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E96: Agile - Collaboration: The Secret Ingredient for High-Performing Agile Teams - Brandi Olson (Organisational Agility Expert)

E96: Agile - Collaboration: The Secret Ingredient for High-Performing Agile Teams - Brandi Olson (Organisational Agility Expert)

Brandi Olson (Organisational Agility Expert)

As the world becomes more interconnected and projects become more complex, collaboration has become a critical factor in the success of any team. Whether you're working on a software development project or launching a new business venture, the ability to work together effectively is essential. In the context of agile teams, collaboration plays an especially important role in ensuring that the team can deliver high-quality results in a timely and efficient manner. In this episode, we'll explore the concept of collaboration and its importance for agile teams. We'll delve into the benefits of collaboration, the challenges that teams often face when trying to work together, and some strategies for fostering effective collaboration in your own team.

Brandi Olson

Brandi Olson is a best-selling author, organizational agility expert, and the founder of Real Work Done, a consultancy serving leaders through agile transformation, organizational strategy and team design, and executive coaching. She has spent two decades consulting with organizations — from nonprofits to universities to global companies like 3M and Mayo Clinics. An expert in organizational learning and change, she teaches leaders how to solve problems and adapt fast with high-performing teams. A sought-after speaker on agility and high-performing teams, Brandi lives in Minnesota with her two kids, four chickens, and one dog.



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[00:01:00] Paddy Dhanda: Thank you for joining us for another episode of the Super School podcast.

I'm your host, Patty Der, and on today's episode I have a fellow Agileists, somebody who is an expert in this topic. She is the founder and c e O of Real Work Done and the author of Real Flow Break the Burnout Cycle and Unlock High Performance in the New World of Work. Which sounds fascinating. So I can't wait to start this conversation.

So Brandy Olson, welcome to the show.

[00:01:31] Brandi Olson: Thanks so much for having me, Patty.

[00:01:33] Paddy Dhanda: You are welcome. I always ask I guests, where are they from? So where are you from, Brandy, because I sent an American accent.

[00:01:41] Brandi Olson: Well, today you'll find me in the Upper Midwest in the us, in Minnesota, in the Twin Cities. And it's nice and cold.

We've got some record breaking chilly temps today.

[00:01:52] Paddy Dhanda: Good because

[00:01:53] Brandi Olson: normally they can send me all of your love and energy. We need it to heat our homes.

[00:01:57] Paddy Dhanda: Ah, I say good because normally I have a guest who's from California or somewhere and they have baking hot weather and I'm stuck here with like British January weather, which is terrible.

And so.

[00:02:11] Brandi Olson: It's rare that you can feel a little superior about your own weather. So I'm happy to offer that to everybody. Oh, thank you. Wherever you are in the world, your weather is probably better than ours is today.

[00:02:21] Paddy Dhanda: We're in it together, Brandy. There we go. Look at that. Right? Good. So Brandy, tell us your background because I hear you are a bit of an agile list and I'd love to know your journey up until now.

[00:02:34] Brandi Olson: Yeah, so I lead a company called Real Work Done. We work with leaders to help them design organizations and teams, like we say, get real work done in reality, which we happen to believe is the only place that good work happens. And so we're pretty pragmatic about how we think about the work of organizational design and team design because it's all about the outcomes that we can deliver and the high performance that we're capable of.

And you know, it turns out we have to do that in reality. The reason though that I'm so committed to reality and being really pragmatic and how I even got into the work of agility is that years ago I used to be a teacher. So I come at this work from my background in public education, and I first discovered agility as a thing when I was teaching.

And even though. You know what I was reading and learning about that people were talking about software and products and digital stuff and some of that language was kind of foreign to me. I recognized pretty quickly that they were talking about solving complex problems when change happens unexpectedly and people.

Are involved. And that was the world that I lived in as an educator. And so I dove into that world and did a lot with agility in my in my classroom and scrum and the ways that I was teaching. And over time that led to doing that work with organizations and really looking at What has come to be for me, a really key I don't know, key principle, right?

A key essential ingredient for any high performing organization is how fast we learn together, how fast we learn to the change that's happening around us and can respond to it. That was important to me as an educator and is still important to me now, and I think it's perhaps the greatest competitive advantage that any organization can have is how fast they can learn and adapt.

[00:04:24] Paddy Dhanda: Oh, I love that because I'm certainly passionate about learning and encouraging others to learn, especially when I've finished an agile course. I think for me, when learners will then ask some questions about, well, what's next? And I say, well, time to learn some more, like keep learning. That's the whole approach.

So that's fantastic to hear. And Brandy, what superpower would you like to bring to this episode?

[00:04:48] Brandi Olson: You know, I was thinking about that and the superpower that I have been thinking about a lot lately is that of collaboration. We've been hearing a lot about advances in ai and we've been hearing a lot about the ways that organizations are shaking things up.

And I continue to come back to this really core belief that collaboration is the skill that will allow companies to thrive. In the next five to 10, 20, 50 years or die. And so collaboration is a superpower. Oh, as I think perhaps the most important of all.

[00:05:24] Paddy Dhanda: Yeah, I love that. So when we say collaboration, I guess that's people working with others effectively would that be the definition or do you have a different definition?

[00:05:38] Brandi Olson: I think about collaboration as. People working together to solve a problem or create an opportunity, right? People working together to do something. However, I think that the effective part is the aim. That's the goal. But collaboration exists whether we invest in it or not, because as humans we are hardwired to collaborate.

And sometimes we do it really and effectively, but I don't, I think it's one of those things that collaborative engagement just is. We either Really work with it and do it really well and effectively to great outcomes. Or we exist in a collaborative environment that's really defunct of purpose and toxic and really ineffective and broken.

[00:06:20] Paddy Dhanda: Why do some organizations really struggle with collaboration? Like what are the things that disrupt collaboration?

Because some teams really struggle with this. In Agile, they will say all the right things, but when you see the behaviors, they're not very collaborative.

[00:06:38] Brandi Olson: Gosh. Right. There's so many reasons why we struggle with collaboration. I think that one of the biggest reasons is in our, you know, modern era of working together.

We've, along the way believed some lies and myths about. How we ought to work. The idea that, you know, if our organizations are well designed like machines, if everybody has the knowledge that they need, if if we have these perfect systems and processes then the work will happen and that's all it needs, right?

Collaborative skills for a long time get talked about as soft skills or don't even make it into the conversation about the skills that are needed. And so they wind up being really devalued. You know, there's so many other human reasons why collaboration becomes hard, right? We could talk about trust and relationships and psychological safety.

The reasons that collaboration goes wrong are vast. Right? And and they can come at us from a lot of different directions.

What do you think, why do organizations struggle with collaboration?

[00:07:42] Paddy Dhanda: I think one of the biggest things that I see is sometimes the way we're incentivized in an organization, and I see there's the ground level where people are trying to do a good job, we're trying to get stuff done together, but then at a top level, we have these incentives that incentivize us to work as individuals and that then creates this tension. So for example, I used to be a business analyst way back in the day, which meant I used to write lots of requirements for technology systems. And the way I was as incentivized at the time was I need to produce lots of requirements and lots of documentation at the time, and in a way that was then my focus.

And so if I saw someone else, In the team struggling with something, there was little incentive for me to actually drop the things that I was doing and come over and support them. And if I didn't produce reams and reams of requirements, then I felt like I was a failure. So that was another incentive, was to make sure you produce lots of this stuff.

And I just think. We often do behave in a certain way based on the rewards that are dangled in front of us and the way we are measured. So that would probably be my big one that I have faced a few times.

[00:09:02] Brandi Olson: Yeah. You know, another thing that comes to mind is the adage that's often attributed to Edward Deming.

But that, you know, organizations produce the results that they're designed to produce. And so if you have an organization that has an effective collaboration, It is getting the results that it is designed to get. And so you have to look at, well, what's happening? Right? Look at incentives.

You look at the ways that people are organized, who they're asked to work with, and and we tend to overlook that a lot of times, right? We tend to see that like, well, if collaboration's not happening, that's an individual problem. It's an interpersonal problem. Which it is. And also it's an organizational design problem.

And it's a prioritization problem because we are the outcome of the ecosystems that we're a part of. And I think a lot of times leaders don't necessarily see that bigger picture. Right. And it's easy to look at problems of collaboration or an effective collaboration. Just at the micro and individual level, which certainly is how they show up.

But then we can also zoom out and see the many ways incentive structures are one of 'em. How we choose our work is another. How we organize our teams is another, the many ways in which the design of our organizations either enhance the possibility of effective collaboration or diminish it. And and so I think that's really interesting to start to look at and see it as a bigger ecosystem challenge and opportunity.


[00:10:28] Paddy Dhanda: So you've done a lot of work in the organizational design space that you mentioned there. So what are some things that organizations could do to design a more collaborative environment like. Is it having really cool offices with lots of games and whatever they put in there now, I didn't even know, like they used to put games, consoles and things like that to make everybody feel more relaxed.

Like what? What are the things that you would suggest an organization should look at? Yeah.

[00:11:00] Brandi Olson: Well, so one of the things that I think is very true, a lot of times when we start talking about having more collaboration or more effective collaboration, we start thinking about culture and the ways that we, you know the ways that we interact and the values that we bring.

And so we wanna tackle culture. But the reality is culture is an outcome of the work that we do together. It is not unnecessarily an input. And so if you're just trying to tackle. Team health or team performance or team cohesion or culture just. By looking at it as a culture problem you're gonna miss out on the opportunity.

That is the most effective way to build an environment of collaboration, which is to do real work together differently. But one of the things that I've seen happen a lot I tend to work with a lot of small startups and one of. Organization is new. Or even when a like division is new, you D tend to not have a lot of people and everybody is just working hard together and they're bringing all their skill sets in and they're communicating frequently and they're just all in working hard together.

And then as the organization grows, you need to expand. You hire more people and you need to figure out how to get more volume of work done with more people. And a lot of times what happens is as that's happening, We scale the wrong things, so we wind up scaling departments, right? So maybe it's, we were a small team and we had marketing and we had engineering and you know, we had our sales team and we used to all work really closely together.

But now we're gonna grow. And so we're gonna have our sales team exist over here and our engineering team exists here, our agency, whatever the work is that we do, and our marketing team, you know, is gonna exist somewhere else over there. And we wind up scaling silos. And divisions, cuz on the surface that sort of makes sense.

Well, it's more efficient to have all of our salespeople be on this team together. It's more efficient to have all the people who do the same kind of work together. But then as that happens, we grow and we scale into these. Divisions and departments and silos, and we find that, you know, you could have collaboration work well within one of those divisions, but the overall outcome is disjointed, right?

The getting value from an idea to a customer is slower. It takes longer. It's not working the way that you thought it would, and I think one of the things that gets missed in that is, Collaboration doesn't get scaled, right. The things that made that small scrappy team work really well together wasn't their divisions necessarily.

It was how they talked and how they communicated, and how they all knew what the priority was and how they were aligned. So that happens, right? We wind up scaling the wrong things and we don't really look intentionally yet. How do we scale the ingredients that are necessary for effective collaboration?

And then we have to undo all of that, and that's complex and it's challenging to do.

[00:13:41] Paddy Dhanda: Oh, I can certainly resonate with that. Where I've worked with organizations and in their own world, in their bubble, they feel like everything's going really well. But actually they have no idea what's going on in the department next to them.

And there could be lots of. Opportunity there for them to actually work together. And that's often missed because again the management of the leadership are so focused on their own metrics, their own objectives that people just don't feel they need to look beyond that, which is really interesting.

And something that you said there about startups I'm really intrigued by this because I've heard a lot of startups as they grow, they say, we've kind of lost that startup culture that we had and. Would you say there's a sort of a magic number by which when a company grows beyond that, it starts to lose that culture, that startup culture, and in turn that collaboration as well?

[00:14:41] Brandi Olson: Yeah. I mean, is there a magic number? Maybe we can start to look at things like relational complexity, right? There's a reason when we're talking about agile product teams that, you know, we wanna keep those teams. Small-ish, or we know that as they grow, there's a trade off because the complexity of relationships grows.

I see it happening when you wind up with 2, 3, 4 more teams. However, you wind up defining those teams when you grow to those teams. The logical thing that I think often gets implemented is this idea, well, if each team is. High functioning and performing, and they're doing their job and their part well, then the other team is doing their part Well, that should all add up to the goal that we have.

And that's based on this idea, right, that our organizations can function like machines. That you could take the whole and break it down into its parts. And if every part is working well and optimized, it ought to add back up together. But if you do any sort of work in a really complex environment where the solutions are unknown, where change is happening frequently, where innovative problem solving matters, you feel how quickly that breaks down.

And it breaks down really fast because humans aren't actually machines. Machines and organizations designed to be like machines. You know, a machine is designed to do one or two things really well. Machines are not actually designed to be innovative and responsive to change. And you know, I'd argue you don't really want innovation from your blender or your car, right?

But in human organizations we actually do want innovation and we do want to be responsive. And so humans tend to work together a lot more like an ecosystem where there's interconnected parts where information flows freely. And so when you get more than two teams, you either have to cultivate that ecosystem.

Or you wind up cultivating a machine. And the default that I think a lot of organizations and startups go to, because there's so much like modern management lessons on it is machine cuz it's more convenient, it looks a whole lot better on your org chart. If it worked that way, it would be a lot more convenient, be a lot easier to manage.

It just doesn't actually work in reality. And so, so I think anytime you get into that point where, The boundary of the team has grown and now you've got two or three. You're in a space where you have to choose how you're gonna design yourselves to enhance that collaboration or the def facto design is gonna get in the way.

[00:17:06] Paddy Dhanda: You've obviously worked with lots of clients and got lots of experiences in working with organizations. Could you share maybe one or two, either case studies or examples of where. You've perhaps helped an organization realize some of this collaboration that they were missing before you got involved?


[00:17:27] Brandi Olson: so. So many interesting ones to choose from. I'm working with an organization right now that's kind of in the biotech space, and one of the things that they do is they help collect cells from donors that can be used by labs. All over the world who are doing research to figure out how to turn those cells into therapies to treat really specific, hard to treat cancers and diseases.

And so they connect those labs and those donors with that cellular material and they move it across. The globe in order to do that. Turns out you can't FedEx cells and cellular material very easily. It's super complex to move, you know, those types of samples from the spot in the world where the donor is to the one lab somewhere else in the world that knows how to create the particular treatment that's needed for a rare form of childhood leukemia.

Right. So. It's a supply chain. They have created a supply chain and a logistics operation in order to provide this service. On the surface, it seems like they oughta be able to operate like a very predictable supply chain. And if they could, they would, their process would have worked very smoothly.

Right. They organized themselves to be, you know, Team here that deals with donors and a team over here that deals with like the supply chain setup. And then they've got their logistics team and they've got their documentation team. And if everything were really stable and predictable, the work could move through and it would all get done.

But what they were finding they were a startup couple years back, another, a couple years into it, what they've been finding is it never goes, this plant turns out. Everything always winds up getting disrupted. It's different things every time. And so I've been working with them over the last year or two, redesign themselves into agile cross-disciplinary teams so that they can be the stewards of that supply chain for that particular client or for that particular lab, and And that's been really revolutionary for them.

And they've had to wrestle with that trade off between the world that they would love, which is a really highly predictable world where the process works every time, which, you know, sounds nice on paper. And the reality that they live in, which is the technology even and the innovation of what's possible is emerging and changing by the week.

And and so they've had to totally reorganize themselves in order to be able to respond. To that. And so we've designed these, you know, cross-disciplinary teams of people who now can tackle those logistical challenges as a team rather than a long pipeline of multiple teams that are really siloed, doing just one thing at a time.

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[00:21:47] Shure MV7-2: Now let's get back to the.

[00:21:49] Brandi Olson: And

[00:21:49] Paddy Dhanda: what role does technology play in collaboration in an organization? Because we are seeing. More and more collaborative tools on the market. I mean, I was looking at a website the other day and they try and list out as many collaboration tools as they can think of, and the list just keeps growing day by day.

So would you say if an organization isn't investing in that sort of technology, then they're gonna get left behind? Or does it not matter?

[00:22:23] Brandi Olson: I think it's what drives first, right? Collaboration is really complex. Collaborative problem solving, collaborative decision making, collaborative ideation, right?

Because we can talk about collaboration, but it's really different if you're collaborating to, you know, go out on a picnic versus, you know, collaborating to figure out. How to keep cells at the right temperature as they travel across the world and figure that out, or build a really new complex software system, right?

That kind of collaboration is really different. So, I think the tools always need to follow the collaboration, right? Understanding how do we need to work together? And then how does the tool enhance our communication? How does it help us spend the time where we need it most? Right? So, Tools, technology that can help us move information and data way more useful than having people try to figure out how to move information and data so that the information and the data is where it needs to be when the people show up or when they're there so they can use it and make meaning of it.

Right. And I think that's where a lot of times we can get so focused on, again. Like the idea that we can have this machine and the tools can help drive it, and if we have the right tools, then we won't have the problems that we're having around decision making or collaboration. I think it. It has to be flipped on its head, right?

Technology and tools have a really important role to play, but the reality is that no matter how fantastic the AI is, right, and we're seeing that a lot in the news and some of us are even experimenting with what is possible with ai, no matter what AI exists in the future, no matter what the technology is.

The problems that matter most in our communities and in our world are still going to be solved in the way that people have always solved problems, which is showing up together, understanding, making meaning out of it, and experimenting and learning, right? Learning and adapting quickly. And I don't think tools will ever change that.

So we need to make sure that they have the proper place in our organization.

[00:24:25] Paddy Dhanda: Yeah, I was gonna say the whole conversation about chat, G P T and all of this fancy AI that's coming along, it's quite scary. I think a lot of people, when they saw this capability being released a bit like me, I was like, ah, this is cool.

It's a new toy. And I was really excited. It was kind of good fun. And then about a week later, realization hits and you think, oh, Now what if this thing can now do my job? And you know, what where do I now focus? Because maybe I'm in the wrong profession. Maybe I need to change and pivot because AI's now a threat for my job.

So it is quite scary, isn't it? For people because there's no clarity yet where this is heading. And we all hate the unknown. And so until we get that clarity, I think people are gonna be on edge. Like what's your views on that and how can collaboration help us?

Cuz you mentioned right at the start, this is a superpower we need for the future.

[00:25:30] Brandi Olson: Yeah. Well I think anytime, you know, there's really disruptive technology. The best opportunity is that we learn something from it and we learn something better moving forward. I think that's the opportunity.

Anytime there's any huge disruption. And I think it causes us to reflect on what. Do we find meaningful about communication? Is it just having all the right words together? So it sounds nice. Is it, you know, what do we value about art? What do we value about decision making? How do we understand and value our data?

And I think when you have something like chat, G p T and all the related technologies that I think we'll start to see Hitting the market faster and faster. I think it causes us to have, to really look at those things and say what is it about what we're trying to do? One of the things that I think gets us, gets in the way and can create a lot more fear is when we're in a culture in which performance is just defined as, you know, hitting the next quarterly target.

And I think so many companies are sucked into this cycle in which. Their definition of high performance is actually pretty shortsighted and pretty diminished. I think a better way to think about performance is the definition of high performance success. It's about sustaining better outcomes over time, right?

So the companies that are going to be around 50 years from now some of them are just getting started. Some of them will be companies that exist now, and I think those are the companies that will take these technologies and understand what it actually means for their long-term outcomes. And some companies will decide yeah, it's cheaper.

We're gonna fire our marketing department and we're gonna, you know, have an AI marketing department. They might have a better quarter, right when they do that. That might work for them for a little while. But. Those I don't think are going to be the companies that are thriving and really delivering and outcomes in a sustained way.

And I think as individuals, when we're looking at that, if you're looking at your job and thinking, huh, could AI do my job? I think it's a good cause for retrospection and saying, what is the value and the work that I do, and how might I not just be chasing this technology? But how might I be a leader in understanding the value from it and using it in that way?

I think there's a lot of opportunity and I think it's gonna cause us to, yeah. To go back to examine what are the values that we're bringing, what does it mean when we engage with a new technology like this? And how will we lead the change that is going to be shaped by this versus just.

Kinda living in fear of it.

[00:28:04] Paddy Dhanda: Yeah, I was thinking about this the other day actually, Brandy and I was thinking whenever we've had previous technological advances of some sort, I was thinking about a simple example of the microwave. When the microwave came out, I'm pretty sure a lot of people who are manufacturing ovens and, you know, other cooking appliances.

We're probably thinking, what does this mean? Does this mean no one's gonna buy cookers anymore? And and that's not been the case because the two coexist. Right. We use the microwave for certain things. We use these other appliances for other things. And if anything, I think it's probably sparked even more innovation in the cooking space.

Right. Because I, I see some of the things that we have now in our kitchen. And I think as these new tools and so applications are coming out, I.

It hopefully will make things better because we've got more choice now. And like you say, it probably opens up even more doors for us as people because no longer am I probably doing all of the archaic things in my job that I've always done. I can now say, well, The stuff I didn't enjoy. If this thing can do it, brilliant.

There you go. You do that and I'll do the good stuff That makes me happy. And what I love doing is engaging with people and connecting with people and that's the thing. That I really enjoy.

[00:29:29] Brandi Olson: One of the things I'm wondering about as I'm hearing you talk is, you know, so much you talked at the beginning about like, you know, so many of us wind up working in organizations where just the output and the busyness is what's valued. Producing more documentation, showing that you're moving your mouse enough and checking enough emails to be busy, and we equate busy equals good, right?

Or if I'm busy, I'm doing something important. Many of the companies that we work with are implicitly designed to reward that and to support that. So if we have technology tools, AI tools aren't able to come in and do more of that busy work. I wonder what happens when a company buys into that, right.

Hey, we don't need half the people that we have because all of that work can be done. What happens when that starts going on and you're still not getting the outcomes that you need when you're still not. Finding innovation you know, even AI and machine learning that's possible is still constricted to what's happened in the past.

Right. That, you know, how brilliant of an essay chat G B T can write is based on what's been written in the past and its ability to understand that and generate something equivalent or new. But it's still based on what we've known up to this point. And I think that's where the real opportunity for human potential comes in is Hu.

What humans are actually very good at. Is evolving into the future and is adapting. And so it'll be interesting to see in the companies that really leverage AI and think that'll increase productivity. What actually happens? Do they find that they're able to get the outcomes they want or do they find that they do all of that and then they're left?

Like, huh, what now? Right. Where Soto's kind of stuck doing the same old thing. And I think the, I think we'll start to see some of those things emerge. You know, in the 1950s, Peter Drucker coined the term like the knowledge worker, and he said that the knowledge worker will be the most important and valuable asset of any 21st century company.

As in contrast to the production worker, right? The manual labor. And I think he was right, but I also think he was wrong. And I think one of the things we're seeing now, and we will continue to see is what I would say is the collaborative worker. It's the people who hone their skills of collaboration because it's in that collaboration that totally new ideas are possible.

Totally new. Unthought of things before become possible. I think those are the skills that we're gonna continue to see become even more important, even as the technology kind of creeps in and makes us feel like maybe our jobs are at risk. So, skills of collaboration, cuz it doesn't matter how smart you are how much knowledge you have, what a great salesperson you are, how much scientific expertise you have, what a great coder you are, if that knowledge is just locked in your own brain.

It's gonna be limited. It's not nearly as powerful as that knowledge, plus the skills of interpersonal collaboration. And I think we're gonna, I think the AI technology will just accelerate that, and the technology we're seeing will just accelerate that push forward where we see even more clearly that it's those effective, collaborative problem solving skills that are even more and more valuable.

[00:32:42] Paddy Dhanda: There's a great book, the Wisdom of Crowds I absolutely love, and some of the examples in there are phenomenal where if we put people together who are not necessarily the experts, but they have very diverse perspectives, and as long as they're now coerced into.

Making a particular decision, we often find that those are the people that actually come up with the best ideas and sometimes the most accurate ideas as well. So yeah, absolutely. So how do we become really good collaborators? Like is there an art to this or any tips on that?

[00:33:17] Brandi Olson: Well, there's a lot of ways practice is one, right?

I we're not diving into the importance of trust and psychological safety, but I don't want to minimize how important that is, right? Because how we understand and how we know each other as humans is the foundation that allows our entire, like nervous system and brain to be open to collaboration.

I think a lot of it, right, if we're talking big macro picture goes to looking at how we educate ourselves and how we educate our kids. You spend time with little kids and you see what they're capable of and the creativity that they're capable of. And then a lot of schooling just slowly like, strips that from them.

When I was an educator, we taught a lot of social emotional skills and. As an adult now working in many companies, I work with many people who missed their lessons on social-emotional skills. In middle school and high school, those weren't very valuable, and now turns out they are. And they need those skills.

So I think it, it starts there. But then, you know, if we're looking at what do I do right now you know, I think it does it goes to looking at what are we incentivizing, what are we rewarding? When is collaboration happening with ease? When is it getting impeded and taking small, you know, very small next steps towards doing it a little bit better.

And, you know, there's a lot of great resources out there about, you know, team building and how to look at. Collaborating in, in teams. But I think the best way to get better at collaborations, to practice it and have it be rewarded and motivated. And if you're not at a company that values that have a hard look at that.

Right? There's also a case to be made to say that where you put your time and energy matters. And if you're not in an organization that values the skills of collaboration, maybe what's possible for you is gonna be underutilized. And your skills will be valued elsewhere, and you might wanna consider that.

[00:35:11] Paddy Dhanda: Often we stay in an organization complaining. And actually if we. Channel that energy into another organization instead. And made that move, then things could be very different for us and we'd move a lot further forward.

[00:35:25] Brandi Olson: If you lead a team, If you lead a team of teams, if you lead a division, you oughta be looking at the way that you, the outcomes that your implicit organizational design is producing, and question if that's what your organization and your division really needs for the goals that you have.

Right? And and you should look at that really differently. A very simple exercise that any team can do that I think is really useful to start to see that ecosystem is to map out the communication around a recent decision. And to map, like visualize it. Right. You mentioned when we were talking before, you're a visual thinker and I think visualizing and figuring out how to make some of these seemingly implicit and invisible exchanges visible on the wall goes a long way.

But to map out. Decision that got made, right. You could even map out, try to map out how that decision got made. That's a superpower for another time. The skills of good decision making, but see how the communication travels. How many different communication pathways, how long does it take to get the communication to the people who need it?

We start to look at communication patterns. We start to reveal collaboration patterns. And it can be just an interesting data point and exercise to start to see perhaps the ecosystem of your organization when you start to see how communication travels and how those decisions get made. If it is complex and complicated, that might be a good indication that you are not well designed for collaboration.

If it's fast and effective that might be an indication that you've got, pay attention to what's happening there and how can you amplify that more.

[00:37:03] Paddy Dhanda: That's a great little activity to try, I think for an organization to actually map those decisions out. There could be some interesting findings there that they probably had no idea about.

I remember working for an organization where just to be able to travel, so for me to be able to go on business travel, there's a whole process. It was like it ju, it wasn't just, I send an email and then I get approval and then I book. They were like a bunch of steps, and one of the biggest sort of blockers I remember was you had to pre-plan your trip at least three weeks in advance.

Any business travel three weeks in advance, you have to plan it and then it would go through a bunch of approvals. And we were trying to be agile as an organization. And I was like, oh, where's the agility in being able to go and meet my colleagues? Or being able to go meet a client, like there's no agility in that. If I've gotta wait three weeks every time, like that's just slow. So it is really interesting you start mapping things like that out.

[00:38:07] Brandi Olson: Okay, if I could tell you, share one story cuz that brings to mind something that happened in an organization that I worked with a few years ago that really highlights this challenge.

So this is an organization that had been really working on fostering collaboration, and this was pre pandemic. So bringing people together every once in a while was on the table. It's on the table for some companies. Again, they didn't have the tools to make it work super well without that. So anyway, they were gonna bring their Engineering team together with some of their marketing team and their sales team and do some planning together around kind of a new feature bill that they wanted to do, new market problem they wanted to solve.

And so they were really excited about that. At the same time, the organization was also facing some budget cuts, and so the ask was that every division cut 10% of their budget division leaders were given free reign to figure out how to do that. Some. Reasonable that, you know, I don't wanna micromanage division leaders can figure this out.

Just cut 10% of the budget. The assumption being that if every division cuts 10% of their budget overall, we will decrease our operating expenses by 10% and be in good shape. So what happened was the technology leader actually decided to cut 10% of the budget by eliminating travel. So travel wasn't gonna be allowed in the next quarter.

The marketing team decided to cut 10% of their budget and they let some people go. And each division did it differently, however, come around to this quarterly planning event that they had been working towards, and none of the engineers were allowed to travel. But it happened anyway. The engineers called in and they listened in, but it was not super well designed to help for collaboration, and I think many of us have experienced, even now, hybrid collaboration where some people are in person and some people are not as challenging, even more so challenging five years ago.

Well, the outcome was that some ideas started to move forward, and because it wasn't super easy to engage their engineering team, they didn't really catch some of the feasibility challenges of it and some questions that would've emerged. They invested in this new idea, and it was about nine months later as they weren't making progress and they weren't making progress that they finally surfaced.

The problems, right? And and we did some root cause analysis kind of circled back to, oh, we could have caught that right much earlier. And so this decision to cut 10% of the budget and let everybody choose how to do it and prioritize differently, resulted in diminished collaboration. And it was so much more expensive for the company in the long run cuz they wasted about nine months of time and energy and investment going in the wrong direction.

And I think that happens so often and it, those types of decisions that seemingly are unrelated to interpersonal skills of collaboration set in course this motion set in incourse a motion that resulted in a lot of damage and harm and loss. Those are the things that as leaders, we need to be watching for and paying attention to and connecting the dots towards.

[00:41:08] Paddy Dhanda: Oh, great example there,

[00:41:09] Brandi Olson: We need to see collaboration as a core business capability.

And when it's a core business capability the enablement of collaboration becomes a rigorous financial planning conversation, a strategic investment, not. Happy accident or outcome of a team that's working extra hard to be great collaborators. And I think that's missing in a lot of organizations cause we don't see collaboration and we don't invest in it as a core business capability.

Those organizations that do will thrive through whatever. Comes up and whatever happens. But we need to connect the dots more. We need more leaders to see the connections and understand how it is a core capability that will either enhance performance and outcomes or diminish them and it's not neutral.

[00:41:57] Paddy Dhanda: We are running fast out of time. I'd love to know any resources that you would recommend if people want to know more about this topic as well as more about your book as well.

[00:42:07] Brandi Olson: Sure. Well, I would love you to come find or check out my book Real Flow. You can get more information about it at the website.

I've also got some resources there to kind of uncover some tools to kind of uncover and start to see how these. Patterns are at play in organizations. Another book that I just love, and it's not a book at the surface about collaboration, but it has shaped so much of my thinking. It's called Shift, how to Change When Change Is Hard.

It's by Chip and Dan Heath. And it is just a phenomenal look at human behavior in a way that. Shines a light on some of these challenges and then really how to start making change going forward. So that's, it's an older book, but I love it and I highly recommend it. If you're grabbing real flow, grab a copy of Shift at the same time.

I also am on LinkedIn, so come find me on LinkedIn cuz I'm having a lot of these conversations with leaders across sectors and would love more people to be part of that as well.

[00:43:06] Paddy Dhanda: So, thank you for that and providing those details.

Brandy, it's been a pleasure to spend this episode with you. I feel like I've become wiser as a result, so really appreciate you sharing your insights. Thanks

[00:43:19] Brandi Olson: so much for having me and making space for this conversation.

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