SHIFTing the Mindset During COVID-19: Part 6 “Shifting Collaboration to Build Synergy”

Eileen Brown, co-author of Shift: A New Mindset for Sustainable Execution, continues her blog series called “SHIFTing the Mindset During COVID-19.” This week in Part 6, Eileen looks at how we can eliminate distractions and start building synergy through collaboration, in the fight against COVID-19.


Our Shift-to-Execute framework is comprised of four sequential adjustments or “shifts”. Shift 1 (Building Capacity) and Shift 2 (Creating Momentum), discussed in the previous two blogs, were aimed at filling gaps to find new sources of energy to improve execution. The objective of the remaining two shifts is different – they aim to eliminate distractions that may be getting in the way and impeding the ability to execute. By eliminating distractions, energy can be conserved and shared more effectively. The topic of today’s installment is Shift 3: Shifting Collaboration to Build Synergy. The format is the same as the last two shifts – structure, rhythm and awareness are the key levers that must be balanced.


Working collaboratively allows us to create synergy and accomplish more with less by sharing energy. Collaboration has the power to stimulate and improve creative ideas and prevent “wrong turns”. In some organizations however, separate divisions tend to work in isolation such that some things may be duplicated unnecessarily rather than being shared, such as non-standardized reports, software licenses, subscriptions, methodologies, “shadow” IT departments, etc. The ability to conserve energy by sharing it, becomes even more challenging when external suppliers or other partners are engaged, as there is a tendency to duplicate oversight mechanisms.

Global collaboration will be imperative as we look for new ways to deal with COVID-19 effectively in the future. It is clear that anti-viral drug therapies as well as a vaccine are needed as soon as possible, and the supporting research is providing many examples of collaboration in action. Canada is investing over a billion dollars in various research projects, and is also participating in the Solidarity clinical trials with 9 other countries – Argentina, Bahrain, France, Iran, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, and Thailand. The project has been launched by the World Health Organization (WHO) and is intended to fast-track research on coronavirus treatments using the rapid collection of data during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is certainly an endeavour to shift collaboration to create synergy for incremental energy and speed.

Structure: The structure to support collaboration is achieved through integration – the most obvious example in this case being the joint funding to support the Solidarity project. The project will rely on structure that standardizes and integrates procedures and methodologies for all countries to use, and increases the candidate pool for research. If countries only have a small number of patients that meet the criteria for certain test and control groups, working across borders allows for the amalgamation of similar patients in order to achieve statistically significant results.

The front-line healthcare workers are far too busy to participate in research projects, so the information and procedures required of hospitals will need to be minimized and simplified for the ICU staff. The WHO will need to provide shared structure to integrate the tracking of data and outcomes. The drug trials are structured to start with five treatment options with the capability to add more. The various drug formulas being tested have been agreed upon and standardized by all countries involved to get reliable data on precise formulations and dosage.

Learnings from previous studies on SARS and MERS anti-viral drug trials could play a role in building a foundation to jumpstart this project. As in most situations, the integration of existing structure that can be re-purposed or re-used will act as an accelerant.

Rhythm: It may seem counter-intuitive, but in order to create a productive rhythm and collaborate well together to achieve a common goal, it is most important to first identify, address, and satisfy the factors that differentiate the parties. In the business context, we can use the example of creating a sales proposal in a consulting firm – the sales rep wants the sale to meet his quota target; the pricing advisor wants to ensure the engagement is profitable; the project manager wants adequate and skilled staffing to ensure a successful deployment; the technical architect wants to oversee the reliability of the solution; and the quality reviewer wants to ensure that what is being promised can be delivered. Until all of these competing needs can be satisfied, it will be difficult to finalize a proposal that everyone can agree to support.

Setting the tempo for effective collaboration on the COVID-19 drug trials will need to address “what’s in it for you?” and “what’s in it for me?” They must converge expectations on outcomes and project schedules. I am not a clinical trials expert, but it is clear that the considerations given to differentiation will set the boundaries for many aspects of this project. For example, what are the expected side effects being monitored? And… are there different side effects that may not have been on the monitored list? Is the drug delivering the desired outcome that is expected? And….are there different outcomes occurring that were not foreseen? The research will also consider the differentiation in patients’ underlying conditions, and perhaps physical attributes such as weight and age, and elapsed time of each patient’s infection.

Regardless of the subject matter, differentiation plays a key role in establishing an effective rhythm for successful collaboration to achieve a common goal.

Awareness: Isolation is the most common barrier that gets in the way of realizing synergy through collaboration. The WHO will have to play a strong intermediary role for the Solidarity project to ensure all countries have an equal “seat at the table”. Participants will also need to be mindful of being inclusive. For the benefit of all, the WHO will need to mitigate the risk of certain countries being excluded or isolated due to communication challenges with language, time zone barriers or off-line discussions with subgroups. To meet aggressive schedules when collaborating among a diverse group, keeping work assignments to concise and small packets of work often proves more manageable for each participant.

The U.S. is conspicuously absent from the consortium of countries. Though they could have brought additional resources and brainpower to the table, their desire for an alternate approach with different goals and schedules could have proven to be an isolating and divisive factor that might have impacted the Solidarity project’s success. The recognition and willingness to address those isolating factors made it clear that it was a better trade-off for them to pursue their own trials.

If the Solidarity project team is able to collaborate successfully and overcome isolation barriers to identify and agree on effective drug therapies, the ongoing awareness and involvement of multiple countries should also help to speed up approvals, production and concurrent deployment on a global basis.

Collaboration is not easy, but it is worth the effort. Synergy fosters innovation and improves velocity to realizing value. As global citizens enduring the COVID-19 virus together, it will be advantageous if we can leverage our collective power to fight it together.


Check in next week for Part 7 of the “SHIFTing the Mindset During COVID-19” blog series, where Eileen will be discussing the final “shift” in the Shift-to-Execute framework that looks to hone operational systems that are not yielding what they need to deliver.

Click here to find out more about Shift: A New Mindset for Sustainable Execution.