'Collaboration' has reached buzzword-status in many offices today, with an increasing number of organisations pondering how to break down the knowledge silos stagnating within different departments, and boost innovation and productivity in the process.
Atlassian, the productivity and collaboration software company, today shared insights about 'open work' lifted straight from its own office playbook. Open work is an expansion of the ideology embodied in a devops approach, but reaches beyond the 'development' and 'operations' teams to encompass the whole organisation.
Speaking at the Atlassian Summit 2018 in Barcelona, Jay Simons, President at Atlassian, discussed why the imperative to adopt open working practices is stronger than ever.
"Entire industries are being upended by digital disruption," he said. "The world around us is changing too quickly for anything less than true open and fluid teamwork. And this is making many of us think about moving from a closed to open world."
"The sum of our ambition can only be realised through open collaboration and breaking down silos," he said, adding that closed systems do not prevent progress, but do make it slower and more complex.
Through the company's extensive interrogation of collaboration and productivity, it has settled on some vital concepts that power open work within its own offices, which can be applied at the individual, team and organisational levels. The first of these, is 'shared context' - "when teams are sharing information, ideas and opinions organically," according to Bek Chee, head of talent at Atlassian.
This can sometimes be challenging. "Being open means that you have to be vulnerable, you have to have the strength to withstand judgment of other people," said Chee.
But what does embracing this mean in practice? One way the company promotes shared context at the individual level is through encouraging new employees to share personal information about themselves in a blog post to be completed in the first couple of weeks after starting.
"We ask people to open about who they are, how they work, and what matters to them," said Chee.
The benefits this provides are threefold: it allows fellow employees to learn about their new colleague, and arms them great ice breakers to strike up conversation; the team learns about their past work experience and therefore their specialisms; and lastly, it encourages the new team member to be relaxed in their identity at work.
"We're encouraging you to be authentically yourselves," said Chee, stating that research from the company shows these kinds of practices increase trust on the team and is associated with an increase in effectiveness.
Another way 'shared context' is applied to the company is at a team level, where lack of communication between teams in different departments caused a new idea to blossom. How to break down the walls between them? Clambakes.
Clambakes are a traditional New England social activity involving cooking shellfish on the beach and enjoying a couple of beers as the sun sets.
The organisation took inspiration from the concept of a clambake and applied elements of informal sharing to working life within Atlassian. This involved the teams sharing Confluence pages (collaborative software from Atlassian) arranging meetings providing the opportunity to share work-related updates, and then the ability to set up one-on-one meetings to discuss any further issues.
"People came out of these meetings feeling like they'd learned a lot, but also that they'd contributed a lot," said Molly Hellerman, head of Strategy and Programs. She reports that since then, a lot of teams have adopted the idea of a clambake and adjusted it to meet their customised needs.
Finally, at a company-wide level, shared context is provided by a central database of projects, where every project at the company involving more than two people and running for more than two weeks is visible for all other employees to see and engage with.
Flexible collaboration was also highlighted as an important aspect of creating an open workplace, defined as "a sense of fluidity between teams," by Hellerman.
But this can also apply to third parties working with the company. In the case of Atlassian, they brought this approach to how they communicated with third-party vendors.
When working with these organisations, the company had traditionally adopted a working relationship punctuated with regular 'milestone meetings'.
However, someone pointed out that this way of working meant that if there was any misalignment along the way, it would only come to light later on. Instead, they asked the third party organisations to share with them a real-time view of each project, during the 'work-in-progress' stages. "Essentially moving from a PDF world to a Confluence world," said Chee.
Although vendors required reassurance that they would not be judged on the quality of their 'in-progress' work, the shift was successful, ensuring that now everyone is always on the same page.