High-performing organisations must look beyond power silos to foster fresh perspectives, shared ideas and leadership inside and outside the workplace. Organisations face an entirely new environment for innovation and getting things done. The days of the lone genius quietly toiling away in pursuit of that "eureka" moment are all but over. Today, we must listen to our customers and work with them in our innovation cycles. Innovation demands collaboration, but collaboration is a rarely taught skill. In addition, an organisation's ability to support collaboration is dependent on its culture. Some cultures foster collaboration while others stop it dead.
Collaboration is a process through which people who see different aspects of a problem can constructively explore their differences and search for solutions that go beyond their own vision of what is possible. Today, we can cast our collaboration net even wider by putting a query online and getting answers back from people we don't even know.
Collaboration fosters new ideas and solutions that emerge from the interplay of these perspectives, experience and knowledge. It comes from people inside and outside an organisation, people well-known to us and even strangers. We can have long-lasting - or short-term, formal or ad-hoc - collaboration.
Organisations can consider not only how to support conventional team-based collaboration, but can adopt community and network collaboration when it serves their needs.
In team collaboration, the members of the group are known, there are clear task interdependencies, expected reciprocity and explicit deadlines and goals.
To achieve goals, members must fulfil their interdependent tasks within the stated time. Team collaboration often suggests that, while there is explicit leadership, the participants co-operate on an equal footing and will receive equal recognition.
An example is a team working together to develop a new marketing strategy in one month with a defined set of resources. Team collaborations can also occur with external partners, but there is always a clear mandate and defined roles.
In community collaboration, where there is a shared domain or area of interest, the goal is focused more often on learning than on a particular task. People share and build knowledge rather than complete projects. Members may go to their communities to help solve their problems by asking questions and getting advice, then take that advice back home to implement in their teams.
Membership may be bounded and explicit, but timelines are often open. Membership is often on an equal footing, but more experienced practitioners may have more status or power.
Community collaborations may also give rise to more formalised team collaborations. As people get to know each other, they can determine good fits for team members and draw new talent into their teams.
Network collaboration starts with individual action and self-interest, which then accrues to the network as individuals contribute or seek something from the network. Membership is open and there are no explicit roles. Members often do not know all the other members and power is distributed.
Network collaboration is helped by the advent of social media (tools that help members connect and interact online), internet connectivity and the ability to connect with diverse individuals across distance and time. It is a response to the overwhelming volume of information being created. It is impossible for individuals to cope on their own so networks become mechanisms for knowledge and information capture, filtering and creation.
Leadership is a keystone for establishing a culture that supports collaboration. This is based on how leaders embed their beliefs, values and assumptions in the fabric of their organisation. (A culture that encourages a singular focus on individual achievement, for example, would tend to stifle collaboration.)
To create a culture that supports collaboration, leaders must create conditions for it to flourish and be seen as role models using it within their organisation. The best way for leaders to champion collaboration is by example.
Team collaboration requires a culture that values and supports specific interdependencies between people.
Networks built on a shared interest are reliant on stimulation of various points or nodes rather than centralised leadership. A need is expressed and someone, somewhere, in the network responds to that need.
Identity in networks is more about what you know than who you are, and trust is about consistent delivery and quality rather than a personal sense of trust and one-to-one reciprocity. In other words, you can trust someone without getting to know them.
Individuals can easily bypass nodes in the network that they don't care to interact with, making one person a leader to some and irrelevant to others. So leadership becomes distributed and embodied in the actions of individuals.
Establishing a collaboration capability requires someone to foster its development. An organisation would not establish a sales capability without sales people, or a human resources capability without an HR team. Yet many organisations try to enhance their collaboration capability without identifying or resourcing people to develop and nurture it.
The role of the collaboration co-ordinator (the title doesn't matter) could include: finding opportunities in the organisation where better collaboration would make a difference to the quality of products and services, the speed of delivering these products and services to clients, and the ability to spot good collaboration practices and tools.
Other roles may include connecting people and ideas so new collaborations can flourish and helping people to learn and adopt collaboration practices and tools. The collaboration co-ordinator cannot do this job alone - a group of supporters is also needed to help.
People with strong project-management and strategic skills can be strong supporters of team collaboration. These are the people who like to focus on one thing at a time and support progress towards a defined goal.
People who are curious and want to build their personal knowledge and identity in their fields are often interested in community participation as a way to attain these goals.
Good "people connectors" can also bring tremendous assets to community and network collaboration. Curious, global thinkers who can scan and connect people and ideas are great network collaborators.
Collaboration involves the whole organisation. Staff may or may not see the value of collaboration, or understand how it works, so it's important to celebrate the people who have collaborated and the work they do.
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