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The Collaboration Conundrum: Is Our Inner Caveman Holding Us Back In The Digital Workplace?
By Dr. Nicola J. Millard, Head Of Customer Insight & Futures, BT
Despite thinking collaboration is generally a good idea, do we do it, especially if we don’t ever meet the people we are collaborating with?Distance reduces our levels of trust. When people are strangers and have very little in common beyond their ability to connect, the weaker their bonds are. It’s that caveman mentality popping up (club in hand); suspicious of a stranger who isn’t one of the tribe. And yet, our “tribes” now span teams, departments, supply chains, organizations and continents. This makes it hard to form strong teams and it can put barriers in the way of true, effective collaboration. Plus, work today — particularly for knowledge workers — involves juggling different demands on your time. Do you focus on ticking the boxes on your individual performance to-do list, or do you work for the greater good of the organization and spend time sharing your knowledge to help others achieve? Your cave brain wants to target what appears to be most important — visibly achieving things on your scorecard rather than unselfishly helping others by sharing knowledge and skills. It wants to pile up complete work assignments like primitive hunting trophies. And yet we know, with our wise, developed minds, that collaboration brings benefits to us, our teams and our organizations. Strategically important things like innovation depend on ideas flowing through open and diverse networks of people. The bottom line is that collaboration needs nurturing, and a big part of that is recognizing we’re caught in a power struggle between our cave brains and the requirements of today’s society. For a start, collaboration doesn’t happen by magic. It doesn’t even happen by virtue of having the technology in place to do it (although that helps). It happens with purpose. Purpose happens with good leadership. The digital leader can’t lead by seeing people at their desks, or by counting the number of hours people work anymore. Leaders need to be able to continuously and clearly define purpose. They must also be connectors between team members – the perfect party hosts, if you will. They also need to establish common ground for collaboration. By that I mean that they must choose a place – be it digital or physical – which is accessible to everyone involved, and appropriate to the task. The key is to make it as easy as possible for people to collaborate, giving them tools that work together and making sure they understand how to use them. We need to value collaboration within our organizations so that we can overcome our inherent urge to put our own interests first. And we need to lead this new approach to collaboration from the front, choosing and training leaders to champion new ways of working, knowledge sharing, and productivity. Digital tools could be as radical as the discovery of fire – transforming the way we work. But just like fire, it needs to be harnessed well, or you can get badly burnt and run back into the old, familiar cave.
Strategically important things like innovation depend on ideas flowing through open and diverse networks of people