Collaboration: More than a Buzzword

1-breatherI believe you can drive business success through successful, meaningful and purposeful collaboration while simultaneously energizing employees.

Individual organizations choose to embrace and promote collaboration for any number of reasons some of which will be unique to an entity and/or its industry. Generally though, efforts are focused on improving performance, increasing innovation, and enhancing services to clients, customers and the public. The most effective initiatives include a deliberate plan in which leaders assess when collaboration is appropriate, define their desired outcomes, and commit to understanding and removing the barriers that may currently exist in their organization.

There are five steps necessary in order to lay the foundation for a more collaborative workplace:

  1. Understanding the types of collaboration and how people form collaborative groups
  2. Reviewing the current state of one’s organizational culture to determine readiness
  3. Understanding the motivational and ability barriers that may derail collaborative efforts
  4. Commit to supporting and reinforcing collaboration by adjusting one’s personal behavior as a leader
  5. Providing access to the tools and technologies that can add value to organizational efforts

I recently led a session at the NetConnect Conference on the topic “Building and Supporting a Collaborative Workplace” and this week I’ll be running a series on the blog covering what we discussed. (note: the slides, with resources, are here). 

Start at the Beginning

When embarking upon an organizational plan to promote a culture of collaboration it’s critical to ask (and answer) three questions:

  1. Why do we want collaboration?
  2. What will collaboration look like in our organization?
  3. How do we ensure our people are ready, willing and able to collaborate?

To harness the power of collaboration, and make it more than just a buzzword listed on the organizational mission statement, you must first fully understand what collaboration is:

“Building toward a defined outcome through the interactions

and input of multiple people”

Hutch Carpenter

Human beings collaborate constantly; it doesn’t magically occur when we form a team or toss out a challenge.  There is both formal and informal collaboration that can be of benefit in organizations and there are many ways in which people collaborate.

In team collaboration the members of the group are generally known to each other, have clear task interdependencies and operate with a focus on an explicit time line and defined goals.  Community collaboration is one in which there is a shared area of interest but the goal is usually more focused on learning and knowledge sharing as opposed to task completion.  Community collaborators share and build knowledge rather than complete tasks and the time period for collaboration of this nature is often open and/or ongoing.  When people embark upon network collaboration they are approaching the relationship based upon self-interest and with individual desire; there is equal power distribution and this type of collaboration often exists because social technology tools have created an environment where all members equally create and share content and connect across boundaries.

The 3 groups form in one of several ways.

Most commonly individuals turn to those who are close to them; familiarity, proximity and similarity play a big role in how people select those with whom they will collaborate. Think about that group of A/P clerks sitting next to each other in the office or the “bullpen” where all the Sales Managers congregate.

At other times individuals will gather will new collaborators or new partners.  This occurs when individuals find people who are outside their typical circle of familiarity. Quite often they have a desire to overturn the tried-and-true, challenge the status quo or pool their diverse experiences/knowledge together in order to attain a common goal.  These groups typically form due to the desire to tackle a problem, explore an idea or delve into a topic base because of their personal passions or beliefs.

The third way that groups form is by bringing together those who challenge or hold opposing viewpoints. This can be considered collaboration by disagreement and is valuable, especially when there’s an understanding that it’s important to hear every idea and consider all input – no matter how contrary.  One of the most well known examples of this occurs at Apple where a culture of innovation and creativity is defined by their statement: 

“innovation and creativity require freedom, disagreement,

and perhaps even a little chaos.”

By understanding how and why people gather together we can see the value to be attained when we gather input from multiple people.  When that input is diversified and challenging it’s quite likely that the top idea, solution or new way of thinking (knowledge) will surface to the top.

Visit the blog tomorrow when we’ll be discussing Collaboration: Why Culture Matters. 

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