Moving the needle - How collaboration agreements and tools improve effectiveness

Published on
July 4, 2023

One of the keys to successful self-organisation is for everyone to understand what is expected of them and how they can best contribute to the shared purpose. Without some form of alignment around a common cause, moving things forward can easily take way longer than it should – especially in distributed teams.

Aligning around a common cause requires tooling. To begin with, it's helpful to have a set of agreements and processes about how you want to collaborate and distribute work (Holacracy, Sociocracy and Teal are popular frameworks to use). It can then be helpful to have collaboration tools to support you to collaborate well, especially when your team or organisation is locationally-distributed. But how can these online collaboration tools actually lead to more productive teamwork?

This article explores some of the ways that online collaboration tools can lead to more productive work in distributed teams – and why shared agreements are so essential for governance.

How can online collaboration tools lead to productive teamwork in distributed teams?

A key challenge for distributed teams is ensuring work gets done effectively because you need to distribute roles and responsibilities a bit differently.

This is where tooling is incredibly helpful. Specifically, in capturing the following:

  • Meta agreements (how everyone can participate in proposing governance changes).
  • Governance (to know who is accountable for what, according to their respective roles and circles or teams).
  • Strategies and priorities (for roles to align around).
  • Visualising projects and work based on roles rather than people (to support separating “role from soul”).

Following are some more ways that online collaboration tools can help improve effectiveness in distributed teams.

Member alignment

When a team is distributed, aligning around a shared vision, values, and outcomes becomes especially important.

With the Nestr tool, for example, each person in the organisation has access to key information that enables this alignment, including seeing which roles are active, the purpose and accountabilities for each role, and who is energising each role. On top of that, each circle or team can publish their strategies and priorities.

Through such a tool, everyone in an organisation has the information needed to proactively lead the projects that will best manifest a role's purpose. A best practice when doing this is to define projects as outcomes so that it is crystal clear what will be delivered when a project is completed.

Member collaboration

Online collaboration tools make contributing to your organisation's main purpose easier, more transparent and more measurable. Tools can be used to request work, host discussions, support meetings and share files. Everyone can share their knowledge, skills and expertise – while at the same time communicating within relevant roles.

In a nutshell, tooling helps improve the sharing, curating and finding of relevant knowledge. Members can zone in on what’s important for their role and not get distracted and overwhelmed due to too many conversations.

Centralised information

In a decentralised organisation, it’s important to have a centralised information hub. Training materials for newcomers, along with guidelines, processes, goals and key performance indicators can then be easily accessible for all members, at all times. This helps ensure that distributed members have the resources they need to work towards the organisation's purpose. Also, having the goals and purpose in one place helps members to self-organise their work and their priorities – which further improves productivity.

For example, when using Nestr, best practices such as linking to-do-lists and tasks to active roles and projects – and their respective purposes – are easy to normalise.  This prompts clients to consider whether a task or to-do is on or off purpose – and only move forward with tasks that contribute to the overall organisational purpose.

Build culture and trust among all members

Getting to know the different members you’re working with is essential. Not just in terms of their skills but also what matters to them and what’s happening in their lives. This helps to foster deeper understanding and connection while also building a strong organisational culture centred around trust.

With the help of online tooling, you can encourage members to share their personal purpose with the organisation. This can help members find others with shared interests as well as identify how their personal purpose fits in with the organisation's – all contributing factors to strengthening your organisation's culture.

A place for feedback and communication

Decentralised organisations are self-organising, often leaving a feedback vacuum. In the absence of formal feedback mechanisms, online collaboration tools help teams develop feedback processes and accountability systems that work for them.

With regular feedback, productivity and satisfaction are likely to be boosted as members are less likely to lose momentum due to being unsure where or how to best achieve personal and shared goals or to feel isolated.

There are various types of communication tools, from video conferencing to instant messaging apps. Many project management and collaboration tools also include a communication element. For example, Nestr’s circle-based feed offers a place for each circle or team to discuss topics relevant to the roles within the circle.

The importance of collaboration tools for governance

Shared agreements are a prerequisite for governance in decentralised organisations. With no traditional management hierarchies, authority needs to be anchored in shared agreements. Without them, you’ll likely struggle to decentralise or self-organise coherently.

For example, shared agreements can be divided into: partnership-determining expectations and role-determining expectations. Partnership-determining expectations are the foundational terms made between an individual and the organisation. Meanwhile, role-determining expectations address members' expected behaviours within the scope of a particular role.

It’s essential to remember that self-organised organisations follow a hierarchy of purpose, not people. And that’s why conventional collaboration tools are not often a good fit, as they have no notion of roles when doing work or when communicating with peers. However, tools like Nestr are built for this purpose.

Nestr allows you to capture and continuously upgrade your organisational structure, circles, roles, accountabilities, policies and domains to meet daily challenges without resorting to centralised interventions.

The most effective tooling is the one that your team uses

Alignment is essential to decentralised organising, and shared agreements and transparency can be a brilliant way to achieve that alignment. And that's where tooling can help. Not only can tooling help achieve member alignment through shared agreements but also with supporting better collaboration, centralising information, strengthening culture, and supporting trust and communication.

It is, of course, important that the people using the tooling have a say in the tools used. You may find that you need to incorporate a variety of tools instead of taking a standardised approach – leaving room for members to find their own ways of working. A good approach is to meet your team where they are and embrace what works.

Nestr helps teams achieve alignment through shared agreements, transparency, effective collaboration and streamlined communication.

For more on decentralisation, check out: Becoming Decentralised: From Hierarchy to Collaboration

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