Collaborative undertakings as a whole: micro versus macro

How ALC allows to move from micro-exchanges to macro-collaboration

The dark side of micro-collaboration

Current collaboration practices often clutter exchanges into many messages sent back and forth spread over extended periods, resulting in cluttered information, cognitive overload, wasted productive time and difficult coordination of groups of more than two players (for an extensive discussion, see for instance “A World without email” by Cal Newport). The collaboration habits of our human brain are programmed for spontaneous fast informal collaboration.

We experience collaboration primarily at a micro level, i.e., through meetings, be it in face-to-face mode, audio or video conferences, and messages.

But getting things done through collaboration (often) implies using our brain for calmly thinking by ourselves. Proceeding in a structured way, giving time for new information to settle, taking time to think through from different angles, takes time… and is very difficult when we are in “social mode”, involved in fast interaction.

Science tells us that fast and slow thinking do not work the same way and produce different results. By over-emphasising fast collaboration and neglecting slow collaboration, we miss the potential that slow collaboration offers us.

Also, the micro approach to collaboration makes commitments (to process and / or to results) often implicit. This uncertainty about whether participants are willing to participate and / or agree with outcomes severely penalises collaboration, as it increases the mental charge of those in need of these commitments.

Macro-collaboration as a symFlo

Seeing collaboration as a flow over time, combining fast synchronous and slow asynchronous activities at different stages, opens many new perspectives.

For SymPlace this is so important that we have given these collaborative flows the name symFlo. The way we structure symFlos influences a lot their effectiveness. SymPlace sees collaboration as a symFlo, i.e., a flow of different collaborative activities towards an objective, which participants are invited to, commit to, are guided through and which is closed at the end.

There is not a single “ideal” structure; in practice, many factors come into play: the common purpose, the individual expectations, the context, the history of relations between participants in the symFlo, the timeline, the size of the group / tribe / community…

ALC will enable participants to structure their symFlos, by creating them either upfront or as they move onward, combining slow and fast collaboration.

And it will give them the possibility to manage commitments to the process and the results throughout the duration of the symFlo, from the invitation to the closure.

Participants hold different roles (initiator / leader; contributor; observer; collaboration designer). These roles translate into very different digital support needs and will require learning efforts varying from close to nil for contributors and observers, to some learning for initiators to extensive efforts for professional designCols.

Use case: hurried versus calm decision making

How often have we witnessed this situation? A group of people need to take a difficult decision. A meeting is set up. XX presents the situation. AA suggests a way forward. BB is unhappy and proposed another decision. CC is uneasy because critical information is missing. Nobody except XX is really familiar with the situation. But all agree on one thing: a decision is needed now … who would like to set up another meeting to have the same discussion again. The process is erratic, and the results are unsatisfactory… a typical challenge for consultants.

With ALC, instead we can imagine a happily symlying group:

  • Participants start symlying, receiving a short working document a few days or at least hours before the meeting. During the next couple of days, they can raise questions (and even get answers), collect additional information.
  • Also, a collection of proposals and of criteria to evaluate them takes place ahead of the meeting.
  • The meeting starts with a short clarification of the outstanding issues and the proposed decision.
  • The participants then discuss the pros and cons.
  • An anonymous vote asks participants to rank the proposed options by preference and to put a veto on those which they definitively object to, albeit with the obligation to provide an explanation.
  • If there is a proposal which is approved by the majority, it is automatically accepted. Otherwise, the meeting is sojourned for a day to give other options the possibility to appear and / or additional information to be collected.
  • Following the decision there is a later checkpoint where participants are asked how they evaluate, a posteriori, the decisions that have been taken and if / how they would change them.