Brandon Klein Brandon understands that better teams are fundamental to all of our success. As a global thought leader, ushering in the 'Future of Work' revolution, he paves the way using data + design to accelerate the Collaboration Revolution. Brandon is the Co-Founder of the software start-up, Collaboration.Ai and an active member of The Value Web, a non-profit committed to changing the way decisions are made to better impact our world. Jan 21

Collaboration Experiences: 1002

Our first collaboration experience post proved to be quite popular, so we are trying another installment. Let us know how you use them, and how we could make it more useful for you! 

The Client is a manufacturer of pharmaceutical products.  The company is doing very well this year—the stock hit an all time high during the collaborative event following the news of very strong quarterly earnings.  The Pharmaceutical, or Life Sciences industry, is doing very well globally.  It is particularly strong in the United States, where Managed Care has come to dominate the medical scene.  (Often misunderstood, the object of Managed Care is to have people not go to an expensive hospital, but treat them less expensively with pharmaceutical products early and often instead.  If you are a pharmaceutical company, this is a good thing.)  The lack of any national health care initiatives and relatively low price increases make changes to this landscape unlikely.  The toughest issue that pharmaceutical companies face is when big profit-producing products come off patent protection and can be undercut by generic manufacturers. That forces them to keep developing and marketing new molecules (products).

The clients issue was around setting up a global information system.  Usually called ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning), a set of software products like SAP, Oracle, PeopleSoft and Baan are allowing companies to leverage the knowledge and data they have all around the world.  This is not easy, and frequently means reengineering their business processes in major and culturally painful ways to take advantage of the system possibilities.  The client has recently selected XYZ as its software platform, and was beginning to come to grips with the enormity of the project.  They were coming to the session to set out a clear vision of the project, understand the business processes that would be affected, set up some sort of timeline/implementation scheme and understand the barriers and risks involved.

The sponsor meeting to design the workshop was held one month before the session.  They grappled with the scope (enterprise or financial level), who needed to be there (determined by the scope) and how to deal with the CFO, CIO and other key player schedules.  They were good sponsors—trying to get their arms around the collaboration session process and what it could do for them.  They had understood it to be more of a package selection and alignment building process and did not understand at first its potential to drive towards an implementation plan once the package was selected.  

We discovered that a good way to explain the session sequence is backwards.  After the Take-A-Panel and synthesis, we arrived at a point where we needed to get our arms around the desired output.  One of the clients drew a solution box on the wall, and we sort of unfolded it to look like what we wanted on the radiant room wall at the conclusion of the event.  Once we had settled on what we wanted there, we worked backwards through the Act-Focus-Scan model.  To get that outcome, we explained, we need about 8-9 teams working furiously throughout the day.  That requires that we have a conversation where we settle on the final output and pick our own teams.  In turn, we need a look at a lot of options generated on the second day in order to recognize which is goodness.  And that depends on a robust scan of ourselves, our parameters, and out-of-the-box stuff.  We think the whole "out-of-the-box" phrase has gotten overused in the consulting world.  We find that we needed to add some definition to it:  what we mean is to look at the challenge from new vantage points like the future and through the lens of a metaphor.  We need to look outside the organization and give folks a chance to put together ideas in interesting ways.

The session had been intended for the fall, but once the group understood what they needed to solve, it became clear that they needed more time to get on the calendars of the global set of participants.  That pushed the session off until later in the year.  This getting on the calendars of senior and busy people is easily the biggest lead time issue for big, collaborative sessions.

While we met the Core Team during the sponsor session, we had not me the actual sponsors of the event.  These were the CFO, CIO, VP of HR and VP of Manufacturing. We needed to establish a relationship with the actual session sponsors and hear their expectations prior to the actual event.  This turned out to be critical in making them comfortable with the process.  The delay in the event also meant that they had plenty of time to worry about every detail they could.

The Engagement Team did a terrific job of interfacing with us.  They did a huge amount of research in preparation for the event, though only a very limited amount of it was used during the session.  This often happens, as when the client is solving high level issues the focus in on alignment, commitment and cultural issues rather than drill down details.  This does not prevent specific client folks and engagement partners from desperately seeking detail—the folks that live in the Engineering and Building parts of the creative process model.  The research they developed will be very important material as the projects move forward.

The culture at the company is very interesting.  They have a consensus culture meaning that they do not act until consensus has been reached by all parties involved in a decision.  This takes time. If you give them four hypertiles for the report out, four is how many they use.  They answered the questions in the design challenges, and did not decide to go elsewhere.  They only produced a few graphic models.  They checked the kiosk with their rising stock price often enough that we would send someone around with a hypertile stock quote every few hours.  We wondered if the doing-exactly-what-we-asked bit was really a way of evading personal or breakout team commitment to the work being done.  They had a lot of commitment and accountability issues to work through.  We got a sense of OK, we will do what you propose, but then you are the one at fault if it doesn't work.  They are very good at implementing or doing, once they are pointed as something.  They tend to regard themselves as very good.  They do have a touch of intellectual arrogance, but it is very subtle.

We had 72 participants, and formed them into 10 teams.



The sponsor meeting was pretty straightforward.  No real pushback on the agenda. 


Day One - SCAN


8:00 - 9:00       Introduction.  Good sponsor message:


-      We haven't ever gotten this broad a group together. 

-      Need three things:  your energy, excitement and engagement.

-      Moving to a common validated platform is essential, because of these imperatives:  Rapidly changing enterprise, same processes at a global level handled in a local way, need to compete, and we have no choice.  We are not here to debate 'one solution'—we've already decided.  If we don't change, become flexible, we won't survive.


9:00 - 10:15     TAP/SAP


10:15 - 10:45   Synthesis, compile into two hypertiles for gallery.


10:45 - 11:45   Trends - Global Connectivity, Government/Regulatory Affairs, Demographics/Changing Workforce, Business/Finance, Politics/Society, Competitors, Consumers, Science/Technology/Life Sciences Industry/Health Care, Channels to Market, Globalization. - we asked for up to one hypertile per participant, and got around 45 at the report.


11:45 - 1:00     Report in Dominos style.  We asked for a minute apiece and they stuck to it.  They almost never went over the report time.


1:00 - 3:00       Metaphors


-      How Memory Works - Information/Knowledge Management & Data Organization (extract what you want versus roll-up reports)

-      Home Economics - Making tradeoffs between competing project needs and control levels & financing the project

-      How Things Bite Back - Unintended consequences of MRP to ERP, probably serendipity, too.  Used the book of the same name, as well as James Burke's books to illustrated the positive unintended consequences.

-      Infrastructure Series - Building infrastructure.

-      Mongols - Just Do It & Speed & 80/20 & Design/Build/Use

-      Out of Control - Autonomy versus centralized control, standard versus customized, assembling complexity

-      Rain Forests - Whole systems

-      Guns, Germs & Steel - Stacking the deck for success

-      Gardens - Global versus local needs

-      Risk - Risk


3:00 - 4:15       Report - Very strong.  They got quite a bit out of the metaphors. 

4:15 - 6:00                   Process Walkabout.  Transportation/Distribution, Manufacturing Activities Management, Employee Lifecycle, HR Administrative Processes, Decision Support, Procurement (Purchase to Pay), Management Accounting, Order to Cash (Order Fulfillment), Forecasting, Planning & Budgeting, and Corporate Strategy.  Questions areÉ What are we good at, What are we not good at, What should we be good at. - Very interesting.  We had them go to teams and write on the wall all the things they put in those process categories.  Some group shad an extremely hard time defining what was in these areas—not surprising, as the whole notion of process view cut across the grain of a firm that was pretty silo-oriented.  Then the teams had to go to a second, unrelated area and add to the work there, but not erase anything.  Finally they had a third iteration where they could go the area of their choice.  That led to a lot of energy, as well as considerable frustration at having to invent the answer for themselves, but we thought it a very effective exercise.  We cheated, and took the process names from the way the software organizes things, particularly the really tough cross-functional ones.

6:00 - 7:15       Case Studies

Successful ERP Case Studies, Fast Companies, Kodak & Shell, Microsoft, GE, Change, Coca-Cola, Apple & IBM, Merck, and Motorola.  Most of these were 'how they do business' level, and some were cautionary tales.

7:15 - 8:00       Legends/Time Capsules.  We had a duo of final assignments.  Legends to tell the tales of future heroes of the organization and Time Capsule to hear the remarkably prescient words of the president's issues and challenges.


Day Two - FOCUS

8:00 - 9:15       Report - we introduced by saying that we were in Focus day, that today we would frame out the things that we could do.  We would accomplish twice the work that we had the day before.  We mentioned that a number of people had sidled up to me and asked, ÒHey, are we going to get into the meat of things today?Ó  Yes.  Oh, yes we will.

The legends and time capsules were marvelous. 

Once the reports were done, we needed to get the group back to earth.  Sometimes it is called a humor takeaway, like when the actors in a movie are having a happy time and then Zap the bad guy is there.  We told them to take a moment to think about the things they were saying to each other.  It may have been said with humor, but there were dead serious messages underneath.  Stories such as we told communicate values, say the things we find difficult to say any other way, and articulate many of the things we have to do.  There were messages about accountability, vision, consensus, standardization, speaking with one voice and commitment that were fundamental to solving what we were here to solve.  The facilitator spoke with a 'Dead Serious Voice'.  That brought the mood in the room to somber and concentrated.


We introduced the scenarios by noting how in the recent Star Wars movie trilogy at one point Luke fights Darth Vader and chops off his head.  When he takes off the face mask, it turns out to be himself.  In many respects the next challenge is about overcoming the barrier to success.  We know what they are.  We articulated many of them yesterday in our Take-A-Panel exercise.  They are often us, to paraphrase Pogo.  These are specific demons that we need to wrestle with and figure out how to pin to the mat.


9:15 - 10:30     Scenarios 

-      Fizzle - What caused it to fail?

-      Scope Creep - You failed due to scope creep.

-      Demand Too High (x2) - Business units demand the system far faster than you are ready

-      Stacking the Deck in our Favor - Taking advantage of internal/external environment.

-      Five Measure Dashboard (x2) - Of all the measures management needs, what if they only could have five?

-      Going to School on the Winners - Setting common business processes in place

-      Resource Constrained (x2) - Not enough experienced SAP resources


10:30 - 12:00   Report - This was fabulous stuff, built on the TAP output and woven back in so they had to face their own Darth Vader demons and wrestle them.  This really highlighted some things they needed to do.  We were able to jot down most of the post-synthesis work buckets after this report. 

12:00 - 2:00     Build-A-There I

2:00 - 3:30       Build-A-There II 

-      Vision & Benefits of the project (x2)

-      Supply Chain Management

-      Manufacturing Activities

-      Human Resources

-      Executive Information Systems

-      Purchase to Pay

-      Corporate Consolidation and Local Reporting

-      Order to Cash

-      Enterprise Planning and Forecasting


3:30 - 5:30       Reports - Again, very good at the process level.  The report instructions were:  This was great work.  The reports will probably generate questions, but please give the teams the opportunity to present and save questions until the end. Be ruthless about 10 minutes each so we give each time a fair opportunity to speak and still end at the correct time. 

5:30 - 6:00       We did about 15 minutes of  What's in/What's out.  We couldn't let a synthesis conversation get started.  Therefore, any issue that was debated was not to be listed.  We could only put something on the wall by acclamation.  We played ÒMr. ObviousÓ and pointed out the really obvious things.  They were very into playing by the rules, and played.  Very rules based, this crew.  Concluded with the NASA story.


Day Three - ACT

7:00 - 9:15       Synthesis in the Round.  It seemed that the participants were not really facing up to each other and speaking directly to themselves.  We helped that along by arranging the radiant room in a rectangular set of chairs in three rows, all facing in.  Then we rolled walls into the back of the room to give it a very confined feel (just enough room for three scribes to work, so each participant could see at least one in their field of vision).  We had asked them to write their first thought upon waking on a piece of paper and bring it in.  Some of them were fairly antagonistic about the process, but they soon got into meaningful issues.  We found that by standing and not saying anything like we were waiting patiently for the next speaker stretches out the silence for a loooonnnng time.  It helps to count silently and try to feel the energy in the room.  We sat down once the conversation really got going and they started talking to each other and not to me.  We really only had to say a few things to move it along until it came time to chunk the work into teams. 

We thought we were in great shape chunking the work into what the teams were going to do when one of the sponsors appeared by my side and asked if we were going to spend time in functional teams sorting through what was in/out as a global process in their functional silos.  About that time two or three comments came up about it and suddenly I had a freight train in front of me, where they all felt what they needed was to go do this functional in and out.  I felt it was a big mistake, but I didn't see how I could stop it.  The only thing was to limit what I saw as the damage to an hour or so, especially as that meant exactly four teams (HR, Finance, Manufacturing, and the Implementation Timeline Team) and I knew that the larger teams would get less done.  I told them to be back in exactly 75 minutes and they stormed into the breakout sessions.  I will give them credit, they had it knocked out in exactly the time I had allotted and returned for a brief report feeling that they had actually done something finally.  The tension release was that palpable.  It also used up a lot of the pent up tension from the morning and lost a good bit of the lift that I had hoped to direct at more cross functional challenges.  It was much harder for the subsequent teams to get rolling.


9:15 - 10:30     Work in Functional Teams

10:30 - 11:30   Resynthesis

Once the teams reported from this explosion of work, they were quite happy to go into the teams we had been mostly through sorting when the functional in/out freight train had come chugging through the synthesis conversation.  They had a very hard time getting rolling, partly because they had expended a lot of the tension already, because lunch was there and because they were still confusing themselves about what level of detail they needed to get to.  I had been thinking that we did not want to do a check-in report, but keep them in teams the rest of the day—Day Three time is that most precious of commodities, after all.  But I began to realize that while two of the teams were stuck, others were making real headway, particularly the team creating the huge radiant wall ANDMap and the team writing the vision statement.  So we did a check-in report.  I made sure the vision team went first and the ANDMap team last to frame the other teams with success and progress.  That worked to help them to figure out how to make their own progress and gave a lot more impetus to the final push before the final report.  Some of the knowledge workers called it the Òemergency report out,Ó but I think that that check-in midday on Day Three is a valuable part of the process.


11:30 - 2:00     Work in Teams

-      Strategy, Vision and Business Case

-      Implementation Plan/Timeline

-      Shared Services

-      Common Business Processes

-      Communication Plan

-      Global Team definition and charter


One interesting idea suggested is to have teams work first on the top 3 or 5 or 10 questions they will answer and then collect and distribute them to enable parallel processing and information sharing.  I generally want them focused on what they have to produce themselves, though. 

2:00 - 2:30       Check-in (the 'emergency' report out) - I commented that the teams were struggling with some of their tasks and topics, and were wondering why we did not seem to be helping them, or that we were holding back somehow.  I said that if there was an easy answer they would have figured it out or there would be a packaged solution.  But we were doing something new and complicated and that is not easy.  It is much more art than science.


2:00 - 5:00       Work more 

5:00 - 6:00       Final Report 

6:00 - 7:00       Close


The last hour was what I regard as dream sponsorship for the project.  The CFO, CIO, VP of Manufacturing and VP of Human Resources stood up at the front of the room and declared their personal support for the work that was done:


The outcome they were so excited about was what the leadership had outlined at the start of the session:

-      An agreement on the future strategy of key HR, Financial and Manufacturing processes.

-      A vision for the project and a start on the business case to secure the funding.

-      A high level implementation plan, including communications strategy and messages, decisions on when which affiliates would probably go in the rollout, game plan for selecting and chartering the global project team, and a clear set of common business process in each function that are 'in' (and the ones that are 'out') that came in the form of a huge timeline.

-      The most important outcome from my perspective was the alignment and commitment that they created for themselves.  At the end, they had each participant come up and read the things they would keep with them and take with them going into the future.  Then they signed a statement of commitment.  The next morning one of the affiliates, previously an outspoken this-will-never-work critic, told them that he was totally on board and that he only wanted to get more into the actual engineering of the piece--and therefore really was sold on what we put together.  The group ended the night with a champagne toast to the project.


7:00 - 8:00       Sponsor meeting.  Short and sweet and focused on the work product.  We get better sponsor meetings the morning after, but it was Friday night.



-      We didn't 'reveal' the sign up—it got blabbed about.  A sign-up has much more impact when revealed, though the culture seemed to be that one doesn't spring things like that.

-      Two rounds of vote with feet were very interesting.  I think it was necessary (or that I couldn't stop it, take your pick), but it really ate energy.

-      One team decided they were done around 4 PM and just . . . stopped.  Declared victory and showed little interest in going further.  I think they were exhausted and their culture was to answer the question and not drive forward.  Another sign that somehow a way of not taking ownership/responsibility was going on until the last moments.

-      There were a number of big teams the last day, and I am not sure that they subdivided efficiently enough to get as much done as they could have.  I think they did not yet trust each other to do the work without being present.  They wanted to have a hand in what was being done.  That leads me to think that a consensus culture is more about trust (or the lack thereof) than need for actual consensus.  I need to understand how to better subdivide them into teams in the six-to-ten participant range.

-      Our knowledgeworker team was great.  We could give the teams completed synthesis with hypertiles added from the reports at the end of Day Two at the start of Day three.  The knowledge wall had a great set of themes, the writing team produced super work and only had one really late night, the environment team was right on top of things.  Imagine the swarming we had to create when I sent a big team to the small radiant room with three minutes warning and all the carefully stored and tagged luggage that was piled there had vanished by the time they arrived.  Kudos to the entire team.  We looked like a well oiled group, so much so that it was quite unobtrusive. 

-      We tried two new metaphors:  Guns, Germs and Steel (about stacking the deck for success) and When Things Bite Back (about unintended consequences) and Process Walkabout.  I liked the effect of all three.

-      I sometimes think that a lot of the power of the session and Day Three is that the participants have painted themselves into a corner.  They want and need to act and they simply cannot come back from this thing with no product.  All creative tension torque. Of course, the edge is where the creativity is.  The participants had no conscious way to articulate this, and it emerged in many ways as frustration.  The newer knowledge workers all talked about the gray hairs they grew during the synthesis conversation, and how amazingly they had pulled out victory at the end.  I just kept repeating my mantra, ÒTrust the process.Ó

scenarios, agenda, feedback, collaboration experiences, pharmaceutical, metaphors, synthesis conversation

Brandon Klein Brandon understands that better teams are fundamental to all of our success. As a global thought leader, ushering in the 'Future of Work' revolution, he paves the way using data + design to accelerate the Collaboration Revolution. Brandon is the Co-Founder of the software start-up, Collaboration.Ai and an active member of The Value Web, a non-profit committed to changing the way decisions are made to better impact our world.