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The biology of collaboration: a human-centered perspective on process management

November 7, 2023

Bad collaboration does not only hurt employee satisfaction, but also the organization’s success. Process models however fail at preventing this because they lack an essential aspect: the actual adoption – the human aspect. In this article, we show how journey mapping can help organizations to better understand and manage collaboration beyond theoretical intents.

“Oh yeah I know we theoretically need their approval, but it always takes forever, so I decided to skip this step”
– A situation that probably all of us know in one or the other shade.

When process maps fail at process management

We maintain huge to-do lists and project management tools; meetings to bring everyone onto the same page are at the core of our workdays; we draw detailed diagrams to understand and optimize organizational processes. But still: most of us suffer from issues resulting from mis-communication. The work result is inferior, the resulting emotions can be located somewhere around dissatisfaction, frustration, anger and resignation.

Bad communication – how can that be, after we’ve set up processes for every single step of the work routine? 

After carefully feeding all the PM tools and to-do lists?

After talking things through, again and again, in dozens of meetings?

There is one thing that a theoretical process model can’t guarantee: the actual extent of adoption. Sometimes processes are simply not followed due to tools being unaccessible, social matters, or simply a lack of time.

Outcomes of (in)efficient collaboration

Yes, good collaboration is beneficial, we all know that. But sometimes we still under-estimate the number of levels it has an effect on. On the personal, interpersonal, team, an organizational and even on an economical level, collaboration results in huge numbers. Thus, collaboration can benefit or hurt organizational success from all levels.

Effects on a personal level

  • Satisfaction with the job
  • Motivation
  • Sick leaves and burnout

Effects on a team level

  • Efficiency of tools and platforms
  • Efficiency of meetings
  • Handling of repetitive tasks
  • Fluctuation and cost resulting from recruiting
  • Employee loyalty

Effects on an organizational level

  • Company success/ROI
  • Time invested
  • Money invested
  • Energy invested
  • Productivity

Why employee experience management matters

Biology is the study of life –of anatomy, evolution, growth– under certain environments. Collaboration isn’t a static concept – it’s rather a living organism. Whilst process maps are decent at describing anatomy, they fail at grasping the living aspect of collaboration. 

Thus, whenever we want to optimize collaboration, we should not only look at theoretical process charts, but also consider the dynamic, human component of processes.

We must talk to the humans who work with those processes. Better than any process flowchart, understanding and optimizing employee journeys can help to uncover inefficient collaboration and optimize crucial processes. 

An employee journey map visualizes processes from the perspective of the employee: what’s the sequence of their own work? What are crucial moments, what are pain points?

A screenshot of an employee experience journey map example. Click to expand.

Employee experience is not only about team events and fruit boxes. It’s about how satisfying the daily work is, how successful and (self-)efficient the team feels at the end of the day.

The great advantage of employee journey maps compared to process maps is that they visualize aspects that are not included in any process map, like:

  • Digital noise
  • Social difficulties
  • Lack of knowledge
  • Lack of transparency
  • Conflicting information
  • Unintuitive tools and platforms
  • Informal chats
  • Personal notebooks
  • Unsolicited information distributed across teams, tools and platforms

Thus, adding the insights from employee experience research to a process map holds enormous potential for an organization. But:

How often have you seen the HR/EX department and the PM department talking – beyond the recruitment process?

How to optimize collaboration beyond theoretical flowcharts

  1. Talk to your employees

Researching the status quo of collaboration, as well as gathering information about what your team likes about the current collaboration and what they dislike.

  1. Create a current-state employee journey map

Creating an actual map of your collaboration along projects will force you to think about the channels you use and the information you share and thus you can find blind spots, synergies, overlaps and bottlenecks.

Furthermore, analyzing the importance of each step alongside the current-state satisfaction of your team shows your the most important pain points that you should address first.

Call to action: map your communication journey with Smaply. Leads you to the Smaply homepage.I

  1. Ideate solutions to the most pressing pain points

Does not matter how much time you invest into improving collaboration, there will always be some pain points. 

Some information slipped through; some misunderstanding caused extra cost; some deadline was missed due to unclear responsibilities. 

That’s okay. But talk about it.

Only by discussing the happenings step by step we can understand at what point we lost track and help us prevent this in the future. 

  1. Implement

Usually there is not the one single issue, nor the one single solution to an issue. 

Usually it will take several iterations to implement multiple minor or major improvements gradually. 

An example

An amazing example of this is our recent case study with the EX Team at Bayer.

Based on research data, the project team learned that employees were unsatisfied with several facets of their collaboration: they were unclear about content of various meetings, had difficulties with the shared terminology and could not find the shared resources they needed for their work. 

In multiple phases, the project team is now rolling out several solutions to improve the current status.

In a nutshell

Collaboration is more than following pure processes – the human component has a huge impact on how efficient, effective and satisfying the fulfillment of tasks is. Thus, pure process analysis is not enough to improve collaboration, it rather takes a huma-centered approach. Researching employee experience and mapping employee journeys are key to actual improvement.

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