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July 2, 2024
The (Essential) Power of Extraordinary Collaboration

At Intelligent Futures, we are guided by four core values that shape our approach:

  • Always striving for positive impact: We are committed to making a difference in everything we do.
  • Staying curious: We maintain an insatiable curiosity, always seeking to learn and innovate.
  • Taking courageous action: We embrace boldness and fearlessly pursue new opportunities.
  • Extraordinary collaboration: We believe in the power of working together to achieve remarkable results.

These are all core to our practice, but if we had to choose a keystone value, it likely would be extraordinary collaboration. In this piece, we want to share some insights into the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ of extraordinary collaboration. 

“We don’t want this to just be a plan that sits on a shelf.” - Every person that has worked on a strategic planning initiative, ever

We Need to Rethink Conventional ‘Collaboration’

The conventional approach to collaboration among different groups is flawed at its core. It typically involves one group or individual producing something, sending it off without much context, and then waiting for feedback via a marked up PDF. This back-and-forth of tossing work over a metaphorical fence isn’t collaboration. It’s a document exchange. This is problematic for a few reasons:

Limited interaction: Communication in the document exchange model is largely text-based, leading to potential misunderstandings or lack of immediate clarification. When feedback is provided through written comments, it lacks the nuances of face-to-face conversation, such as tone and body language, which can help clarify intent and meaning. This can result in misinterpretations, requiring additional rounds of clarification and revisions, thereby extending the project timeline and reducing overall efficiency. Moreover, the absence of real-time discussion inhibits iterative idea generation, which are crucial for creative problem-solving and innovation.

Limited attention: In the document exchange model, feedback is often given asynchronously, which means that reviewers might not be fully engaged or focused on the task at hand. They might be reviewing the document amidst other tasks, leading to divided attention and potentially superficial feedback. This lack of dedicated focus can result in important details being overlooked and feedback that is not as thorough or insightful. Additionally, the time lag between sending the document and receiving feedback can disrupt the workflow, causing delays and a loss of momentum in the project.

Inefficient commentary: In the document exchange model, someone is making a comment in isolation, while another person could be making the same comment, or a contradicting comment in isolation as well, leading to hours of navigating inconsistent comments once the document is returned to the authors. This disjointed feedback process not only consumes significant time but also creates confusion and potential conflicts that need to be resolved. The authors then have to spend additional time synthesizing and reconciling these comments, which could have been more effectively managed through direct communication and collaborative discussion. This all leads to creeping inconsistencies and incoherence, eroding the quality of the work.

Time-consuming: The process can be slow, as each round of feedback requires sending and waiting for responses. This asynchronous communication model means that even minor changes or questions can take days or weeks to resolve, especially if the reviewers are in different time zones or have conflicting schedules. The cumulative effect of these delays can significantly extend the project timeline, making it difficult to meet deadlines and increasing the overall cost of the project. Additionally, the time spent managing the document exchange process—sending, receiving, reviewing, and incorporating feedback—detracts from the time that could be spent on more value-added activities, such as refining the content, exploring new ideas or defining implementation.

At Intelligent Futures, we've opted for a different path.

Embracing Extraordinary Collaboration

Extraordinary collaboration isn't just a value we preach; it's woven into the fabric of how we operate. It shapes not only our interactions within the team but also our engagement with communities and our approach to client relationships. It's about transcending the traditional boundaries between "client," "consultant" and “community” and fostering a unified team dedicated to a shared vision.

Rather than tossing ideas over fences and hoping for the best, we dismantle those barriers to foster true collaboration. It's about seeing eye-to-eye, working together towards positive impact, and ultimately achieving success that's built on shared understanding.

True collaboration leads to better results by fostering real-time communication, shared understanding, and enhanced creativity. This approach involves team members working together synchronously, often in the same physical or virtual space, allowing for immediate feedback, dynamic problem-solving, and collective decision-making. Research supports the benefits of this collaborative model in several key areas:

Enhanced Communication: Real-time interaction allows for immediate clarification of ideas and intentions, reducing the risk of misunderstandings. Studies have shown that face-to-face communication or live video conferencing can significantly improve comprehension and retention of information compared to text-based exchanges. The ability to read body language, hear tone of voice, and engage in spontaneous dialogue leads to a richer and more accurate exchange of ideas (Pentland, 2014). This continuous feedback loop helps maintain project momentum and ensures that all team members are on the same page.

Focused Attention: Designed collaboration experiences, whether in person or virtual, encourage participants to dedicate their full attention to the task at hand. This focused environment reduces the risk of distractions and fragmented attention that often accompany asynchronous communication methods. Research indicates that dedicated, uninterrupted work periods are essential for complex problem-solving and high-quality output (Hagemann & Kluge, 2017). By fostering an environment where team members can fully engage with the content, true collaboration enhances the depth and quality of feedback.

Efficient Problem-Solving: In a collaborative setting, team members can address issues and challenges as they arise, leading to quicker resolution and fewer bottlenecks. The immediate nature of this interaction allows for a more iterative process, where ideas can be rapidly tested, refined, and implemented. Research indicates that teams engaging in real-time collaboration are more adaptive and efficient in problem-solving, as they can leverage diverse perspectives and collective expertise. This dynamic approach has been shown to significantly enhance performance on complex tasks, underscoring the effectiveness of collaborative problem-solving (Stolaki et al., 2023).

Increased Creativity: Collaborative environments stimulate creativity by bringing together diverse perspectives and expertise. The collective brainstorming and ideation that occur in real-time discussions often lead to more innovative solutions and ideas. According to Sawyer (2008), collaborative creativity leverages the unique insights and knowledge of each team member, resulting in outcomes that are greater than the sum of their parts. This synergy is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve through isolated, asynchronous document exchanges.

Shared Ownership: When team members work together in real time, they develop a sense of shared ownership and commitment to the project. This collective responsibility enhances motivation and accountability, as each member feels invested in the success of the outcome. Research by Katzenbach and Smith (2015) emphasizes that teams with a strong sense of shared purpose and mutual accountability are more likely to achieve high performance.

True collaboration offers significant advantages over more traditional document exchange methods. Enhanced communication, focused attention, efficient problem-solving, increased creativity, and shared ownership all contribute to better results as we look to navigate complex challenges. 

Sprint, Don’t Walk

“The process achieved multiple goals at once—developing relationships, educating each other on roles, and sharing ideas. Much preferred to emails back and forth!” - Strategy Sprint participant

One of the ways we have committed to extraordinary collaboration is through our Strategy Sprints. Our shorthand for the Sprint is that we lock ourselves in a room with you for three full days, but there is much more to it. 

We have developed a methodology to accelerate extraordinary collaboration through a focused and intensive three-day process designed to foster innovation and ensure efficiency gains and cross-organizational buy-in. We design the Sprint so that we minimize distractions in order to give the problem our best collective thinking. 

Building on earlier stages of a strategy process that involves research and engagement, the Strategy Sprint brings together key members of the project team to build the core elements of a strategy, together. Over the course of three days, an incredible amount of work takes place. The typical path of the Strategy Sprint is shown below.

The Strategy Sprint is designed to collaboratively move towards increasing focus on action that contributes towards a shared vision for the future.

“You are onto something very powerful here. This will help change the face of municipalities (and government). Keep at it!” - Strategy Sprint participant

The Strategy Sprint has many benefits for organizations and teams.

Alignment with Core Values: The Strategy Sprint interweaves our core values—staying curious; always striving for positive impact; taking courageous action; and extraordinary collaboration—into every step. This ensures our strategic plans not only aligns with our values but also embodies them, fostering a culture that is true to our principles.

Rapid Iteration: The three-day format instills a sense of urgency, prompting teams to iterate rapidly and make decisions efficiently. This agility accelerates the development process, reducing time-to-implementation and enabling quicker adaptation to changes.

Cross-Organizational Buy-In: Collaboration is at the heart of our Strategy Sprint. With representatives from various departments working together intensively, cross-organizational buy-in is naturally achieved. This collective involvement enhances mutual understanding and support for the strategic plan.

Strategic Plan Ownership: The Strategy Sprint ensures that the strategic plan is co-created by those who will ultimately implement it. This hands-on involvement fosters a sense of ownership, commitment, and accountability, ensuring the plan is practical and executable.

Shared Focus: Through an intentional process design built on collaboration, your team experiences a unique level of shared focus on the complex challenge you’re addressing. This concentrated effort provides new clarity on a path forward to make meaningful change.

Team Building: It is rare that team members are given the gift of extended and focused time together. The Strategy Sprint builds a sense of teamwork and camaraderie, strengthening relationships and improving collaboration across the board.

Added Capacity: By experiencing the Strategy Sprint process, your organization will develop new abilities and skills to effectively collaborate, navigate complexity, and take meaningful action. This capacity-building is a lasting benefit that extends beyond the sprint itself.

Time Efficiency: We recognize that committing to three full days is a significant investment. However, the results achieved are typically what one might expect from a 3-6 month process, making it a highly efficient use of everyone’s valuable time. The intensive format ensures focused effort and rapid progress.

By integrating these benefits, our Strategy Sprint not only produces a strategic plan that aligns with and embodies our core values but also enhances team dynamics, organizational capacity, and overall efficiency.

“I see what you’re doing here. We can get so much more done in these three days than we ever could in 21 one-hour meetings.” - Strategy Sprint participant

If you are in a complex organization and/or are facing a complex challenge, let us know if we can help. Extraordinary collaboration is the cornerstone of generating meaningful change to complex challenges - this is how we avoid the proverbial plan that sits on a shelf. Contact us today to learn more about how our Strategy Sprint can help your organization reach its full potential.