The Power of the Post-It – A low-tech tool for mastering high-performance collaboration–Virginia Healy-Tangney

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Virginia Healy-Tangney, Sr. Lecturer, Managerial Communication

The simplest tool can sometimes be the most effective. Consider a list of the world’s easiest to use and most beloved tools: a pencil, a ruler, a shovel and the ever-present workhorse in business, education, and daily life—the Post-it note.

Developed by accident by Spencer Silver, a senior researcher and chemist at 3M in the late 1950s, his low tack reusable adhesive was referred to within 3M as a “solution without a problem,” since no one could envision a use for the small sticky and movable squares. That was until a colleague, Art Fry, used the removable sticky paper to bookmark a page in his hymnal.  Fry, having discovered that the squares could easily be used to mark pages without marring the paper underneath and then repositioned easily, sought to develop the product for commercial usage and the Post-it was officially born.

How did we learn just how powerful this simple tool is in the collaboration process? Partnering with Continuum colleagues, over that past two years, we’ve conducted an intensive design-thinking seminar with MIT Sloan MBA students. An important process in the design thinking methodology is team-based iterating to brainstorm ideas focused on solving a client problem such as the one presented this year by the MIT Leadership Center.

For many MIT Sloan students the team-based ideation process is a new challenge.  Enter a pad of Post-its – where everyone is responsible for penning their unique ideas and posting them to a white board.  The result: Students culturally oriented to refrain from participation or those who by nature are introverted gained confidence sharing their ideas, hearing multiple viewpoints and giving constructive feedback.  Using post-its created the right conditions for squares to be easily posted, moved, parked or tossed and for team mates to collaboratively engage in revising and vetting to strengthen ideas based on feedback, not intuition.

As one student, a managing partner at a Canadian law firm, said, writing down an idea on your own block of Post-it® Notes ‘levels the playing field’ so that regardless of personality style or level of expertise, more people feel comfortable participating.

Team CollaborationBest of all, as another student offered, the small pad ‘forces you to distill your idea down to its essence.” Brainstorming concisely written thoughts engenders sharper dialogue and allows a team to move forward with viable ideas faster

We all know first-hand teams work better when sharing ideas to pursue a common goal. What we teased out of our retrospective session and what leading authors such as Gillian Tett in The Silo Effect clearly expose, getting collaboration right across diverse teams and letting different voices be heard is a constant and rigorous endeavor.

Although there is no single blueprint for collaborative success and using Post-it Notes is not a panacea to unlocking incredible ideas, in my experience at the MIT Sloan School of Management, sometimes the simplest, most versatile tool helps a team begin to create an environment of interpersonal trust and mutual respect to optimize innovative problem-solving and thoughtful decision-making.

Virginia Healy-Tangney is a Senior Lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

Joining forces: Keys to successful corporate collaboration and leadership for sustainability — David Kiron

MIT Sloan Management Review Executive Editor David Kiron

MIT Sloan Management Review Executive Editor David Kiron

Once upon a time, resource-intensive industries—like paper manufacturing—faced constant criticism and public pressure from environmental groups. Attacks by Greenpeace on Asia Pulp & Paper (AP&P), for example, caused some customers to withdraw their orders.

But times are changing.

When, in 2012, AP&P wanted to remake its business model and how it acquires raw material — a significant undertaking—it waved the white flag and invited Greenpeace into the boardroom to help the company change its forestry sourcing practices.

“Never in our history had our shareholders sat in the same room with a ‘radical’ NGO like Greenpeace,” says Aida Greenbury, an AP&P managing director.  “So it’s quite groundbreaking that we now sit together in our boardroom to discuss strategy and incorporate their input.”

AP&P’s experience is just one example of the burgeoning phenomenon of companies collaborating for sustainability, with a focus on transformational, strategic results. The practice of corporate sustainability is steadily moving beyond ad hoc.

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Changing a company’s DNA to inspire teamwork — Virginia Healy-Tangney

MIT Sloan Senior Lecturer Virginia Healy-Tangney

While “teamwork” may sound like the newest business buzz word, it’s actually been around for quite a while. What started as a way to increase productivity in a company has evolved to an actual science today with measurable results.

There are many reasons for this, but the clearest involves the need for collaboration. As was noted in a recent Fortune article, even geniuses like Thomas Edison were never “lone inventors.”

Business operates in ever evolving collaborative environments due to integrated factors, such as technology, globalization of markets and flatter organizational structures. Companies that effectively implement teams have found tremendous rewards in the form of innovative ideas, higher productivity, increased efficiency, and communicative cultures. As MIT Professor Alex “Sandy” Pentland  says in his recent HBR article, The New Science of Building Great Teams, this enables “energy, creativity, and shared commitment.” Read More »

MIT Sloan MBA Areta Shum on the Seattle "Tech Trek"

After a fun and rigorous core semester, it’s finally winter break, but I’m not hitting the slopes or soaking up the sun on a beach somewhere warm. Instead, I signed up to go to Seattle with 17 other MIT Sloan students on a technology career trek. While this may sound like an unusual way to spend our vacation time, it’s actually a great opportunity for MBA students to learn more about the technology industry and what it would be like to work for a tech company.

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