Focus big F, little f

I come back from my summer vacation to a desk stacked to the ceiling with stuff. Six months of expense reports, “strategic initiatives”, docs that need to be written, projects in every phase of completion, and, having actually struggled through the paper work, I’ve sat down to look at the article I’ve promised I’d flesh out on measuring the ROI of Collaboration.

So, I’m researching productivity, ROI calculations, historical information for comparison, etc and I’ve come back to the conclusion that sure, you can do an adequate job of measuring ROI in terms of it saving x% of time and money, etc. But the key to productivity for knowledge workers is Focus and focus.

Focus – knowledge work is often a swarm of activities – strategies, requirements, research, communication, project management, follow ups – an endless and endlessly evolving to do list which can be difficult to remember track or manage. This leads to two focus problems – little f focus – where I get interrupted so many times, I can’t recall what it was I was in the middle of, till I close down a few windows at the end of the day and find the email or doc I was half way through when I got distracted by twitter, a link, an email a visit, need to go to the loo, etc.

Then there’s big F focus. The big F focus is about working on the right stuff so thatyour labors, and that of your colleagues, actually makes real progress toward a particular goal. Both are important, and both can actually be aided (or hindered!) by collaboration and collaborative technologies.

Big F focus requires careful thought, direction and a keen sense of the value you’re trying to bring to your audience. Big F is about leadership – which is obviously not a technology. Or is it?

Leadership can’t be created by technology, but it can be supported and enhanced. Technologies that enable better communication amongst and between people in an organization give leaders an opportunity to better understand what is actually going on in the organization, and to better communicate goals. It means that leaders can keep focus on what matters by keeping goals and progress visible, by constant discussion and reaffirmation of direction, and by continual refinement and adjustment in response to what the team learns and the world does.

A lot of attention and press is given to leadership blogs, but there are very few (though certainly some) companies where the leadership and corporate culture support this kind of ongoing dialog about goals and how to meet them. Goals are announced annually, and much ado is made around creating some powerpoint slides. This is good – but as the year unfolds, thinking and circumstances evolves. Some of this evolution occurs in the inner sanctum of the leadership – more occurs in the broader team as they go out and on. The challenge is to bring these together so that the team and leadership can be in a constant feedback loop, constantly optimizing, focusing, aligning.

The ultimate value of collaboration in organizations is this ability to support Focus and focus, while leveraging the collective intelligence to fulfill the objective.

Technologies help here by enabling creation of a unified world view for the team, needs to keep goals, tasks and deadlines organized and in front, and support unfettered dialog amongst and between people so that they can see each other’s thinking unfold.

But tech is not the key issue. For this to work, organizations need to foster a culture where dialog is encouraged – where questions are thoughtful, where bad news is as welcome as good so that course correction is expected, welcome and planned for. Professional teams trust and respect each other and share (and foster) the thrill of a common mission and constructive debate.

So – how do we move from the maelstrom into focus? The key is communication. When I know what we’re working toward, and who’s doing what and how I can contribute, when the dialog and discussion around it is lively, I am focused. Multiply by the number of people on the team, and in the organization, and there you have it. Simple, right? Not. But shared workspaces, fluid communication, and general awareness help. A good collaborative tool supports all of these.

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4 comments

  1. I read your article today and had a few random ideas about it that I thought I’d share.

    You mention the ‘C’ word near the end of your article – culture. I think this might be one area where these emerging technologies might be of use. Think of the large organizations where you’ve worked. They all have a culture, but is it the culture that top management desires? This is a lot longer term problem than a single year’s objectives, its a persistent, long term issue.

    Because “memes” tend to proliferate quickly via social media, it would be interesting to read about a study of an attempt to change a company’s base culture (or bring back the old one before it was lost) via social media.

    This is a persistent problem in organizations once the culture defining founders exit the organization. A great example of this is Hewlett and Packard and the HP Company. If you read David Packard’s old classic book “The HP Way” you can almost smell the commitment that these two had to growing an organization through their goals and values. Yet, once the older generation left, commitment to this culture deteriorated badly.

    Some of these problems are problems of size, but social media might have a way of mitigating these size problems to a certain degree.

    (BTW, the chapter in Innovator’s Dilemma about HP Laser and Inkjet printers and the HP Way itself are both good reads about how culture and innovation can work in an orgainzation)

  2. Good blog. A good collaboration tool (like Social Media) definitely fosters communication, culture and ultimately focus.

    Now, I am off to F(f)ocus.

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