Stimulating Collaboration with Random Coffees and More

September 11, 2015


Stimulating collaboration with “random coffees” and more

Imagine having a quick cup of coffee with a colleague in a relaxed, informal coffee house. On the next-to-last sip, the subject of collaboration comes up. You begin to discuss your big ideas, desire to get involved, and passion to create value together.

Among lab leaders, collaboration continues to be a central discussion topic. That’s why we’ve assembled this guide to the type of thinking that has been percolating—and how you can begin implementing simple tactics today. So pour yourself a cup of your favorite coffee, click through, and enjoy!

And be sure to look for a deeper dive into the art of collaboration in future Lab Leaders articles.

Contributing Lab Leader

Article highlights:

  • Collaboration inside and outside the lab rests on general, easy-to-remember principles
  • These principles involve moving past many of the “business as usual” methods of thinking and interacting in your institution
  • Get a taste of some upper-level collaborative concepts you can begin implementing today



Collaboration Quick Tips
Tip 1: Know your own worth

Collaboration begins with laboratorians themselves. These are folks who, by their very nature, tend to be analytical and "heads down." They may inherently expect that their voices won’t be heard, but with a little self-reflection and drive, they can realize what they have to offer.

Tip 1: Know your own worth

On thinking differently

"We talk about being stuck in the basement and no one wanting our opinion. There's a little bit of a victim mentality. Instead of being victims, we need to ask 'What do you need from us? How can we provide it better? We've got great insights and sit on amazing data, but we're unclear how you'd like to use it. How do we create this partnership?'"

–Jeff Smith, CEO, Voltage Leadership Consulting

Tip 2: Take the first step—out of the office

Since many technical people prefer to live in a results-oriented world, tackling the art of social networking may seem daunting at first. But every journey begins with a first step—this one should be out of the lab, among the larger care team. Only then can you understand the true impact a lab can have on the larger picture of care and outcomes as a whole.

Tip 2: Take the first step—out of the office

On getting out

"The mantra is: Get out of the office. Get out of the lab. You can't really be successful entrepreneurially unless you get out and talk to all the stakeholders that are impacted by your decisions, and who impact you."

–Bill Lovejoy, Raymond T. Perring Family Professor of Business Administration; Professor of Technology and Operations, Ross School of Business, University of Michigan

Tip: 3 Lose the jacket and tie

Informality is key to successful collaboration. Many institutions tend to focus too rigidly on formal structures of communication, but just meeting people outside the laboratory discipline can be very powerful. Informal social networks speed access, reduce stress, and build relationships. Get to know the people out there. Got a question? Pick up the phone instead of sending an email.

Tip: 3 Lose the jacket and tie

On informality

"I once asked a colleague who was giving a presentation on informal networks, 'If you were to go over to my hospital and make one recommendation that would improve patient safety, what would it be?' And she said, 'I would ask if a nurse knew a pharmacist by name.' That was a very interesting response."

–Bill Lovejoy, Ross School of Business, University of Michigan

Tip 4: Elevate your availability

Much of building relationships rests on access. Julia Dahl recalls a time when she opened a histology lab. "We made sure pathologists always had direct contact with us. We had an open house so they could see how we work." Whenever the pathologists had receptions, Julia and her team attended. "We showed we weren't this laboratory 'over there;' we were a critical cog in the hospital’s network."

Tip 4: Elevate your availability

On the virtues of getting stuck

"Some of our best experiences were actually when people got stuck on elevators. You'd get to have conversations that you wouldn't otherwise have, and as a pathology practice and technical support, we became part of the fabric of the hospital. People knew us by name; it broke down a lot of walls."

–Julia Dahl, CEO and Medical Director, Mosaic Prime, LLC

Tip 5: And finally, savor a random coffee

The joys and challenges of collaboration lie in its unstructured nature. At the University of Michigan, Bill Lovejoy instituted something called random coffees. "Once a month, we made a random match among colleagues for a cup of coffee. It’s a low-cost way to build the social network. I've talked to people about Homerian poetry, Japanese robotics, and dentistry."

Tip 5: And finally, savor a random coffee

On a random mixture

"The end result of this is—in addition to an invigorating mixture of ideas—a greater appreciation for the true breadth and depth of our lab. And it's something I think any lab can do."

–Bill Lovejoy, Raymond T. Perring Family Professor of Business Administration; Professor of Technology and Operations, Ross School of Business, University of Michigan




Remember that collaboration is a vast subject, brimming with tactical details. But by keeping the higher principles in mind—availability, informality, relationships—you can help drive the value of your lab.

And the next time you’re stuck in an elevator, you’ll be well-prepared!

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