View from the Bridge

Radical Collaboration

Is collaboration important?  Absolutely.  Amazon obviously agrees.  They reportedly are willing to pay $9 Billion to acquire Slack, a company who provides technologies that assist with collaboration.  But just what is collaboration?  It’s a lot more than technology.

If you Google “collaboration”, the search returns more than half a billion results.  You don’t need to be a Latin scholar or rely on Google to discern a definition for collaboration.  The obvious components “co-” and “labor” are clear indicators that collaboration is work done by more than one party.  Missing from dictionary definitions, however, are 2 very important elements.  The first is the context in which collaboration occurs.  The other is the outcome.  It is the combination of context and outcome that gives meaning to collaboration.  Most importantly collaboration is a very human form of interaction whose results when done well can be extremely synergistic.

For years, the people with whom I’ve worked have heard me reference the 3 C’s that are critical for success in the workplace – collaboration, communication, and coordination.  In this simple construct, communication is not simply sending a message.  It’s providing information that is relevant and understandable.  To ensure successful communication, you must adjust your message to the audience and test for comprehension.  If you don’t have evidence of comprehension, you are not communicating.  Just sending an email, blogging, or posting Facebook entries is not communicating.  Communications requires that your audience be in receiver or student mode when you are in speaker or teacher mode.  On the receiving side, and probably more important, is listening.  As you’ve hopefully heard before, when you’re the recipient, it is important to focus on the sender for the purposes of understanding.  I’ve had to work hard to focus on the sender’s message and meaning instead of simply biding my time waiting for the opportunity for a pause so I could share my thoughts.  When it’s time, personalize the message and share your thoughts in a constructive way.  Avoid judging too soon and be wary of offering anything but constructive responses.

I think you can easily understand why coordination is so important, so the remainder of this blog will focus on the first C.  Today’s environment demands more than simple collaboration, hence, my use of the modifier radical in the title.  My wife, and frequent Muse, inspired the use of this adjective.  The congregation she attended, very sweetly and appropriately named “Angel of Hope” settled on the term “radically inclusive” to define the attitude they used to seek out and welcome with warm embrace, figuratively and literally, the people who most congregations had abandoned.  The feeling of community was palpable.

A Google search for radical yields the following useful definition, “(especially of change or action) relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough.”  Radical collaboration is, therefore, far more intentional, far more affecting than the agreement to simply work together.  In the healthcare environment where outcomes are always life affecting – sometimes minor, sometimes major – radical collaboration is quite impactful.

Working in health information technology (HIT) has become increasingly challenging.  To use a new word I’ve coined, the “hecticity” of our environment is increasing.  We have an exploding volume of the raw material that we use, data, in pursuit of understanding, knowledge and wisdom.  Organizing, sharing, and protecting it has become more difficult.  Technology is ubiquitous, but not necessarily easier to use.  There are shortages of talent in some key areas.  Demand for our talent and our teams is skyrocketing as new enabling information technologies are introduced.  Because we are more challenged is not, however, a bad thing.  We now have many more opportunities than ever before, more insight into the human condition, and more chance to improve people’s lives.

The answer starts with radical collaboration.  We must think carefully about who to involve in every aspect of what we do.  It was rare, but thankfully becoming less so, to include patients and their families in our design, building, and testing.  It is still not often enough that we invite the providers to participate in all phases of an HIT project.  If the people who designed our systems had to use them, we’d have much easier to use products and processes.  Radical collaboration requires that you think about everyone who is involved in the design and use of a system.  Seek out and include the affected parties.  Encourage feedback with candor, then listen attentively and courageously.  Don’t wait for them to come to you; go to them.

Attack and break down the silos that are common in the workplace.  Think beyond the workplace to the “lifeplace” where our patients and families live.  Partner with them.  Instead of silo, think community.  As Facebook is fond of reminding me that I have more friends than I think, you should think about all the communities in which you participate.  You belong to more communities than you might think.  Contribute selflessly in all the communities in which you participate. Radical collaboration is essential to life, essential to living, and essential to meaning.  Make yourself more essential.  Collaborate radically.

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