Working at the speed of collaboration and coordination 

by Jamie Flinchbaugh on 03-26-20

Many processes are linear. They occur with defined steps in a defined order. You would traditionally improve a linear process utilizing a process map, or value stream map, to map out the flow and then start taking the waste out. Quite a bit of continuous improvement has been achieved in this fashion.

But some processes are not linear. The steps aren’t predefined, nor can they be. The variables that would affect the sequencing of steps are too many and interrelated to create the linear flow. So how do you work on speed when you can’t pre-define the flow? Then you have to work on, what I call, the speed of collaboration and coordination. Both of these words are about the interactions between individuals, groups, or even different organizations. Coordination is mostly about tasks, whereas collaboration might be about decisions, solutions, or creations of some kind.  How fast and reliably those connections work, fundamentally determines your speed in such a process.

I compare this to what happens on a sports field. Without sharing any opinions on which is better, let’s compare American football to international football or soccer. In American football, you set the play, hike the ball, and then pre-planned, sequential, orchestrated steps occur. Yes, there might be a couple of A, B, C choices, and yes, the whole thing can fall apart into what is called a broken play. But that’s just it, it’s broken, as the whole intent is for the play to occur in a sequenced manner.

Compare that to soccer. You put 11 players on the field, and there is a continuous process of acting and reacting to each other. One player moves inside, so you might decide to swing out around them. One makes a run, and you cover for them. 3 players come together, and you then find a stretched position outside. You are both coordinating and collaborating in a continual and unsequenced manner. The coach can teach you patterns and intentions and ways to react to each other, but ultimately how it comes together will be different each time as you deal with unbounded complexity and creativity. The key then is not simply, do the connections work? In a nonlinear system, the speed with which you make decisions, form connections, change shape and form new connections are just as important (see the video as an example). It’s the speed of collaboration and connection…how fast can you organize those relationships in a purposeful way?

The same is true for processes that aren’t linear within your organization. How fast can you organize those relationships in a purposeful way? This requires good process design of the connections between tasks or orgs, because you may not know when those connections are called upon. It requires a common lens and language to align your organization to assess the current state of the situation. It requires clearly defined roles that allow groups to organize quickly. And it requires standard methods for collaboration, such as how you perform problem-solving, so that you can get straight to the work.

In today’s world where conditions can change very quickly, whether it’s a new market trend, big swings in commodity prices, trade restrictions, competitive threats, and so on. The challenges that we face aren’t necessarily bigger or more threatening than in the past, but they do occur faster. And that is why the speed of collaboration and coordination can be its own competitive advantage.