Collaboration among workers can be the jet fuel for teams, pushing them to solve problems and achieve results that they could not have accomplished separately.

 

Hosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham discuss what collaboration is, why it is so beneficial to organizations and what it can deliver to teams and organizations.

Topics discussed include:

  • What collaboration is
  • How people’s perspectives have to align for collaboration to occur
  • Why collaboration gets us to a better spot
  • How collaboration stokes problem-solving
  • The distinction between collaboration for creative endeavors versus collaboration in getting products developed
  • Why collaboration is vital to supply chains and other services
  • What’s a “rallying point” and why do we need it to have successful collaboration
  • A “reel” example of collaboration
  • What underlies any effective collaboration
  • The soft skills that underpin all good collaboration
  • What mutual interdependence is and why it enables good collaboration
  • The best ways for collaboration to start
  • The role of the leader in facilitating collaboration
  • How passion can ignite collaboration

Next Week

Digging deeper into collaboration in the workplace.

Project management is not always considered a soft skill. Hosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham discuss its role as a soft skill and discuss the criticism.

What Project Management Is

Bob Graham ‘1:06’: We should probably start out first off with defining what project management is and explaining why it fits into our list of soft skills because most people, or some people, might be thinking that they can take a course of project management in college. Why are you saying it’s a soft skill? 

Dr. Tobin Porterfield ‘1:23’: Let’s start that up. Let’s start with what project management is because we often see the term a lot. We see it in job advertisements. It’s prevalent out there. The term is often misapplied and misunderstood. A lot of time people say that it’s time management. Project management certainly has elements of managing your time and your resources. But it is another animal from what we consider time management.

Routine Tasks

Porterfield ‘1:55’: When I look at project management and I teach a lot of courses on it, I start my students with “Look, our whole lives, our work lives, our home lives — you can really bring everything you do into two areas: either routine things, the things I do everyday. I fill out my timesheet, I check my voice mail, I go through my email, I do my report, I do month-end close. There are things we do that are routine, that we just do. It’s what we do in our business world that just keeps the dollars flowing in. We sell appliances or we develop apps and we launch them. It becomes very routine.

When It Becomes a Project

Porterfield ‘2:31’: But when something moves to the elevation of being a project, that’s important. To be a project, it has to meet a couple of criteria. It has to have a start date and an end date. There has to be a time component. We need to get this done. A big one is that there needs to be a specific deliverable, a definable thing, so that when we are done we know what we really accomplished. The third one is a really easy one. That is that it uses resources. But almost everything we do uses resources. I kid my students by saying that me losing 30 pounds is something that needs to happen and it’s a project. But it’s not really a project because there isn’t a start and end date. So it’s not a project. In reality, it’s never going to happen. That’s what we see with organizations. They need to keep the routine going. They need to keeping doing what they do.

Executing projects is how they move the organization forward.

Porterfield ‘3:30’: It’s how they launch that new project, open that new location. For us as individuals, an individual project for us might be to complete a certification, to write that book that you always wanted to write. Projects fit that definition of start and end date, use resources and a definable outcome. They need to be treated differently. There’s a mechanical skill set to project management.

People Skills in Project Management

Porterfield ‘4:00’: There a whole lot of people skills issues that are in project management that in order to get things done that integration has to happen. That’s one of the reason why it earned a place in our list of soft skills.

Graham ‘4:14’: You looked at all of the academic literature you could find to create our list of 55 soft skills. Didn’t you find some researchers who had clearly put project management in the list of soft skills, not technical or hard skills?

Porterfield ‘4:34’: Yes. We didn’t just put it under our list although it’s an area that’s important to us. Studies were done that said project management clearly is a soft skill. Some could make the case that it’s not because in some fields like engineering and some business fields and some IT fields that consider it a hard skill. It’s an important technical skill, and learning how to design a project, to do a Gant chart, that network diagram and time estimates. There’s a mechanical-technical aspect to it, but those technical requirements are not universal across fields. Even within business, where we looked at a lot of Indeed.com job postings, we saw hundreds of occurrences where companies were asking for project management skills specifically specifically across marketing and engineering jobs. Btu still within academic training, when people are earning their degrees, even across engineering, project management does not occur across all engineering disciplines. Even in business, we normally only see it in supply chain management, MIS. We don’t see it in accounting and finance and other areas where it’s a skill that we’re expected to have.

Interconnections

Graham ‘5:47’: We can at this point tell people that they have to accept that project management is a soft skill for the purposes of this podcast and for your own benefit. Thinking of it as a soft skill probably makes it more valuable to you because you can look at it within the context of soft skills and how you interconnect with people, which is really the name of the game anyway. 

Because it’s all well and good that you can manage a project, but if you can’t do it with other people, it’s really going to limit our ability to be effective any organization of any size.

Not Certified, But Still Managing Projects

Porterfield ‘6:23’: We have experienced in actually being project managers while our titles never had that in them. It’s part of what we’ve done in many career opportunities, certainly in our educational/academic careers. We have routine tasks: I have to go in, I have to show up and teach my class, I have to grade assignments, I have to prepare that exam. That’s the routine. I just need to do these things as part of the job I do. It’s what we are expected to do. Porterfield ‘6:53’: If we didn’t do more, if we didn’t develop new curriculum and do new research projects, our organization wouldn’t move forward. We’d be teaching the same thing we were teaching 10, 15, 20, 30 years ago. The business world wold have moved forward and we’d be still using those overhead glassine on the overhead projector. We have seen things change, and we had to convert what we did to this new approach. We had to change what we’re doing. We’re going to introduce new courses, which requires a series of steps. I think we are good where the projects are different, but I think we need to dig in a little bit. We have learned as we do projects that it’s great to know the steps and the process of what has to occur.

It’s the people, the ability to motivate a group of people that makes the difference between a project being successful.

Porterfield 7:54′: Whether it meets that end date, it meets those stated objectives of what it needs to look like, it mostly comes down to getting people to buy-in and do their part.

The Soft Skills Inventory

Graham ‘8:09’: I was just going through all of the soft skills to manage a project. You have to listen, delegate, manage teamwork, lead people, adapt to change, collaborate with others — those are just off the top of my head. So you can see where just being a project manager isn’t just the mechanical aspects of managing a project. We should probably make clear that neither of us believes that project management is just telling people what to do. 

We should be talking to people and looking at what we are trying to achieve together and how to allocate those resources, your time and expertise and my time and expertise, to be the most efficient and effective to achieve that shared goal.

Getting More Resources

Graham ‘9:01’: I always worry that people are going to use these podcasts to say, “Hey, people, do what I say. Clean up your office now.” But it would be better to go to people and say, “Hey, if we all clean our offices before the vice president comes to visit our location, we probably going to look better, and that will mean that the chances of us getting raises and additional resources to do new things is available to us.” That’s the difference and distinction we probably need to make. 

Porterfield ‘9:47’: That’s a great example because projects can be these massive new locations. If it has a start date and end date it’s a project. The boss is coming in two weeks and we need to have this place ready. There’s a date, and what does ready look like. It looks like everything is filed away properly. We can treat small things as projects.

Yes, Project Management Fits Every Group

Porterfield ’10:12′: That brings us to another thing that comes up in our discussion of project management. We have four groupings of the soft skills — Individual soft skills (Episode 5), the Nexus soft skills we use to talk and integrate with another person (Episode 6), and we have the Group soft skills (Episode 7). But we put project management up in the Enterprise skills (Episode 8), which are the highest level of soft skills used by leaders of organizations to lead change. We found in our study of soft skills in job advertisements that individuals were required to have project management skills. But we intentionally moved it to Enterprise. Bob, tell us understand why?

Graham ’11:48′: When we talk about project management, we’re putting it in our Enterprise grouping, which is the grouping where we are at the highest level of leadership within an organization. We are in that strategic area. We are trying to build the vision. We are trying to achieve bigger things. It’s not daily tasks. It’s organizational improvement and organizational change that is our approach. In that area project management is really about allocating resources big and small, and as you are a leader, you have a limited number of resources. You have only so many employees. You have to maximize the use of those employees and also your resources, which are also limited. 

Allocating Effectively

Graham 12:31′: If you are operating a warehouse, you can’t run it more than 24 hours a day. There’s a limit there. Many operations can’t run it more than 8 hours a day or 10 hours a day. Project management when you start to apply those constraints to it becomes more of a leadership issue and less of a low-level, entry-level issue. 

Project management is much more about how an organization is going to use project management to achieve its goals and to grow with the right structure to achieve things in this timeframe.

Graham ’13:12′: For instance, if you are developing a new product. If you are creating a new product, you have a lot of steps. You have to figure out what that product is, how you have to source the materials, your timing for that. Marketing has to be involved. Pricing, finance, shipping, packaging — all those things are part of it. That’s a much higher level than any person that would be in an entry-level job could manage. That’s going to require people at all levels of the organization working together to set deadlines. We need two weeks to get the boxes to put the widget in. And the shipping people might say that if it’s going to take two weeks, that’s going to put it right in the middle of our holiday rush. We cannot do it then. That won’t work. Leaders in the organization have to referee those various concerns and constraints and come up with the best strategy for the overall organization to achieve that goal that they set out on with that new project.

What We Know

Porterfield ’14:13′: Project management is such an interesting area because I do believe that as an individual I should be looking at my work and parsing out what is a project and what needs to be treated differently. It’s very likely a smaller project, but one of the items we have always encountered when studying and teaching project management is there is not a recognition of the value of project management as a technique from the highest levels of the organization, then it’s going to greatly limit our ability to really use project management to launch those big initiatives. That’s also what tipped us over to say that project management is more than just working for the individual. It works with a team and a group. It goes with all three of those groups. But it’s got to be at the Enterprise soft skills level. It has to be alive at the top if it’s really going to have an impact on the organization.

Project management lives at many levels but if it’s not at that top level, we’re really going to have a problem.

Next Week’s Episode 

Graham ’16:05′: Next week, we will address another soft skill and how it fits into our work lives and why it matters to an organization’s growth.

Hosts Dr. Tobin Porterfield and Bob Graham look at the soft skills that guide an organization and its culture toward change and a shared vision.

 

Bob Graham (‘0:00’): Coming up, we’re going to talk about the list of soft skills that play the most prominent role in organizations and organizational change. That and more in just a few seconds.

Introduction

Graham ‘0:20’: Welcome to Episode 8 of Serious Soft Skills. I’m Bob Graham and with me as always is Dr. Tobin Porterfield. We each teach college, (not this month, but soon we will be back at it, we’re getting close); we collaborate on researching soft skills (boy, do we), and we both have used and seen others employ soft skills over the course of our long and illustrious careers, not that long and not that illustrious. We think our experience and expertise give us a unique lens for looking at soft skills. Let’s get to it.

Captaining the Ship

Graham ‘0:55’: We talk about organizations big and small needing a leader, someone who can chart the course for how the company is going to evolve. Without leadership, there’s no captain to the ship. That’s the analogy I like to use. You’ve got to have a captain. Even if it’s a one person company, there’s got to be a captain. We both know examples of businesses that are rudderless, that no one is steering, that they are just blowing in the wind. We’re going to talk about the soft skills that make captaining of a ship, whether it’s a business or an organization, possible. But before we get into that, can you sort of explain where we are? We have been going over these soft skills in groupings we created over the last three or four weeks. I thought you could set it up for us.

Dr. Tobin Porterfield ‘1:43’: In our research, we identified over 50 unique skills that make up what we consider that soft skill set. That number certainly is overwhelming, and where do you even start? We took the approach of how do you eat an elephant: One bite at a time. We took that 50+ and broke it into four groups. What will be challenging for us is that we formulated those groups based on where those soft skills are applied in the organization. We first started with Individual soft skills (Episode 5), which include loyalty, time management, things that the person internalizes and brings with them. Then, we moved onto Nexus soft skills (Episode 6), which are those soft skills you use in one-on-one interactions. Then, we expanded out to Group soft skills (Episode 7), which are obviously those special skills you need to operate in an environment with several people or more. Now, here we are with the top group, which we call Enterprise soft skills, because they really separate themselves. What is really challenging about these Enterprise soft skills is that they also apply in other levels, but what makes them distinct and the reason we pulled them into the Enterprise soft skill level was that they can be very clearly applied in a strategic way. 

An Example of Enterprise Soft Skills

Porterfield ‘3:10’: Let me just give you an example. Being persuasive is one of the soft skills we put at the Enterprise level. Certainly at all levels of communication, we want to persuade people to our thinking, we want to be able to communicate our ideas. So we want to have that influence factor. But that is so much more critical to the leadership level or in a broader sense, when we are influencing the organization. You mentioned earlier that the leader developing as a leader, but there is that ultimate leader of the organization. There are also times that the ultimate leader is going to pull together team members from that organization or virtual organization to set policy, to set strategy, and all of those people are going to be bringing these type of soft skills to the table.

Graham ‘4:03’: We are using the term leadership pretty broadly. So a leader could be someone who is charge of three or four colleagues for a project or a three-month assignment. It could be a formal VP or a sales manager or a charge nurse, and it could be as high as the CEO or some other executive-level position.

Porterfield ‘4:30’: When we look at leadership, we are looking at someone who has responsibility for making sure that others are moving in the direction to support the goals of the organization.

How We Got To Here

Graham ‘4:41’: I like that definition. That clarified it for me. Just for people who are listening us for the first time. Toby was talking about Individual soft skills that was our Episode 5, then he talked about Nexus or one-on-one soft skills, which was Episode 6, and the group soft skills he talked about was Episode 7. If you want to go back and catch up and listen to those, you can. And if you really want to go back to the beginning, you can start on Episode 1, where we define what soft skills are and are not. We are not doing a lot of review. So I wanted to put that out there for our newcomers.

Listing the Enterprise Soft Skills

Graham ‘5:30’: When we talk about these Enterprise soft skills, can you give us the list of what we’re describing as those soft skills so we can start to chew on them.

Porterfield ‘5:44’: We only have eight Enterprise soft skills, which is a more manageable group. But the application and development of them is much more challenging. Let me go through the eight, and then we need to talk about the gap issue we mentioned before.

  • The ability to be persuasive
  • To identify, analyze and solve problems
  • Manages projects, with a strategic focus
  • Manages relationships
  • Uses conflict-management skills
  • Uses critical-thinking skills
  • Leads change
  • Manages people and human resources

Porterfield ‘6:26’: I want to cast all of those in a very strategic direction of the organization. Also, that gap that I mentioned a moment ago, these soft skills don’t allow the leader to move into a place with these and not have the other soft skills like listening and time management. We positioned our other groups to complement on each other. They somewhat build on each other. If you get into a level of leadership and don’t have those soft skills of listening, empathy and communication, for instance, it becomes very difficult to be persuasive, to manage change, to draw people in. To really analyze a problem, you need to look at it from different perspectives. That ability to communicate and develop that rapport with a group are skills that we have mentioned in other sections. Those soft skills are critical to developing these Enterprise soft skills as well.

Seeing The Forest, Not The Trees

Graham ‘7:22’: To me, it sounds like putting them together, these soft skills are about developing and being consistent toward a shared vision of what an organization is going to look like. It’s not the tactical, day-to-day stuff anymore. It’s the big picture. It’s seeing the forest through the trees. Often, employees are looking at their various trees. I have to do this project today and this project tomorrow. The leader is taking these eight soft skills and looking at the big picture. Where are we going to be in three weeks, three months, three years? What could happen industry-wide, politically, socially? All of those big picture things that you can’t really grab hold of unless you have a lot of good things going on with the other soft skills we have talked about and have manifested them into these eight. Is that another way to say it?

Porterfield ‘8:20’: That is right where we are. To look at different levels of these, whereas a person leading a team may want to carefully select skills and abilities at a very tactical level. At this point, when we talk about managing people and human resources at an Enterprise level, we are really looking at what kind of corporate culture do we have. How do people work together? Who are those integrators? How do we work with our outside firms and leverage their resources?

Enterprise soft skills involve a much more strategic and holistic look at the organization.

The Classroom Analogy

Graham ‘8:57’: Toby, I am wondering if you could take this to a really simple example that strikes me. I am catching you off guard, but I think you can pull it off. That would be in the classroom. We both teach in classrooms. Could you apply these Enterprise soft skills into a classroom setting? We have all been in classrooms. Some of us may have worked in big organizations, some in small ones. We have all been in classrooms. It strikes me that if you could walk us through how they show up in a classroom, it would crystalize for us.

Porterfield ‘9:28’: That’s a good way to look at these Enterprise soft skills. At least we all have common ground in that. But when it comes to the classroom environment, you and I know that when we conduct a course and that course runs over several weeks or months of time, there are normally some very important learning objectives that we have. For instance, we want students to understand business statistics, the tools to do that, to apply it to businesses situations, to run the analyses and interpret them. In the background, there are these learning objectives. For a company or organization, we would see those as being the strategic goals of the organization. That’s what’s trying to be accomplished. The people experiencing the class or the organization may only see the tactical like we have negotiated the contract or we have developed the product. They see the mechanics. The leader has a very close eye on those strategic objectives and orchestrating and moving that group to it. For us, as instructors in the classroom, that means being persuasive, being convincing of the importance of the topic. It means conflict management, being able to draw people into different perspectives, and maybe even getting to the point of disagreeing with you or with their peers. To have that opportunity to sort through it and use critical thinking and understand different perspectives, to crystalize an understanding.

I like using that term orchestrate because that’s what the leader is doing. They have a bigger picture than the others do.

Porterfield ’10:56′: And whether that’s a team leader or a department leader or a division manager or the CEO, each one of them has that set of strategic goals going on and they are orchestrating bringing members into concerts to get that done. That’s why we see conflict management and critical thinking, as we try to draw those people into those engagements.

Graham ’11:22′: If I’m in the classroom and I am a student. I am looking for the A and the three credits and move toward graduation. Your job as my teacher is to get me to realize that or cajole me into learning the things I need to learn that the grade goes away over time. No one’s going to take it away. But no one ever asked me at a job interview asked to tell them my grade in a course. They asked what did you learn and the skill sets, those types of things. That’s a great analogy for us to work through. An individual student in a classroom is focused on very specific things. They are not thinking about those learning objectives, that big picture, the fact that you chose one textbook that complements other textbooks, that gives a different perspective. I know this analogy resonates with me right now because it’s August and I am putting together my fall courses. I am doing that vision creation part of my world right now, knowing full well that my students will never say to me, “Hey, why are we doing this sequence of the textbooks? Why is the guest speaker coming this week, not that week? Why did you assign me that outside reading this week?” What they are looking at is, what do I need to take and learn to get the A on the test so that I can get a high grade and I can get my three credits.

Porterfield ’12:44′: In a work situation, similar to the grade, we could be fixated on the salary or renumeration, or the bonuses or something like that. If we look bigger picture, we might ask, what’s your job satisfaction? How much did you enjoy your career? When you get to retirement, is it just that sum of what you earned each year or is it what you accomplished, the contribution, the skills you learned, the impact you had? You are right. It is the same tension we deal with in the classroom. We want you to pass the course, we want you to graduate, but we want you to accomplish these other things that we have running in the background. The skills and the knowledge you will need to be successful.

The Leader’s Duel

Porterfield ’13:30′: It’s not unlike a company, where you have this duel. The leader understands the dichotomy of the two and how to blend them together.

Graham ’13:41′: That leads us to next week’s episode, where we talk about Empathy, which is really a key. That will be Episode 9, where we will talk about one of the soft skills that will help you be more aware of how people are reacting to you in that Enterprise area.

The List One More Time

Graham ’14:00′: It strikes me that without even trying put a really nice bow on things for today. Do you think we are at a good place to stop right now?

Porterfield ’14:08′: Let me just wrap this up with when we looked at leadership then, those soft skills that really are influencing the organization, we saw these Enterprise soft skills. We look at the person’s ability to persuade. There’s a lot underneath that. How do you persuade a group? If there’s no followership, there’s no leadership.

Graham ’14:29′: That’s persuade, not order them to do things. That’s developing a shared set of objectives to reach this goal together. That’s not you clean the carpet and you clean the walls and I’m going to sit here and marshal you through.

Porterfield ’14:47′: As our perspective is more long-term. Short-term, you can drive into submission. But in the long term, the organizations that are more effective persuade and get that group loyalty going. Next on the list of Enterprise soft skills is identifying and solving problems. Managing projects or having a project management perspective, which we will talk about more in a future episode.

Graham ’15:12′: That’s managing more than one project. That’s being able to manage the list of projects and make sure that the right resources are applied to each one.

Porterfield ’15:22′: What we really call a portfolio of projects.

That group of projects is really an investment for the organization. We want that investment in projects taking us to the best cumulative effect.

Porterfield ’15:37′: Managing relationships is another Enterprise soft skill, along with conflict management, critical thinking, and obviously, change management, which will get us back to that empathy issue. And managing people and human resources. It’s still a difficult list, but fairly focused at eight items.

Graham ’15:54′: It is certainly high level.

Our Podcast Goes Global

Graham ’15:57′: Thank you, Toby. We’re going to wrap it up. But before we do that, I am going to share something with you that I haven’t told you. I want you to guess a country where we have people listen to our podcast from. Besides the U.S.

Porterfield ’16:13′: I’m going to go with a real oddball because I think I have got you on this one. Kazakhstan.

Graham ’16:19′: I’m so sorry. They have not registered yet. But let me give you the list of countries that have. We have had people from Japan, South Africa, Canada, India, Germany, France, the United Kingdom and the Netherland. So we are truly international. We are big-time. 

Previewing Next Week’s Episode

Just for people who are new to us or people trying to figure out the easiest way to access us. We are available on iTunes and Google Play. I worked hard to get that set up. You can download the podcasts from there and make it automatic. If you like what you hear, please review us. We would love your feedback. You can do a review in iTunes and on Google Play. Reviews help people decide what to listen to. We hope you will give words to what people can expect form us so more people join in our group of people interested in how soft skills play out. That would be a big help to us. Now, I need to tease about next week a bit more. Next week, we are going to talk about Empathy. You could easily say it’s a soft skill that everyone can benefit from, but it’s a soft skills that is poorly understood and often overlooked. We’re going to help people see it’s value and how to develop it in our next episode. We hope you will join us next Wednesday when that episode comes out. Until then, thank you for listening, good day, and Toby, your favorite thing in the whole wide world, good soft skills.

Collaboration, an important soft skill, takes many forms, and each form it often enables us to rise above the challenges we face in life. The old adage that two hears are better than one is valid.

To obtain survey responses from the widest possible group of people for some research we are doing, we sent it to our LinkedIn and Facebook friends. Some responded and some did not. We also sent the survey to some of our networks’ best connectors, hoping that they would spread the survey on soft skills in the workplace beyond our limited networks. (Our networks aren’t small. Collectively our LinkedIn numbers exceed 3,000 connections.)

But reaching beyond our networks enables us to obtain a broader cross-section of respondents. Our network, while diverse and broad, is limited in some ways, as we each have a lot of former students and academic world colleagues on our lists. One of our lists skews toward insurance brokers, owing to a past position as an insurance publication editor.

The people with whom we shared our lists have their own networks. Those networks represent different segments of the working population.

We could have spent a lot of time and money trying to reach a broader network, but in the most effective and obvious method of reaching more people was to collaborate with others. They were happy to help, as in each case, we have provided value to them in various ways, never seeking compensation. We just helped when it was needed.

And now, when we need help, they rise to the occasion, ensuring that we can achieve greater results than if we had only spread word of the survey to our own networks. That collaboration is just one demonstration of where soft skills improve our work.