Building better collaboration, one conversation at a time

Release Date: June 26, 2019
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Officials with the U.S. Army's Team Warren use toys and crafts to design a representation of their ideas on better collaboration. 
LTU photo / Matt Roush.


How do you get a room full of 120 focused, no-nonsense engineers and other highly skilled technical professionals, the civilians who support the development of tanks and other vehicles for the United States Army, to become more collaborative?

Faculty members at Lawrence Technological University, working with leadership from the Army, think they’ve found the way.

LTU recently hosted 120 of the thousands of engineers, program managers, and technical staff that are a part of the U.S. Army’s “Team Warren” for a two-day summit called “Capabilities Collaboration: A Strategic Conversation.” The aim: to work together to create a “Capabilities Collaboration Framework” built on a shared vision and commitment to improve collaboration across organization and functional boundaries.

The summit used the “Appreciative Inquiry” 4-D Cycle (Discover, Dream, Design, and Deliver) approach of LTU business professor Jacqueline Stavros, co-author of the best-selling business book “Conversations Worth Having: Using Appreciative Inquiry to Fuel Productive and Meaningful Engagement.” (To learn more about appreciative inquiry, visit www.ConversationsWorthHaving.today).

As the event began, Stavros told participants: “It’s important to remember that this isn’t your boss telling you what to do. It’s you inventing a collaboration framework, and setting the conditions to build upon it together for the benefit of the U.S. Army and its stakeholders, well into the future.”

The discussions also followed a strategic thinking, planning, and leading framework designed by Stavros called SOAR, for Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, and Results. It asks participants to identify the organization’s strengths that can be built on; opportunities, or what its stakeholders are asking for; aspirations, what the organization cares deeply about; and results, how an organization knows it’s succeeding. Stavros just released a second edition of her book, “Thin Book of SOAR: Creating Strategy that Inspires Innovation and Engagement.” (To learn more about SOAR, visit www.soar-strategy.com.)

The 120 participants were in teams of six participants per table. The first day, the tables were split across work group areas, from platform engineering to vehicle power and mobility to cybersecurity. The second day, participants were seated with people from their capability work group.

Each table began by identifying a “high point experience” that stood out in terms of capability and meaning, and analyzed what strengths they and others brought to that moment. They identified key themes common to these experiences, configured those themes into a small number of strengths, and were asked to create a story about four or five of those core strengths—called a strengths configuration.

Later, participants were asked to imagine the future of the organizational partnership—a future where the technical and program management part of Team Warren has become everything they imagined it could be and more. They were asked to identify which images of the future filled them with the most energy, enthusiasm, and calls to action.

Then, the groups were asked to dream up specific areas for improving collaboration, workforce development, and growth, to develop collaboration focus areas for further development, and to define collaboration itself and how to embed it into the culture.

On the second day, with tables now representing functional capability work groups, participants were asked to identify their individual and group strengths, creating a vision for the working group’s future, including opportunities for collaboration that support their work group and the whole system, to impact engagement and performance in and across all levels of the organization.

Stavros said she’s conducted similar exercises for groups ranging in size from 15 to 800 people, identifying how organizations can collaborate more effectively. “This is replicable and scalable,” Stavros said. “Every organization should be having strategic conversations that fuel productivity and meaningful engagement like Team Warren is doing. People will commit to that which they have co-created—this creates positive work environments that work for all. This technical and program management group from Team Warren spent two days in shared conversations, collaboration, and creating commitments to action.”

The U.S. Army’s leadership team said the vision was to create a capabilities collaboration framework that enables a strong, trusting relationship across organization and functional boundaries, facilitates effective communication, and creates visibility and understanding across the ground systems enterprise—a framework that is enduring, scalable, and repeatable, and that is continually built together, for the benefit of Team Warren and the U.S. Army.”

Army representative Keith Schweizer wrapped up the session thanking the group for their participation. He also thanked all the people who helped pull together the event. Last, he thanked Stavros and her colleague Toni Benner for designing and facilitating such a successful and valuable event. Said Schweizer: “The ability to bring our organizations together to discuss our strengths, share dreams, and collaborate is invaluable. It creates abundant opportunities, creates trust, and highlights our shared purpose. We will use the data and outcomes of the event for the betterment of Team Warren for years to come.”

For more information on creating a collaboration framework event, strategic conversations, or plans to fuel meaningful engagement and productivity in your organization, contact Stavros at jstavros@ltu.edu or (248) 204-3063.

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