean. For “low-friction,” being able to move in and out of a collaboration space should require a minimal amount of extra effort for a team member to be able to interact. If your “collaboration platform” is separate from your normal workflow, it won’t succeed unless it’s either forced from the top (in which case it will be resisted) or it has another very strong attractor (it’s what everyone else is already using).

How about “persistent”? Working within and across global teams, many chat platforms just don’t work well when you’re in a team whose local working hours are significantly offset from others. It’s for this reason that tools like Slack have taken off while other instant messaging platforms have fallen behind. Being able to drop in on active conversation while delayed by several hours and being able to both catch up and jump into threads means that the collaboration persists even when some of the team is offline.

Now finally for “dynamic,” this is perhaps the most obvious need but often the hardest to develop. If no one is using a collaboration space, then no one will want to use it. People are social creatures, even us introverts. Being able to hop into an active space and seeing a discussion will create an impulse to participate. Recognizing that the discussions evolve and change means that stagnation cannot establish roots. It’s what makes platforms like Facebook and Twitter so successful. When we open our Facebook timeline or our Twitter feed, we see a stream of active discussions that we feel drawn to participate in.

You can find out more about what this looks like in Jason’s ITSM.tools article on collaboration.

Collaboration is best when three key elements are met: It’s low-friction, it’s persistent, and it’s dynamic. Here @JasonStonehouse explains more. #Collaboration #ITSM Click To Tweet
Dave Van Herpen

Dave van Herpen, Independent Consultant at Van Herpen Impact Consultancy

Successful collaboration within and between teams requires at least four key ingredients: shared goals, optimal transparency, effective communication (aligned autonomy), and supporting constraints (enabling system). However, in my experience, the absolute catalyzer for true collaboration is the ability to continuously make small, incremental steps towards the desired collaborative behavior. 

When trying to improve collaboration, within or between teams, organizations rely too heavily on frameworks, processes, alignment events, or introducing roles to facilitate collaboration. Sure, all these things (attempt to) provoke heavier collaboration, but in reality, they often lead to overhead, over-structuring, and long feedback loops. 

Instead, have your team (or team of teams) agree on a few specific and observable behaviors, make them a visible part of the experimentation and learning loops, and enable the team(s) to build further on these incremental behaviors. 

Your role as a manager or leader: enable the teams, inspire them, encourage them. And always ask them the most powerful question of all: “Which behavior do you need from me for you to be successful?” Together, embark on this incremental journey toward effective collaboration within or between teams.

In my experience the absolute catalyzer for true collaboration is the ability to continuously make small, incremental steps towards the desired collaborative behavior – @daveherpen #Collaboration #ITSM Click To Tweet
Andy Walsh

Andy Walsh, Chief Operating Office at Vivantio

Collaboration is so crucial between and within teams. It’s something that we at Vivantio have thought about a lot, especially as we are 100% remote working at the moment and will probably never really go back to the office full time. We have still got a lot of work to do but a few of the approaches we take are:

  • Daily stand-ups for the whole UK office. Easier for us than some, with 20 staff in the UK office, but just having that daily 15 minute chat about what’s happening that day in the different teams is so important. It’ll never replace being in the office in person but being able to share issues and good news stories all together as a team is invaluable.
  • Using technology to enable that collaboration. It’s obvious to say but using Microsoft Teams to foster collaboration within a team and across teams really helps and I think everyone is so used to video calls now that it actually seems strange not to have your webcam on when having a meeting whether that be a 1-2-1 or group meeting.
  • Cross functional teams. There are quite a few times when different teams need to come together to discuss and collaborate on a project and having a structure in place to foster that cross functional interaction stops teams working in silos.

It’s a balancing act to not have too many meetings. So we try not to overdo it and not have meetings for the sake of it and keep the meetings as short as possible. Otherwise, it all becomes a blocker, but if there was one thing that I’d see as so important it’s simply communication.  

Another couple of things at a company level we do:

  • About 18 months ago we implemented EOS (https://www.eosworldwide.com) which allows to really focus as a business, align all the teams with common goals, gives visibility to all the teams about the company direction and how they’re directly contributing to it along with clear accountability for roles
  • We also gauge employee engagement with www.officevibe.com which is a quick easy way to take the pulse of the company and employees and look for areas for improvement. Whether this is communication with peers, collaboration within teams, staff wellbeing, etc… It’s something we monitor closely and find real value in doing.
Daily standups (yes via webcam) are helpful to collaboration. It’ll never replace being in the office in person but being able to share issues and good news stories all together as a team is invaluable – Andy Walsh, @Vivantio… Click To Tweet
Dena Wieder-Freiden

Dena Wieder-Freiden, Product Marketing Manager at SysAid

When it comes to collaboration within and between teams at any organization, there are two main issues. The first part is the “soft” function, specifically those soft skills that will invite teamwork and mutual successes. For example:

  • True desire to collaborate – ensure that all parties involved are actually interested in collaborating. Explain the benefits. If you’ve any lone wolves on the team, work on moving them over by positioning it as an opportunity for professional growth, or find them tasks that are more conducive to individual contributions.
  • No ego – one for all and all for one. That’s the motto to carry into all collaborative efforts, no matter where you are in the manager-employee hierarchy.
  • Trust your colleagues – believe that they’ll do what they say they’ll do. Without that trust, the relationship is going to be lost right at its foundation. This one is probably the hardest because trust is not automatic, it needs to be built up. How can you do that? By holding each other accountable and doing so in a “public” manner, such as a progress report that’s shared within the team.

It’s worth noting that it makes no difference if the teams are working remotely or if they’re physically in the same space. 

The second part is the technological part. According to Gartner, one of the technology building blocks for the digital workspace is collaboration. Think of all the ways we can use technology today to collaborate. 

Here are a few good ideas to incorporate, if you haven’t done so already:

  • Automated workflows can ensure that everyone is working together – connect IT, business applications, and people with automation and workflows. Your digitized workflows will promote team and interdepartmental collaboration. A good example is the employee onboarding process.
  • Service Management via collaboration tools keeps everyone engaged – what are you using at your organization? Microsoft Teams? Slack? Think about integrating your collaboration tool into your service desk. Sending messages and notifications from within a ticket directly to teams and individuals via the collaboration app they use will not only make your ITSM tasks more efficient, but it’ll also provide a wonderful user experience for the employees. And it works both ways – meaning, you need to also let employees open IT tickets directly from their collaboration tool of choice.
  • Virtual meetings help us work together – this one is more a reflection on reality rather than a new idea or tip. But I’d feel remiss if I didn’t mention the biggest example for collaboration in today’s world. It’s Zoom of course, or any other virtual meeting platform. 
NO EGO! One for all and all for one. That’s the motto to carry into all collaborative efforts, no matter where you are in the manager-employee hierarchy – @denawf #collaboration #ITSM Click To Tweet
Paul Wilkinson Photo

Paul Wilkinson, Business Development Director at GamingWorks

Effective collaboration requires practice, feedback, coaching, and time to improve. But it also needs a shared definition. We cover this in our simulation workshops and what typically happens is this.

At the start of the simulation, I ask the participants (in my role as CEO) what collaborative behaviors look like, and record the answers. For example:

  • We listen to each other
  • We ask questions
  • We respect each other
  • We have shared goals
  • We own our responsibilities
  • We help each other.

Each team usually comes up with a different list, with different behaviors. So, think about this:

“If we’ve never defined and agreed on the desired behaviors, then how can we give feedback and ensure that we consistently perform these behaviors.” 

Everybody is “doing collaboration” as they understand it. So, for example, if management teams don’t know what behaviors they’re trying to foster, then how can they expect teams to mindread and know what’s expected?

Thus, successful collaboration needs a consensus on what it is and the behaviors that are required.

You can find out more about how disjointed teams usually are, when it comes to what constitutes the right behaviors for successful collaboration (and applying them), by reading Paul’s latest ITSM.tools article.

Successful collaboration needs a consensus on what it is and the behaviors that are required – @gamingpaul #collaboration #ITSM Click To Tweet

Hopefully, all the collaboratione insight above has been helpful. If you have questions, opinions, or helpful guidance to share, then please use the comments section below.

Marketing Manager at Socommunity

Sophie is a freelance ITSM marketing consultant, helping ITSM solution vendors to develop and implement effective marketing strategies.

She covers both traditional areas of marketing (such as advertising, trade shows, and events) and digital marketing (such as video, social media, and email marketing). She is also a trained editor.

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