Leadership Podcast Series Ep 5: Collaboration Externally & Internally

By Published On: September 29, 2022

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Host: Chris Gaffney

Co-Hosts: Mike Ogle and Rodney Apple

In this Episode:

We discuss how to advance your career by being more aware of and developing better collaboration skills, both internal and external. Supply chain is a profession that requires and provides many collaboration opportunities that are essential for growth and development. This can help leaders learn more about the art and science of collaboration, such as: establishing the right culture and clear expectations, how to facilitate collaborations, and the value of applying program management tools. Also, learn about how to deal with issues like lack of engagement or proper handling of self-interests. These pointers can show you how to advance your career, your teams, and your organization with more effective internal and external collaboration.

What is the Supply Chain Careers Leadership Series?

The Supply Chain Careers Leadership series expands its previous content format into a more in-depth focus on leadership development. This program is a series of 10+ episodes that are hosted by our very own supply chain executive, Chris Gaffney. These episodes explore subject matter and topics that relate to excelling as a leader in the business world, much of which Chris has gleaned as VP of Supply Chain at Coca-Cola. Familiar faces and fellow supply chain leaders, Rodney Apple and Mike Ogle chime in with their experience and knowledge, all of which can be used by supply chain leaders to develop and advance their careers.

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[00:00:42] Rodney Apple: Welcome back to the Supply Chain Careers Leadership Podcast with Chris Gaffney. I’m your co-host Rodney Apple and we’ve got Mike Ogle as our other co-host. In our prior episodes we have covered your next career step: avoiding the regrettable move, work life balance: total leadership in all four quadrants. Episode three was blind spots and how to overcome them. And our most recent episode was personal productivity, how to get more things done. If you missed any of these episodes, you can just go back to the website or your favorite podcast platform and replay them. Just search for Supply Chain Careers Podcast. Over to you Mike.

[00:01:24] Mike Ogle: All right. Well, thank you, Rodney. And Chris, so how does this particular topic on collaboration fit into the leadership series at this point?

[00:01:32] Chris Gaffney: I’ve talked about how we are gonna try to bucket the episodes into a few different categories. And so, we’ve talked about how do you work effectively, create the time and space for development. How do you differentiate in the workplace? How do you grow and develop in your career or as you progress towards your career and the last one is where am I headed? How do I build a career path? So, I think collaboration for me is kind of dead center in the differentiator space, for sure.

Being a successful collaborator as an individual is impactful and gets you noticed and it’s something you need in school as well as in the professional world and being able to lead collaborative teams is a critical differentiator as you rise. So, I think it’s primarily in the differentiation space, but in all honesty, it’s a great way to grow and learn. And I think it’s also an element of working effectively. So, I think it touches three of our four, but clearly is a differentiator.

[00:02:50] Mike Ogle: So, Chris, out of all the other topics, this one seems to be of particular importance to you. So why are you passionate about collaboration?

[00:03:00] Chris Gaffney: Yeah, Mike, it is a great question. And I think as I said, I think it is a differentiator, but you know, for me, what I would tell you is some of my greatest experiences, and in fact, probably some of my capstone achievements, have been as a result of collaboration. So for me, that’s been enjoyable, but in all honesty, it was a big accelerator. So, if I think about a few of those and I’ll speak to them in different context. When I worked at Coke we had a couple of different evolutions over my 25 years around how we worked together. And in all honesty went from a place where we didn’t work across a very large business system to a place where we did, and you know, that created huge opportunity. So I could think of an instance with Dave Katz, who is the COO of Coca-Cola consolidated. He and I at a time where we were junior in our career were in different parts of the business. He was on the bottling side and I was on the company side, but we were both logistics in supply chain professionals. And in our own interaction, we said, we think there’s huge untapped opportunity between us and he and I actually spent the time to put down on paper, a list of opportunities that we thought could be achieved if our organizations work together over time. And it was a serious amount of money. And I’ll say it now, cuz it’s back in the day, there’s $300 million. And the really cool thing is Dave and I still occasionally talk about it is over the course of three to five years, we were actually able to deliver that by working differently. So that was a huge one for me.

Outside of the business system, McDonald’s was a large customer for us for many years at Coke. And at a point in time, McDonalds decided that they wanted to take a significant step forward in maturing their approach to their logistics of getting ingredients and supplies from suppliers into their stores. And they actually brought together members of their community, their distributors, some key suppliers and some academics. As a matter of fact, there were folks from at the time UT, Penn State and MIT in there, and we worked together with McDonald’s on their logistic steering committee for about two or three years. And we watched McDonald’s go from someone who had left a lot on the table there to being pretty progressive and a leader in the industry. It was great for them, and it was a great opportunity for us supporting them to help them. And it had benefits for us as well. I had the opportunity to work with a cross industry group at Ohio State, and it was called the Global Supply Chain Forum. And one of the things that I’m most proud of there is that group of folks from many different companies, along with Doug Lambert and his team at Ohio State, created one of the first textbooks on supply chain management and it’s still well utilized today. And my last one I would say is when I was at Georgia Tech, our capstone was a senior design across functional or a multi-person project working with industry. You’d pick a company and work with it, and it was a classic opportunity in a project team to show how collaboration and how teams working together could make a huge difference. But you also learned about the pitfalls there, and I have the opportunity to continue to mentor some of those senior design teams through my relationships with Georgia Tech.

So there just have been, again, some of my most memorable and impactful experiences have been through that collaboration. And I do think they’ve been a big accelerator for me, so I I’d love to get y’all’s take on your experience with collaboration as well.

[00:07:04] Rodney Apple: Guess I’ll start. From my vantage point, it is key to be successful in my line of work in recruitment, in supply chain and having worked on the corporate side Coke, Home Depot, Kimberly Clark, Cummins. I just recall it just comes naturally in what we do, but I think I look at it as the glue that it kind of keeps people tied together whether it’s your internal teams or your external customers and partners, suppliers, we’re one of the few professions where we are brokerage between people and people, so candidates on one end and employers on the other.

But I remember back at Home Depot when I worked there, when I started, I was at their headquarters. They were Fortune 15. We were on this bottom floor in this corner of this corporate complex far away from our customers. And you had to walk across three large buildings and I forget how many stories, 16 or 18 and up and down. And I at one point in time, I was in the elevator and our senior most leader, the SVP of global logistics looks at me and says, Rodney I want you to move over and sit with us. Like, what do you mean? Like, yeah, we’ll get you in office and sure enough, I was one of the lone recruiters that kind of escaped that bottom corner of the complex and was thrusted up into the two main floors of where all the logistics and supply chain of hundreds of people sat, and it was a game changer that I was involved with the leadership meetings. I got to see all the people that I placed and just got to be a member of the team.

And I bring this up because sometimes people I think get isolated if you’re not tied together. So it is a purposeful thing that you have to do. You have to seek it out. Oftentimes you’re brought into it like I was, but that really changed my perspective, and I, even when I went to Coke, didn’t get to sit with the folks that I supported in supply chain. So I made the effort to get outta my desk and instead of having a call with someone, always try to do those things in person. And that really facilitated partnership building, relationship building, getting things done. Brainstorming ideas and just, it made a more successful partnership.

And I tried to maintain that spirit, even in today with my own search firm, we’ve got the same discipline. We have a think tank where we do a lot of this collaborating and getting together and huge whiteboard and all the different tools to help facilitate the ideas and exchanging and same thing with our clients. We strive to have those highly collaborative partnerships. And when we do, usually have a great experience, and I know that when we don’t, when they hand something off and then they kind of go dark, and they’re not collaborative partners, that’s when things can kind of get off the rail. So that’s my personal experience and perspective on collaboration. And I think why it’s important and not just what I do, but in business in general.

[00:010:39] Mike Ogle: Rodney, I’ve had some similar experiences, but in a very different set of arenas. I guess through my industry association days in a past life for about 17 years, then I managed a lot of projects, dealt with a variety of industry groups from national to international standards groups. There were a variety of industry groups focused on their part of the material handling and supply chain industry. I’d say particularly on the solution side of different vendors getting together that had their area of solutions that were going into different parts of the industry. But the thing that I really got a great education on, there were so many different personalities and motivations that you had a chance to learn from. You really have to become a great reader of the room over time and be able to understand and accept so many different perspectives that were out there. But always being able to keep your eye on the prize, especially when you’re trying to lead a team towards a solution, you keep your eye on the prize and move everybody to try to achieve some improvements.

That works really for the big picture the industry, the companies, but you also do have to keep your eye on the individuals, cuz if you tend to completely shut somebody out or a company out or whatever it may be, and you’re not keeping an eye on that everybody’s winning rather than you, you win and others lose, like so many things in supply chain, you’d really have to have somewhat of a balanced scorecard overall and keep your eye on all those different pieces, because if you don’t, it can bite you really hard if you establish the wrong kind of reputation either whether it’s internal or external.

And then I’d say on the academic side, when I was wearing that hat often through the years, you tend to have a lot of lone wolves acting for their own self-interest  on the academic side, but you also do end up having opportunities for teamwork and collaborative research and papers and all those kinds of things. So things could really turn very strongly positive when you had that type of common goal that you’re working on. And then the only other piece that I would put in here is I had a really great opportunity for a couple of years to manage senior design teams and work on a team of other advisors and leaders of senior design teams. And you had to provide a tremendous amount of guidance to students in how they work and play well with each other on teams. So you see this collaboration and you see the level of achievement, that if they started to get it and they understood what it took to collaborate and truly communicate well and keep their eye on the prize and keep moving towards it, that what you could achieve was really surprising and very rewarding.

[00:13:42] Rodney Apple: Good stuff, Mike. Hey, so Chris, when you look at collaboration and I do think it’s like any kind of skill it’s something that you try to improve upon, but this is, from my vantage point, it’s an art and it’s a science. Right. Can you share your perspective on that piece? Like the art part of it, the science, cuz there’s definitely some discipline to it. And then there’s some things you kind of feel out over time. What are your thoughts on that?

[00:14:13] Chris Gaffney: I definitely will start with the art piece of it and I think Mike hit it, and that was some fabulous examples for both of you, but Mike in particular, not only the examples, but I can hear it in your voice. It’s in the emotional thing when you see it done well. And I think one of the most important piece of that, the art of it is having folks see the greater good and the long play. And like you talk about those industry associations. In many cases, you’re being very selfless in trying to take a practice forward a craft and it’s not for your immediate benefit. Right. And so I think that’s part of it. But I think there’s so many elements of it. And Mike, you also said there are settings where people work individually, but the reality is particularly in the industry side of things, most work requires the help of others, right? And so, you can either be in a place where you need help or you can be in a place where someone says, I need you to be part of this effort in order for us to be successful. So there’s different dimensions of where you play in collaboration. So think if I get into some of the other elements of the art piece of it’s about give and take, right? You’re in any situation like this, where you’ve got multiple players involved in, as Mike said, moving something forward, there are times when you might have to lead and there may times when you may have to follow, there are times when your perspective is offered, but may not be taken, but you still gotta stay on the bus. I think that’s hard for any individual in a competitive situation, but it’s important because it’s not always gonna be your way.

The essence of this is there’s value in having those different perspectives as Mike talked about. and so think the other piece of that art is how do you make sure you get everybody comfortable bringing their whole self to the table. In many cases, you have folks who are quiet and you gotta find a way to make sure you don’t lose that input because that may be the most valuable input. So there’s a lot of that sauce side of it. I do think there’s some philosophical pieces of it. Everyone in a collaborative environment has gotta make a commitment and keep it, right. And so how do you get people to understand that element of it? And we’ve all had people on project teams who they’re very, either they’ve got short arms and they don’t take on something, and you’ve got a few people rowing the whole boat, or you’ve got people who make commitments and are thumping their chest. But when you show up, they hadn’t gotten anything done. So there’s all kinds of elements around that dynamic.

I do think it’s about positive intent and trust. You’re putting yourself out there. You’re investing of your time, in addition to many other things you have to do. Also, was using this analogy with somebody I know real well, is in many cases, you’re trying to bridge a gap in a collaborative effort and what I wanna make sure in those settings is everybody feels like they’ve gotta do a little more than their part. And if you can get everybody thinking like that, you can get a very challenging objective met. The only other thing I would say about the art of collaboration is it’s not always a structured big project or program. It may be as simple as you’re having lunch with somebody and they say, I’m really having trouble figuring this thing out. And you may say, well, tell me more about it. And I might be able to offer you an idea to help you move it forward. So you never know when you’re gonna be in a setting where the power of one plus more than one can be can be greater than the sum of the parts.

[00:18:18] Mike Ogle: Yeah. And so that art side is certainly important. Of course there have to be some tactics and things that you actually apply to this. So what are some key points maybe about the science side of collaboration?

[00:18:33] Chris Gaffney: Yep. And I think that they definitely there’s both sides of that fence, Mike, and ironically in our time at Coke, and I always applaud the Coke system, they were very good at teaching a lot of these disciplines and Rodney and I were probably involved in some of that facilitation, but if I look at some of the formal methodologies I was exposed to and frankly leveraged and in many cases still leveraged today, a lot of them are part of the science of collaboration.

So I’ll talk about a few of those, but for me, change management was huge, particularly when we’re trying to make an organizational change or change in how we do business. And a lot of that gets into the art of tapping into people’s self-interest, have them understanding that a collaboration that is driving change ultimately impacts people in an organization. And if you can tap into the team member’s self-interest, you have a much greater probability of bringing them along and then they can be advocates to a larger organization. So I think that’s a big deal. Structured problem solving methodologies are absolutely critical in a lot of collaboration settings and in our operational world, whether we were using lean methodologies or Six Sigma methodologies, all of those things can come into play when you’re dealing with something that requires, frankly in many cases understanding what’s going on in a given system. Large efforts of collaboration require the structure of program management. You’ve gotta get in there and build out project plans and timelines and interdependencies, and have the means to keep an effort moving forward over time. So that level of discipline that’s there.

Connecting to the art and the science piece of it you know, we talk about there being different types of people, but in many cases, when we had large efforts, we would take teams through you know, a personality profile. So you think of something kind of like the Herman Brain Dominance Instrument to consciously make, or let the teams know, we have different learning styles in the room and not only be aware of that, but use that to take advantage of it. So in very large efforts, that type of thing is out there.

It may be small things like facilitation. Learning how to run a meeting as Rodney talked about, getting the right balance in the room, making sure you’ve got all voices heard. That requires some specific skill sets there. And I think for us, we’re talking about supply chain management and our field and how leadership applies there. Clearly process thinking. We’d bring those SIPOCs in there or the the swim lane chart so we could understand which person owned which part of a process, who was my internal customer and supplier, and how are we gonna change this process. And then just the overall philosophy of end to end supply chain management. Many of our big efforts in corporate America were about breaking through the classic functional silos and that type of thing.

My last plug about the science of collaboration is I saw as statistic that said organizations that prioritize collaborations are five times more likely to outperform their peers. So not just the science of how, but the science of it’s worth the trip to be intentional about collaboration.

[00:22:12] Rodney Apple: Memory lane. I remember the first time, think heard the word collaboration was CPFR, the collaborative planning, forecasting, and replenishment model. Saw that a lot in resumes back in the day. Any thoughts on that piece as it relates to kind of partnering? I know it’s more on the external side.

[00:22:36] Chris Gaffney: Yeah. So let’s jump into the external side of this and we could talk about the internal and I’ll come back to it, but it is a unique challenge to collaborate across commercial barriers. And that could be true in academia. If you’re having multi-industry or multi-university or even different colleges in a university system work together, they’re just things that are a little bit more challenging, but in a customer supplier relationship, it’s very unique and that that collaborative planning, forecasting, and replenishment concept, which still lives today and the more mature concept title is joint business planning, is a great idea in concept. Very difficult in practice, because in many cases, most cases you have a contractual relationship where there may be commercial pricing terms and that type of thing. There may be commitments to capacity and how that works over time is very much a function of how the players on both sides want to find a way to make that work or not.

And the kind of the gold star is that collaborative concept is there is a belief that even inside of a contractual relationship that we jointly as customer and supplier can get bigger benefits if we share in a different way. In many cases, the concepts are about being a bit more transparent over time when you might you wanna hold your cards a bit closer to the vest.

in many cases you are trying to get multiple people in organizations working together. So it’s not just the person who manages the relationship. We used to say that bow tie. You wanna take that bow tie instead of having one to one relationship between a customer and supplier, flip that bow tie around and have many to many so that the people in your organization who work in different functions know their peers and that to me again, can result in some breakthrough results. And so think that’s alive and well, and you see many of the large CPG players, and that’s a lot of my experience, both on the brand and customer side, work very hard on that. Typically you’re gonna stumble because in many cases, those relationships will evolve over time, but the best of them stick with it and really think about it over time. So I think about it from a customer lens, but at Coke, in many cases, we were very large relative to our suppliers. And so then we thought about it from a supplier relationship management standpoint and there’s equal opportunities to think in a different way. Then in many cases, if you’re dealing in a supplier relationship, like we were at Coke, you could have the tendency to say, how do I just find a way to get low price? Right. And if you’re not careful about that, you can sacrifice a lot of things. We saw that a lot in the last couple years, from a pandemic standpoint of the folks who were low cost buyers. Their suppliers vaporized on them. Right. Whereas if you had people who were collaborative in their relationship with the suppliers, had those balanced scorecards, understood continuity of supply, service, a long-term perspective in many cases, their supply relationships stood the test of time. So I think collaboration has a, a huge equity in that lens as well.

You talked about it, Rodney, in terms of the recruiting side, if it’s a transactional relationship, it works one way. And if it’s collaborative, it works in a different way. We’ve seen that a lot in the supply chain world with outsourcing. And in many cases in logistics where we now have third party logistics providers, or very large logistics service providers owning a lot of what might have been done by a company in the past. If you just go out and go through a selection process and find that 3PL and plug them in and move on in most cases, those relationships don’t last long, but it’s a bit paradoxical when you’re outsourcing and go to a third party provider. You actually then still wanna treat them almost as if they’re part of your organization and collaborate with them so they understand how the business is evolving so that they can position resources to support your business. You’re also listening to them. Is the practice playing out according to the contract, are they able to make a buck and are you willing to be aware of how your behaviors are limiting their success? So much in that space is huge when you get into that external world.

The last one that I would speak to, which I had a lot of fun with over the last half of my career is something that’s a bit unconventional from a collaboration standpoint, but we started doing a lot of non-competitive benchmarking. So we would go to peer companies who were not in our space. So we weren’t buying or selling the same stuff to the same customers. And we would say, we would like to tell you where we are in our supply chain maturity, good or bad. And we’d love to know the same from you. And what we found were some tremendous opportunities where in an industry that would be a little bit different. This peer may have faced a similar problem. And approached it and solved it in a completely different way. and we were able to really make some advances there. We saw that in particular, in one of our Coke bottlers in Mexico, our folks called FEMSA and they did some non-competitive benchmarking with a bakery company called Bimbo. And at Coke, we took cans and put ’em into multi packs and put ’em into cases. And in the bakery business, you take loaves of bread and you have to put ’em in a tray to take ’em to the store and the material handling solution and technology that they used was completely different than what we did at Coca-Cola. But it was a paradigm shift in terms of how it worked. It required much less space in a production floor and it just opened the eyes of some of our folks to say, we just never thought that we could do it that way. So as you can hear, I, get fired up about a lot of that external collaboration and where it can take you.

[00:29:15] Mike Ogle: Great information about the external side, Chris, as well, there’s so many different levels of internal collaboration as well. There’s small, tight teams that are around you, and maybe it gets out to bigger and bigger circles, but you’re still internal in the organization and actually crossing some boundaries that almost feel a little bit like external, but how does the internal side work differently than the external?

[00:29:40] Chris Gaffney: It’s a great question, Mike. And it as I thought about this topic originally said, well, the external side is tougher, but the internal collaboration can have its own challenges. And it obviously depends on how large a setting you’re dealing with, but my experience in both larger organizations and smaller, and I’ve worked in both, is there’s some things that are critical in terms of how to get it right. Think the first thing is understanding what is the culture? And I always say, culture is what are the actions and behaviors that are acceptable. So how does work get done in your environment, particularly if you’re newer and you’re brought in and see the need or opportunity for greater collaboration.

So I think you’ve gotta kind of read the room. You may need to tap into folks who are veterans or have some experience and say, I’ve got a large effort that’s gonna require me to work with multiple folks across functions. Give me some watch words or tell me show me some examples of projects that went well and why. So I think that’s critical.

I think whenever you’re going to have a level of collaboration that is on the more formal side, people are gonna wanna understand how does this link to our priorities, right? You know, if it’s a discretionary investment of their time, an additional commitment or objective beyond what they’ve been charged to by their direct manager, they’re gonna wanna understand how does this connect to greater priorities and make sure it’s not just some off the beaten path kind of effort. So I think that’s really important. I do think the give and take concept is really important here, and it goes with you’re asking for someone’s capacity. And I very much, when I get into an internal collaboration setting, I try to be very clear on expectations for folks who are coming onto the team. And in corporate America today, pretty much everybody’s tapped out when they show up. And so working with functional folks in the setup of the project gets super specific around what we need them to do, what role we need them to play, and in some cases get very finite around what we’re asking them. When somebody’s not a primary committed team member outta my function, I’m usually trying to carve out a commitment of one, two, maximum three hours a week. Right. I might say to them, I need you in a functional work stream meeting for one hour. I need you in a larger program management check in every couple of weeks for one hour. And I’d like you to gimme one hour of homework a week and see if you can get that. To me, that’s part of that give and take. And that allows that person to feel like you’re not asking for an open-ended commitment.

I think it’s also clear to understand priorities, right? If even though you want the linkage to corporate priorities, you’ve gotta be clear if your project is job one. I am working on a large project right now where it’s job one, but even then you’ve gotta be cognizant that there are other things going on in the organization and be sensitive to the fact that nobody ever has one thing that they’re working on. And if your effort is not job one, you’ve gotta accept if you’re working on a small rock, you’ve gotta be a bit more artful about how you are bringing people to the work, getting it done, as Mike said, keeping it moving forward, getting it on track. So think a lot of those dynamics are important.

I think the other thing you have to deal with, it’s a reality in a corporate setting, it’s probably a reality in an academic setting is you gotta understand personal motives. I was talking to a friend of mine and he said, I’m working on this effort because I want to do great work. And I’m just at a different place in my career. I’m not that hung up on the big promo that might be out, but I’m working with someone who it’s really important for them to get promoted. So if that’s important, then I’ve gotta set this work up either as something that will give them visibility by working on this project and or it, it will allow them to demonstrate results that will help them showcase their value and, or it’ll allow them to grow and give them something that they need as part of their development plan to position to that next promotion. And that’s a little bit of that self-interest, right. The self-interest may not be the organization’s gonna perform better. It’s gonna be, this is an experience that will position you for something you want. So I think those are a few things.

And I think the last thing that’s important to me is how do you leverage your internal network in larger organizations to help this collaboration get done. And when I was junior in an organization, I honestly leveraged my boss’s external network. He knew all the players and he could get me some advocacy for them. And later on in my career, as I had a bigger network, people would come to me and they’d say, I’m working on this project and I need somebody who can help me with this. And I said go talk to this lady. She’s our expert in that space. And if you’re thoughtful about how you position it with her, she or someone on her team will pitch in on that. So thinking about how you navigate networks inside of organizations, I think is something that is specific to internal collaboration.

[00:35:47] Mike Ogle: As you were talking about that, it reminded me I’d recently re-watched yet again the Godfather. When they’re asking for, I need to be able to be connected to your judges and the police and you know, these folks, I need your network Godfather.

[00:36:04] Chris Gaffney: There you go. I mean, it is what it is, Mike, so good stuff. All right. We’re tapping into some good emotional chords here.

[00:36:11] Rodney Apple: So Chris you’ve covered some of the benefits of collaboration and some of the how. Would like to shift gears. What have you seen other people and companies do to kind of compensate for not being able to get together in the office? Obviously that’s driven a big push for folks that want work from home and hybrid type situation. So that’s definitely impacted the way and the ability to collaborate. And I think even going back in time, you could look at how supply chains are now more global than ever. And then we’ve got all these challenges, a lot of it’s stemming from the pandemic with, with supply chain disruptions making it even more critical to collaborate on a global basis with all the different moving parts and pieces. So just would love to hear your perspective and any advice you have to share on best practices for facilitating collaboration.

[00:37:09] Chris Gaffney: Well, those who know me, I’m very much a people person. And when I worked at Coke, most of the time, my office was the cafeteria, cuz I could catch people as they were running by. So it was definitely a culture shock and I will not forget the day I walked out of that office. The last meeting I had was a collaborative meeting with the supplier in the cafeteria and I said I think the show’s getting ready to close here. And so I’m glad we’re getting back into the world now where things are moving along, depending on when you listen to this. But we’re in a different place, but it really did show us a lot. I do think we all accept that virtual will be some element of how work gets done in the future.

It’s just different. I would tell you that virtual collaboration requires a lot of discipline and process and follow up. We originally thought when people are in a virtual world, they’d have a lot of extra time, but we end up finding they really don’t. So you’ve gotta be super careful about that.

In a lot of our projects right now that are virtual, we literally do something we call homework in class. And this is when I always love the teacher in high school, who said, well, I’m gonna teach for 15 minutes. And then I’m gonna give you the rest of the period to work on your homework, and I’m gonna walk around and help you. And you’d love that, because then you knew when you went home, you didn’t have to worry about AP chemistry or whatever. If we do that with project teams in a collaborative setting, they love it. Because we know they’re up against it and they could just give us that focus time. So really think about that. I think for me, when you’re in larger collaborations where virtual or hybrid is in play, your program management disciplines are much more important. You’ve gotta have somebody to help with that follow up. Clear the path and barrier and say you’ve got two red items. What can we do to help you move that forward? So it really requires if you’re the owner of the effort, you’ve gotta lean in for a lot of your support people. But I will say this as we’ve started to travel again, some of the critical work of collaboration is really only best done live, and in all honesty, then it can’t be hybrid. I’m not comfortable in a live setting, we’ve got 10 people in the room and two people up on the board. We’ve gotta make the call to say this is a critical event. We’re gonna be super careful around time, but we need people to be in one place and one time for one half day a month. And it’s a huge driver for big transformational projects. So I think that’s important.

You talked about the international side, Rodney, and I think this is also something that you’ve gotta be very humble about because when we started a lot of that that international collaboration, you can get super selfish about your own time zone and all of a sudden you realize you’ve got somebody in Australia and it’s three o’clock in the morning.

I’ve got one of the professors we work with is in New Zealand right now, and he showed up on a bunch of meetings and I’m like, I don’t know what time it is there,  and we literally said, will you speak for five or 10 minutes? We’ll cover your topics and you can go back to bed. And so what we really started to do was A, time shift those meetings and have folks typically in the U.S., Or a lot of our folks are in the east coast time zone. They had to be comfortable with some meetings that would occur at seven o’clock in the morning or seven o’clock in the evening, but also equal burden. You know, don’t do ’em all in the same time slot. It’s just an ethical thing to be flexible about things, cuz people just can’t sustain it. And you don’t want to have situations where people aren’t gonna say anything and they’re working 20 hours a day.

[00:40:55] Rodney Apple: Anything to add Chris on working with other cultures, like maybe some best practices you picked up from over the years of traveling and around the globe.

[00:41:07] Chris Gaffney: I always say, think about that the old gemba concept from the lean world is go see, ask why, show respect, always wanna make sure if I’m working in a different setting, is I understand how does work get done here? Also be sensitive with where language is a question or an issue I’ve been in settings where we have translators. Also been in settings where people, where English was the business language, but was a second language for folks. And you need to be super patient with folks in that case. You don’t wanna have that be a gap or a barrier to inclusion because the subject matter knowledge and experience may be just as important, but someone may not be as comfortable. And I have seen folks who are critical subject matter folks where the language was an issue, and we got them help from a coach or, or that type of thing. Cause we didn’t want it to diminish their ability to contribute.

[00:42:11] Mike Ogle: Chris, we talked a lot about the importance of collaboration and ways to do it well, but what are some of the things that you should watch out for and kind of the don’t dos of collaboration?

[00:42:23] Chris Gaffney: Mike, I’ve had some painful ones here. I can speak about these wonderful experiences I talked about, but I’ve been through some really, really challenging experiences where I had what I thought was a really strategically aligned project that was really important for the business could really move us forward, and it just got derailed at every turn and a lot of hard learning in that. So I what I would say is a couple things for me is if you don’t have alignment out of the gate on the premise and the importance, and the why of the effort, I think you need to be super conscious of that. And it’s a challenge if the project is intended to prove a concept. Because I’ve also had people who said, okay, the goal is to prove that this strategy will work, super, I’m gonna spend all my time throwing roadblocks in front of you, cuz I don’t want it to be proven. And that that’s really hard. But I think those are things that are real so that’s about lack of alignment, right? So don’t buy into this project, even though someone says it’s important. I do think back to those personality styles, Mike said it before, being self-aware as a player on these projects are important, but when you’ve got people who are not, and that’s being inflicted on other team members, that’s really hard, and you’ve gotta figure out how you address that both either directly with that individual in an appropriate way and or with a manager.

I’ve seen a lot of impatience I watched somebody try to walk off of a project call yesterday because they felt like they weren’t being heard. And I’m like we’re all big kids and we’re all part of the same organization, we’re getting paid. And you know, you don’t get to tap out. You’ve gotta say, I’m sorry, we’re not communicating well, so let’s step back. And in that case, I used that facilitation skill and I said, let me ask some Socratic questions. Let me try to dig in and try to bridge a lack of understanding. Both parties are well intended, but we were here instead of here. And so how do you, how do you mesh that? But I think that impatience and intolerance can be an issue. You know, clearly lack of openness to new ideas is you’ve gotta counteract that with change management and find that self-interest, but that’s a reality is people are not comfortable with changing or they’re uncomfortable, this is gonna be a huge effort for us to accomplish what we want so I’m not really fired up about playing into it.

And I think the last one that can be cultural is what I call malicious non-compliance and that is someone’s in a meeting and they’re smiling and they’re nodding and it all looks good. But outside of the meeting just bad things happen. Well, this project is terrible, or I don’t know why we’re working on this. This’ll never succeed. And all of a sudden you find out that somebody you thought was a very supportive team member is in fact sabotaging the work outside of the structured efforts. So all those things are things to really be careful about.

[00:45:34] Rodney Apple: This has been awesome and it’s given me some new things to think about in terms of being a better collaborator and new ways to do it as well. But any advice to share for folks that may not be quite, doing their full capabilities or if they’re having problems, what’s a great way to kind of engage the stakeholder things like that.

[00:45:55] Chris Gaffney: Well, always view these settings as a learning opportunity and the first, and in a lot of it’s basics, A, you don’t do it in the large group. Okay. But it is perfectly appropriate then to check in with somebody who’s on the team and say, Hey, let’s grab a few minutes and let’s chat. And you know, this is where I think you speak to their humanity and say, I really care about you. You’re really critical to the work, but I feel like it’s not clicking with you. And depending on your comfort level with them, you can say either I see you’re struggling or others see you’re struggling. How can we help you? And if you’re comfortable with that, you can do it that way. In some cultures, it may be more important to talk to their leader first and say, I’m seeing this is this something you’ve been working on with them? Are you aware of this? Are you comfortable with me talking to this person? So it just depends on that. Think the most important thing is you don’t let it fester. What you don’t wanna do is get to the end of the project and either you’ve overcome it and their manager wants feedback. How did my person do on the team? Well, we got it done in spite of them, you know? And they’re like, what happened? But they never had a chance to fix it. So I think the respectful thing is to find a way, as soon as you think there’s a legitimate trend, don’t let it go from a small thing to a big thing.

[00:47:21] Rodney Apple: Well, this has been a great episode. We appreciate you sharing your perspectives on collaboration. The internal aspects as well as the external. Would love to know what you have in queue for our next episode on the leadership series.

[00:47:36] Chris Gaffney: We’re gonna take a different topic and a little bit of an interesting one. And it came from one of my mentees. And they reached out to me for some advice they’ve been in a role for a couple of years, a good role, part of their career plan, moving them forward. They’ve been at a good company. They are at a good company for four or five years, but they feel like they’re in a they’re a bit stale. And as they say, you know me, I’m not sure if this is the right thing for me. And they wanted to know if that was the sign to say, I gotta move on. I’ve either gotta leave this role or leave this company, or if they should consider something else. So I think we’re gonna talk about when you find yourselves in that situation, what are the right steps to take, to assess the situation and work through that.

[00:48:30] Rodney Apple: Looking forward to it, Chris. Thanks again for sharing your insights and perspectives and thanks audience. Again, if you miss the first few episodes, you can go back and re-listen on your favorite podcast platform to search for the supply chain careers podcast.


Who is Chris Gaffney?

  • Principal at ECG providing Supply Chain Services to the CPG Industry
  • 25 Years w/ Coca-Cola holding Supply Chain leadership roles:
    • VP of Global Strategic Supply Chain
    • President of Global Supply
    • SVP of Product Supply Systems
    • VP of Logistics for North America