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Activating Creative Leadership and Collaborative Teams

Tools for fostering synergy at your company

Published: Tuesday, May 23, 2023 - 12:03

The pandemic has sparked a shift in many business models around the world, especially in the MedTech industry. The old manual labor model has sharply transitioned into businesses leaning on digitization and remote working models to cut costs, innovate, discover new drugs, enhance clinical trials, improve efficiency, boost productivity, and cut waste. Businesses quickly realized that shifting to a highly collaborative working model and relying on AI to reduce costs stimulated new partnerships and improved data-driven decision-making and the speed of financial insights.

In this new landscape, companies are transitioning from the merger mentality to business partnerships with the goal of new drug discovery and medical innovations. Companies and regulators have also changed their business models to reflect a more cooperative and collaborative relationship, reducing barriers to meet urgent demands. This model isn’t going away anytime soon; in fact, it’s ushering in digital transformation as our next strategic step in healthcare.

Collaborative trends are on the rise in this post-pandemic economy. The era of digitized devices and artificial intelligence has allowed creative talent to have flexible working arrangements. This ever-changing business model relies on creating remote-based collaboration strategies for businesses. Businesses that don’t strategize to support team collaboration have higher failures in the workplace. According to an international Deloitte study, “Just 9 percent of respondents believe that their organization has a very effective infrastructure for sharing and collaboration.” An additional 39 percent of respondents said that their company’s collaboration methods were only somewhat effective.

Our research shows that teams that promote collaboration perform five times better than teams that don’t. Yet businesses rarely invest in having shared initiatives in their teams; therefore, employees are less likely to partner. Another Deloitte study found that workplace collaboration saves companies thousands of dollars per employee. Saving based on collaboration is valued at $1,660 per employee each year, and the quality improvements made as a result of collaboration are valued at $2,517 per employee each year, according to the report.

Figure 1: Old model vs. new model

Cultivating a collaborative environment is essential and allows stakeholders to come together to share information, identify gaps, and develop solutions faster. This new model relies on fundamental transparency to see where individuals stand relative to their peers (see figure 1). These collective mindsets can shift behaviors across organizations and transform business outcomes.

Transform your meetings to drive collaboration

As the first step in cultivating collaboration, leadership must shift employee mindsets from a silo mentality toward adopting a collaborative attitude in the workspace. Staff meetings typically include each team member reciting a list of weekly tasks and priorities while the rest of the staff listens quietly. Often, hearing a long laundry list of tasks leaves people disengaged. These “task-telling stories” are no value to businesses and drain company time. Staff walks away with little interaction, and no one is really collaborating in this scenario. Meeting dynamics change when the behavior and the mindset behind the behavior change. One way of accomplishing this is using the 4up communication model.

The 4up communication model is a visual tool showing four quadrants, each providing pertinent information about activities, accomplishments, blockers, and next steps. It can be used as a tool to immediately foster collaboration. The four quadrants promote awareness in other workflows to ensure that all members of the team understand job functions, daily tasks, departmental policies and procedures, and how their work affects others on the team. This tool allows teams to problem-solve collaboratively and visualize a common goal.

The 4up model encourages employees to take personal ownership of issues, including helping to correct them, finding points of entry into other workflows, aiding in immediate mitigation of blockers, and collaborating as a nonhierarchical, synergistic team. This allows for immediate feedback during team discussions, coaching, and even performance management conversations.

Employees complete and present this visual template to effectively communicate their current activities to the rest of the team, ensuring that important issues are highlighted. An effective way to use the 4up is by following figure 2 below. The 4up requires individuals/teams to list activities, accomplishments, blockers, and next steps, following the arrow’s direction. Activities strategically and tactically align with the company’s high-level goals and objectives.

This is followed by listing personal or team accomplishments that highlight the important performance activities that helped accomplish the goals and objectives. This will spark conversations around positive behaviors that drive success. Blockers represent show-stopping events or issues that need immediate attention or action. These can often represent a risk to the organization or an opportunity for improvement. “Next Steps” highlights the path forward in a workflow, calling attention to potential collaborative opportunities and ideas.

Figure 2: 4up diagram

Establish collaborative working sessions

Many businesses suffer from siloed teams. Working solo in a silo will never win a game, but working as a team will. Breaking down silos enables a free flow of information from one person or team to another person or team. Breaking down silos and seeing a noticeable change in team behavior can be done by focusing on and promoting the following areas.

Know what your colleagues do

Gaining a true understanding of the nature of what your colleagues and cross-functional teams do and why they do it breaks down barriers and gives rise to opportunities. Use 4up for an open-forum discussion to spark conversations and questions about your colleagues’ workflow. Having a few visual overviews of some of your work can also inspire curiosity. Images can be emotional, influential, and memorable, helping to share concepts and achieve knowledge.

Embrace the mixed bag

Embracing diversified viewpoints, skill sets, and knowledge bases will spark fresh ideas and solutions to old problems, transforming a stale dialogue into increasing reciprocity. Intentionally recruiting team members with different thinking styles, functional expertise, education, and personality accelerates performance and creativity in business. Diverse teams are simply smarter. One way to overcome stale ways of thinking and sharpen performance is to work with people who think differently than you and challenge old thinking styles.

Share incentives

Eliminating the internal monopolies of workload, knowledge, and power, and spreading responsibilities and opportunities across functions drives participation and interest cross-functionally. Deliberately create a process that spreads responsibility across owners and business units. Creating a culture of winning and sharing the rewards together helps boost morale and drives employee loyalty and friendly competition.

Radical candor

Discourage hiding failures and viewpoints. Failures always lead to great sources of improvements and opportunities. Encourage speaking directly and caring deeply in meetings and one-on-ones. Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity (St. Martin’s Press, 2017) is a business leadership book written by former Apple and Google executive Kim Scott. In it, Scott defines the term “radical candor” as feedback that incorporates both praise and criticism. Radical candor involves caring personally while challenging directly. Caring deeply means sharing real thoughts and constructive criticism with your colleagues because not sharing would be doing them a disservice. Open interactions in teams are the gateway for a flow of ideas and meaningful discussions. Use radical candor as a compass for candid conversations in business.

Build the talent

Deliberately employ innovators and idea generators who are collaborative. These employees will encourage free thinking among others, encourage new solutions to old problems, and embrace diverse ways of problem solving. Building a mindset of innovation in-house entails setting up rules around sharing freely and honestly while creating a space to do so. Comfort doesn’t spark innovation or change. Issues, organizational tensions, and problems are the driving force behind innovation and real change, coupled with employees who feel safe and empowered to disrupt the status quo.

Prioritize collaborative working sessions with colleagues to create a space of real-time exchanges for problem solving, idea generation, learning, and knowledge transfer. Often, virtual water-cooler chats lead to newfound ideas and solutions because people are in a relaxed state and feel comfortable sharing. Creating a similar space, an open forum, encourages idea generation and creativity that can consistently bring in a stream of ideas. Creating a collaborative working culture will not only drive innovation but also preserve talent.

Despite the move toward remote work, most American workers say in-person collaboration is important. According to a workplace survey by Gensler, 48 percent of professional and technical employees, 54 percent of administrative employees, 57 percent of managers and directors, and 66 percent of senior and executive employees say that their job relies on in-person collaboration despite working remotely for nearly half a year.

Employees want a sense of connection with their teammates and company. Working, collaborative sessions promote this sense of “teamship” and will promote productivity, open communication, and constant flow of new ideas. Companies that collaborate are 30 percent more innovative and at least 36 percent more productive than those that don’t, according to numbers released by Frost & Sullivan.

Boldly celebrate success

When there’s a win, talk about it, brag about it, and shine a light on it.

Elucidate publicly and openly the winning behaviors in teams, on projects, and for improvement accomplishments. Don’t gloss over wins; advertise them. Get people talking about wins and mimicking positive behaviors that bring organizational successes.

Focusing on positive behaviors in teams highlights pathways of success. Companies can start celebrating success by reward systems such as LinkedIn announcements or employee spotlight articles, internal announcements, point systems, and president’s awards. It’s easy to focus on negative feedback and respond to problems in the business. But shine a brighter light on positive feedback, as well as behavior that drives success and customer satisfaction. If something went well, everyone should know about it.

Having the collaborative edge means creating a culture that empowers teams to speak up, work together, and take control of their department’s own quality.

Within a team, collaboration leads to better problem solving, knowledge transfer, shared purpose, and ideation. Collaboration plays a critical role between business units, and success relies intimately on their ability to maintain collaborative relationships. The key features of successful collaborations between teams are the ability to illuminate unforeseen opportunities, create new value within disciplines, and improve overall team perspicacity.

Leverage collaborative artificial intelligence

The introduction of AI-enabled applications has started to change the way we collaborate daily and has enhanced the way teams interact. Leading organizations are adopting strategies to integrate AI into teams to produce transformative business results. The old business model is one-dimensional; information flows from one individual to a group of siloed individuals or teams. In this case, organizations risk failing to capture vital customer requirements, feedback, and innovative opportunities due to isolated modalities.

The new business model reflects a more multidimensional approach in sharing information between customers and businesses. It ensures that the customer’s journey stays consistent through delivery, and that teams stay connected. The new model is the opposite of siloed. Organizations invest in collaborative tools and AI-enhanced applications to unite everyone in the organization with the customer and each other.

Natural language processing (NLP) is the branch of AI that’s becoming a game changer in business. NLP in software programs allows computers to process and analyze large amounts of natural language data coming from meeting conversations and activity, virtual meeting rooms, and whiteboards. Sentiment analysis, key-word extraction, and summarizing are all examples of NLP methods. Using these methods enhances our ability to understand team sentiment, discussion context, and key concepts. It can even extract insights from team interactions.

These AI applications are often add-ons within popular virtual-meeting software, or they can be downloaded from software application marketplaces. Virtual bot assistants that are backed up with NLP capabilities are becoming common additions to industrial workflows and can provide a 360-degree approach in measuring and monitoring meeting outcomes, enriching meeting notes, and offering new perspectives. Using AI in web-conferencing platforms enables virtual cloud collaboration on projects in real time. It can provide meeting life-cycle assistance by automating note taking, recommending interactive learning for discussed topics, and sending action items to team members. This AI technology is empowering creative leadership in organizations.

One example that has recently hit the market is Zoom IQ. This artificial intelligence tool turns meetings into “smart meetings” and provides insights and intelligent services such as recording outcomes, facilitating meeting organization, and extracting action items. In another example, AI that runs on Microsoft Teams can assist in meeting productivity and personalization by keeping track of action items, summarizing meetings, and translating languages to reduce language barriers. Here are seven more AI meeting assistance apps you might find helpful.

Figure 3: Creative leadership and AI

AI add-on applications will also play a role in hybrid workplaces, embracing the flexibility of staying connected with remote work while increasing efficiency and productivity in workflows (see figure 3). In meetings, real-time engagement can be enabled to help recap calls; track talk time, engagement, and sentiment scores; create meeting reports and playbacks; note action items; and highlight recommendations for continuous improvement. These AI-based algorithms will continuously learn actions and tasks and help sharpen team dynamics. AI and its interoperable capabilities in cloud computing are transforming workflows, meetings, and interactions by creating fertile ground for collaboration and ideation. This new creative leadership model will require a virtual collaborative culture geared toward the balance between innovation and quality.


About The Authors

Alonso Diaz’s picture

Alonso Diaz

Alonso Diaz is director of quality at Taimei Technologies. He specializes in pharmaceutical and medical device compliance, auditing, quality assurance, validation, and artificial intelligence. Diaz has 25 years of cGMP experience in the biotechnology, pharmaceutical, medical device, and information technology areas. He has been a leader and influencer in compliance working for major health care companies such as Amgen, Medimmune, Applera, Abbott, and IBM. He holds bachelor’s degrees in chemistry and microbiology from New Mexico State University, and brings a unique blend of science, big pharma, medical device, and business acumen to the life science industry.

Maria Dibari’s picture

Maria Dibari

Maria Dibari is director of quality at Full Spectrum Software. A graduate of State University of New York-New Paltz, she has a master’s degree in molecular biology and more than 18 years’ experience in medical device R&D and manufacturing, pharmaceutical manufacturing, and health software application development. She is a quality expert in management development and the application of regulations such as 21 CFR Part 11, ensuring that business entities meet laws, regulations, guidelines, and best practices that govern the healthcare industry. She provides regulatory and industry guidance and consultation to executive leadership on strategy around quality, compliance, and product labeling. In 2021, she was awarded a first patent in artificial intelligence around improving patient outcomes.