Tag Archives: collaborative working

Managing your productivity in a collaborative climate

By Elisabeth Goodman, 14th July 2018

Collaboration_HBR JulyAug2018

Harvard Business Review, July-August 2018, pp134-137

Collaborative working is on the rise – at the cost of individual productivity

Speaking from experience

This will not be news to people who are continuously wrestling against the demands of their e-mails, meetings, phone calls and interruptions from colleagues.

Matrix working, multi-tasking on projects and interacting with colleagues, customers and suppliers across time-zones is very much the model for many of the people that we work with at RiverRhee.

The consequence is that people struggle to find time for their ‘own work’: to focus single-mindedly on tasks that need to get done, to read and reflect, to make good decisions, to do their strategic thinking, to be at their most creative if they do this best on their own.

The statistics

Rob Cross et al in “Collaboration without burnout”, Harvard Business Review, July-August 2018 (pp.134-137) have some statistics for us.  According to the Connected Commons, the demand for collaborative interactions such as those described above has increased by 50% in the last 10 years; and most managers spend at least 85% of their time doing them.

It doesn’t have to be like this

“Collaborative overload” (as defined in a 2016 HBR article by one of the co-authors) is not inevitable.  We can readjust our individual mindsets, habits and the expectations that our colleagues have of us, so as to enable us to achieve a healthy approach towards collaborative working and individual productivity.

How mindsets affect “collaborative overload” vs collaborative efficiency

Not being able to, or not wanting to say “no”

We already know that some people find it harder to say “no” than others.  It can feel unhelpful or even selfish to refuse requests from others.

Another mindset that can make it difficult for us to say “no” is where doing more gives us a sense of achievement, of credibility, of being a top performer, or of being at the centre of things.

The consequences of not saying “no”

The consequences of all of this behaviour on ones workload, priorities, stress levels and ultimate productivity can be very damaging.

In fact, taking everything on that we are asked (or that we offer ) to do may not only be damaging ourselves, but could also damage others in terms of lost opportunities for their learning and development.

It could also be damaging the organisation in that the right people (ourselves included) may not in fact be doing the right jobs.

What’s different about efficient collaborators

According to Rob Cross et al, efficient collaborators make an informed choice about what they do and don’t do.  This is aligned to their areas of expertise, and to where they can add the most value in the organisation.

Efficient collaborators’ self-worth comes from their ability to focus on what matters, and from helping others to learn, develop and gain visibility and recognition for what they do.

Tips for achieving a healthy approach towards collaboration and individual productivity

Find your “north star” objectives

In our RiverRhee course and module on managing your time, we’ve taken Stephen R. Covey’s  second “habit” of “beginning with the end in mind”, and Brian Tracy’s recommendation (in Eat that Frog) to focus on the unique contribution that you can make.

If you can define the unique contribution that you can make to your organisation’s goals then, according to Rob Cross et al, this “north star” can guide you in your collaboration with others.

It will help you to have meaningful discussions with your managers and colleagues about where your areas of focus should be, and what would be best delegated or left to others.

Protect your productive time

Finding your “north star” will also help you to decide, and clarify to others which meetings, discussions and decisions you should be involved in, and which ones you are not the best use of your time and expertise.

You can also block out time in your calendar for your ‘own work’ and protect it in the same way that others would protect a meeting.

Influence collaborative working practices

Rob Cross et al remind us that we can encourage good working practices amongst our colleagues for the use of email such as:

  • clear and concise formats for communication
  • avoiding the use of “cc” and “reply to all”
  • using collaborative working tools (such as Google docs) for complex discussions or work
  • switching to face-to-face or phone conversations when the email thread is starting to get too complicated

And we can influence efficient use of time in the meetings that we do attend by such practices as ensuring that:

  • there is an agenda and that it is circulated in advance
  • the right people are in the meeting
  • decisions and actions are documented and circulated after the meeting

Use your network effectively

According to Rob Cross et al, focusing on the quality of interactions rather than on the quantity of relationships, will have a beneficial impact on collaborative working.

They suggest that in high quality interactions, there is a sense of purpose and energy in the discussion.  Both parties are aware of each other’s goals, there is trust, and a mutual desire to support each other, and a respect for each other’s time.

This approach can be applied to all discussions that take place with members of a manager’s network: peers, direct reports (in one-on-ones) and higher managers!


Discussions about time and productivity management traditionally focus on what the individual can do to better manage their time.

Rob Cross et al’s article provides a useful perspective on how the context for that is so inter-twined with the current culture of collaborative working.

Their suggestions are valuable additions and reinforcements of concepts that other authors such as Stephen R. Covey (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People), Brian Tracy  (Eat that Frog) and Graham Allcott (Productivity Ninja) have to offer us.


About the author. Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We support our clients through courses, workshops and personal one-to-one coaching.)  

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals). Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.


Is it psychobabble? How better understanding can lead to better collaboration

By Elisabeth Goodman, 4th October 2015

Meet Diane and Tom

Diane and Tom are two colleagues who have been working together for some years now.  Their latest project is to make a new kind of widget.

Diane enjoys a good debate. She loves having new challenges to explore, opportunities to think ‘outside the box’, to break the rules.  She’s always very clear on what has to be done, will talk to others to find out what they know, and will happily delegate work to colleagues based on their skills and expertise.

MBTI extrovert

Diane enjoys a good debate

Tom is more reflective.  He likes to learn from experience, and it’s important to him that everyone’s views are taken account of.  He believes rules are important but may not always say so. He’s good at working out how something can be achieved, at weighing up pros and cons, and at ensuring that the ‘Ts’ get ‘crossed’ and the ‘I’s get ‘dotted’.

MBTI introvert

Tom is more reflective

You may recognise someone that you know, or that is similar in some respects, in one or other of these descriptions.  What is important for the purpose of this blog, is that Diane and Tom understand each other.  They understand the different strengths that they bring, as well as their blind spots, and how they can use this knowledge to complement each other and achieve great results, in this case in designing and making a new widget.

Is it psychobabble?

I write blogs because I love to explore new ideas and to turn them into something that others might find useful.

The disadvantage of putting my ideas into blogs is that I don’t know who has read them, and if they have found them of any use, unless they choose to tell me so.

Occasionally I do receive comments, sometimes they indicate that I have hit the mark.  Sometimes the comments suggest that I have not!  I received one of the latter category recently when a reader suggested that my blog was ‘psychobabble’ and did not offer him anything new.  I appreciate that he took the time to read and comment on the blog, and hope he will give me some further insights on what I could have said that would have been more helpful.

I also share my ideas in my training courses and workshops.  Delegates have usually opted to come along because they are also looking for new ideas.  Sometimes though they are skeptical, or have had negative experiences of psychometric tools.

So in this blog I am avoiding any explicit reference to psychology or to psychometric tools.  I’m simply using my two characters, Diane and Tom, to illustrate how people’s understanding of their differences can help them to collaborate more effectively.  They won’t always be as different as Tom and Diane, but illustration is perhaps most effective when the extremes are greatest.

Shall we talk or shall we think about it?

Diane definitely prefers to talk things through, with Tom, with other people who may have some useful ideas and information, and with the colleagues that she wants to help her get things done.

Tom likes to have time to reflect, to research, to plan and to evaluate.  Feedback is important to him too.  So Tom and Diane have learnt that they will be most successful if they talk to each other relatively briefly as they begin their work on the new widget, and then again once they have each done their research in their own way.

Should we focus on the what or on the how?

Tom is most motivated by working out how something is going to be done, the practicalities, comparing it to how things have been done in the past, and what he has learnt from that. He might also volunteer himself for several of the tasks.

MBTI sensing

Tom is motivated by practicalities

Diane is more focused on the goal, although she does enjoy exploring possible solutions to some of the bigger problems, and also thinking about who else could help them get things done.

So Diane will dwell on the ‘what’ they need to achieve for the new widget, and act as a sounding board, as Tom works out the ‘how’.  She might challenge Tom to think about new ways of doing things for this particular widget and to not take too much upon himself.

What happens if things go wrong?

Diane, like Tom, likes to learn from experience.  For her it’s all about understanding the root cause of any problem they encounter whilst designing and making the widget, and finding the best way to fix it so that it does not happen again.

Diane likes to understand the root cause of problems

Diane likes to understand the root cause of problems

She appreciates though that for Tom, it’s also about talking to the people involved, understanding their perspectives on the problem, and making sure that she or Tom have taken the time to explain why things are going to be done differently.

So what’s the deadline and when do we start?

Tom will be keen to start working on the design for the widget straight away. He knows how long this kind of project can take, and the importance of getting the various steps completed on time, especially if they want to deliver a good quality end product.

Tom knows the importance of getting key steps completed on time

Tom knows the importance of getting key steps completed on time

Diane knows that unpredictable things generally happen at some point in the project, new useful information or requirements may come in, and so she is used to helping Tom to adapt his plans as they go along.  Although she would be inclined to keep things more open and flexible for as long as possible, she has come to appreciate the fact that Tom at least has a plan for them to work from!

Tom on the other hand appreciates Diane’s calmness in the face of change..

The widget got made!

Their project was successful, and Diane and Tom are continuing to enjoy their collaborations.

Hopefully I’ve also managed to share some insights with you with a minimum of ‘psychobabble’!  (Though those of you familiar with psychometric tools may have spotted which ones I was working from..)

Do let me know if you’ve read all the way through, if you’ve gained anything from doing so.  And if not, please let me know what I could do differently.


Thank you to Nathaniel Spain for the illustrations.

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that helps business teams and their managers to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale. (We use coaching, training, facilitation, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting just under 6 years ago, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis. 

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner.  

She is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals) and of APM (Association for Project Management).

The five principles of “error proof” collaboration with people outside your own organisation

By Luis Fernandez, with an introduction by Elisabeth Goodman 21st November, 2014

Mistakes are proof that you are trying


I asked Luis to write this blog as he has a very people centric approach to project management, and I thought he might have a valuable perspective on how to bring that to bear when collaborating with people outside the project team. He has brought an additionally unique perspective to the blog by relating it to his experience with Lean and Six Sigma, and PMP and associated concepts of ‘error proofing’.

The five principles that Luis shares certainly strike a chord with me, and I especially liked that he included one around Knowledge Management in the form of reflecting on lessons learned. I might have changed the order of Luis’s principles and put ensuring common understanding of expectations first.

But read the blog and see what you think.

Do you agree with Luis’s five principles?

Would you cite them in a different order?

What do we mean by error proofing – why is it important for collaboration outside of your organisation?

I frequently remember something that caught my attention during the Lean and Six Sigma green belt training course: The intention of this methodology (amongst other things) is to create “error proof” processes.

However, during the preparation course to obtain my PMP certification, a different concept caught my attention: Following the PMP methodology does not guarantee “successful” projects, it just “increases the probability” of making them successful.

In my opinion, the explanation of PMP is more humble and realistic. Nothing is “error proof” and what we do is to try to “increase the probability” of success in all the things we do in our day-to-day life. This is why I wrote “error proof” in quotes as the subject of my post.

Taking this into account, I can’t promise you that the five principles below will make you an “error proof” professional when collaborating with people outside your organization, but based on my experience, I promise you that if you remember the steps and start to apply them:

  • You will avoid most of the relevant errors in your professional life (and in your personal life) and as a consequence you will save the time necessary to correct them
  • The people you work with will notice it and remember you later for your professionalism. Most project managers need years to learn this.
  • The people you work with will remember you later for your kindness. Project Management sounds very technical but it is mainly a matter of human relations

The five principles for effective collaboration

The five principles are:

  • Avoid micromanagement (almost at any cost!)
  • Ensure a detailed review of the budget and contract
  • Clarify the expectations that have not been expressed in writing
  • Ensure the lessons learned are compiled and shared
  • Treat people as people, not as resources

Take note:

In my PMP certification training programs I always say that from my personal point of view the three most important matters that a project manager should never forget in their day-to-day work are: Communication, Team and Risks. You will see that the five principles are strongly related to these three areas.

Moreover, they are inter-related. If you miss one of them out, this will have an impact on the other two.

They are applicable to both these situations: when you are subcontracted as a project manager or when you are subcontracting team members, because they are just the two sides of a coin.

Let’s start!


I have a friend in charge of a Project Management department at Hewlett Packard that once told me something that I will never forget: You only need one (subjective) metric to know if a project is profitable or not. This metric is the “level of satisfaction of the client” about the project.

When I asked why? I found the explanation very smart. If the level of satisfaction is high, the client is probably relying on you and as a consequence, they are not bombarding you with continuous requests, giving you the freedom to manage your project in the most appropriate way, and saving thousands of hours of unnecessary tasks.

What can we learn from this?

  • If you are subcontracted, be proactive and ensure your contractors receive more than they expected to keep them happy as quickly as possible, and to make them appreciate that you are really taking care of their project.
  • If you are contracting, test the team member working for you, until you are happy with their commitment and they understand what you expect from them. Then let them work by themselves, clarifying what and when you want to be informed about the project progress (see principle # 3)


The budget is usually extensively reviewed by Project Managers, but unfortunately this doesn’t happen equally for the contract, as in many cases it is reviewed by a legal department.

What should we do?

a) Regarding the budget:

  • Never forget to clarify specifically what is included inside items with names that carry the word “management” as they could include a spectrum of tasks, maybe duplicated or unexpected
  • Negotiate from the very beginning (when your procedures allow it) the possibility of implementing new tasks without signing a new budget (to avoid time consuming agreements of change orders) by using the items in the budget that will never be implemented, or the items of the budget not burned yet.

b) Regarding the contract, never forget to check the clauses:

  • Which have an impact on the invoicing approval for the most important (related to cost) items.
  • That list what work is included and more importantly “what is NOT included”. If you forget the second one, it is very probable that the client will finally expect the unexpected.
  • Inform your client as soon as possible about the probable or relevant risks that you detect. It is possible that by changing a single word, you could save hundred of thousands of pounds


The budget and contract will probably not include all the future project issues.

So, it is a clear example of expertise to start the project by:

  • Asking your client (and your team members): What do you expect from me to help you feel as comfortable as possible during the project? Then take into account their responses and implement them or explain why they can’t be done. This will make people rely on you and make future communications more fluent.
  • Clarifying the expectations especially for the content of Status Reports, Main Deliverables and Approach to Meetings.


Everybody speaks about this but it is underperformed in most projects.

If you want to be remembered for your proactivity and ability to learn, just do the following:

Keep updated (and share proactively) an easy to review list with the:

  1. a) Mistakes: Tasks badly executed, and what should have been done instead
  2. b) Matters to improve: Tasks that could have been performed better avoiding unnecessary difficulties (and how to do them)
  3. c) Successful results: Things done well and how to extend them to other areas


Your client and your team are people, not roles or resources.

In every single interaction you make (calls, meetings, e-mails, face-to-face…) remember these three pieces of advice:

  • Always use the magical words: Please, thanks, sorry…
  • Avoid instructions. Try to increase awareness by asking questions (this is one of the principles of Coaching)
  • Be aware of the tone of your voice and your written communication. Avoid expressing frustration. You can express your frustration or disappointment in a neutral way.

It took me many years to learn all of these principles and the best advice I think I could give to a Manager is to “develop your assertiveness”, and a good way to do this is by remembering this quote:

People may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel”   Carl W. Buehner

If you have read until here, I’m sure you will apply some of these principles in your next projects.

Now, I have a more challenging question for you:



About the author and editor

Luis Fernandez obtained a degree in Pharmacy and Chemistry (he liked biochemistry so much that he has delivered health sciences training courses since 1989) and has worked in clinical research since 1996, managing global projects for Pharma since 2005. Luis realised that he needed to improve his technical project management knowledge so he obtained the PMP certification and started to run PMP-certification training courses from 2012. He honestly found the technical part easy, but the soft skills were more difficult, so he decided to study Coaching and NLP with the godfathers and their disciples. Luis is now sharing what he learned about the three disciplines (Coaching, NLP and Project Management) in his blog (http://coachingforprojectmanagers.com/blog/) where he provides practical tips that optimise their synergies.

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that helps business teams and their managers to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale. (We using coaching, training, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting just over 5 years ago, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis. 

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner.  She is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals) and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she now leads the Capabilities & Methods pillar for the Enabling Change SIG.

Collaborative working – UkeIG 2012 post-AGM briefing (#ukeigagm)

Tweets from a presentation by Angela Ashenden, Principal Analyst, MWD Advisors entitled: Building a collaborative culture: people, processes and technology

(to be read from the bottom up!)

@aashenden #ukeigagm #km #CM


Collab tool strategy (2): identify & address resistance; incentivise collaboration; lead by example

Collab tool strategy (1): clear business goals; sponsorship throughout org; focus on practical examples

Main pitfalls collab tools (2) Doing too much too soon; trying to replace e-mail; creating new info silos

Main pitfalls (1): collab technology is not the main focus; viral [change management] is not enough; not a cheap option

Team workspaces vs online communities – currently different but coming together e.g. IBM Quicker / Connections

Sees social tools as layered above other tools e.g. ability to annotate content or associate profiles w/ people

Problem is large number of collaboration tools & what they do e.g. communication vs content creation / editing

Collaborative tools are not extra to what we do: they capture knowledge, process, people involved as are used

Technology makes collaborative working possible (!) – social tools, conferencing tools, SaaS and the “cloud”

cf #swchat who have weekly tweet ups e.g. on teaching better collaboration – best is to demo relevant examples

Problem w/ turn-over of CIOs who are often the sponsors of collaborative working – but can leave before…[embedding]

takes time and sustained approach to change behaviours to collaborative working

strategic issues: lack of top level support, mid mgmt blockers, inadequate education / support, unmanaged…

barriers – still knowledge is power, habits – email vs collab tools, WIIFM, not a priority, collab tool fatigue

flatter hierarchy, culture of sharing / trust & desire to create engaged workforce also impact collaboration

innovation, supporting distributed teams & need to work closely w/ customers also increasw import of collaboration

pressure of doing more w/ less, greater turn-over, retirement are making knowledge sharing harder and more important

collaboration = practice of people working together to get the job done

@aashenden just beginning her talk @ukeigagm on the ‘softer’ aspects of collaborative working