How to un­ravel the col­lab­o­ra­tion co­nun­drum

Belfast Telegraph - Business Telegraph - - Innovation - By Dr Ni­cola J. Mil­lard, Head of Cus­tomer In­sight and Fu­tures at BT’S Global In­no­va­tion team @btinire­land For fur­ther in­for­ma­tion and to con­tact BT Busi­ness in North­ern Ire­land, please email en­ter­prise. ac­counts@bt.com

Col­lab­o­ra­tion is very much in vogue. The term is bandied about with gusto in meet­ings as the must-have func­tion for the mod­ern busi­ness but, while many com­pa­nies re­alise it’s ‘a thing’, few have been able to im­ple­ment it thor­oughly.

That’s per­haps a re­sult of re­al­is­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion should be seen as much more than a pass­ing fad, rather an essen­tial in this day and age.

We would go so far as to say that ev­ery firm should con­sider hav­ing a chief col­lab­o­ra­tion of­fi­cer to com­ple­ment the CEO and COO.

They are needed to tackle the col­lab­o­ra­tion co­nun­drum, the term which sums up the chal­lenges cre­ated by to­day’s mo­bile work­force. More and more em­ploy­ees are choos­ing to work from home or from dis­persed of­fices (40% of work­ers glob­ally to be pre­cise), a move­ment made pos­si­ble by tech­nol­ogy, but one which throws up new prob­lems for com­pany bosses.

They are re­al­is­ing that be­ing dis­tant from col­leagues re­duces trust and co­he­sion, but hav­ing the choice to work else­where in­creases well­be­ing and in­di­vid­ual pro­duc­tiv­ity. What to do? Some or­gan­i­sa­tions have stub­bornly re­fused at this first ma­jor hur­dle and are run­ning back to the start­ing blocks, bring­ing work­ers back into the of­fice at great ex­pense to both their wal­lets and to the en­vi­ron­ment.

But co-lo­ca­tion can lose val- uable tal­ent who don’t want to be tied to a spe­cific ge­og­ra­phy, and con­stant travel and longer com­mutes can cre­ate grumpy and ex­hausted peo­ple.

But by ap­proach­ing the is­sue in a dif­fer­ent man­ner, it is pos­si­ble to have your col­lab­o­ra­tive cake and to eat it.

It starts with a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to lead­er­ship and the abil­ity to face up to a cold, hard truth: nowa­days, lead­ers can’t rely on strong ties in teams be­cause most ties have, as a re­sult of tech­nol­ogy, be­come in­her­ently weak.

Be­cause of that in­ex­orable fact, they need to re­alise that it is not pos­si­ble to beat col­lab­o­ra­tion into their or­gan­i­sa­tion.

In­stead, they need to cre­ate, recog­nise and en­cour­age col­lab­o­ra­tive be­hav­iour and to un­der- stand the dy­nam­ics of their teams, while at the same time avoid­ing ‘col­lab­o­ra­tion over­load’ among the top per­form­ers.

It sounds com­pli­cated but isn’t, par­tic­u­larly if you use the din­ner party anal­ogy, where to­day’s lead­ers are the hosts.

Like any great party, you need a rea­son to get peo­ple to­gether, and a phys­i­cal or vir­tual com- mon ground that ev­ery­one can gather on.

You need to make sure you know a bit about ev­ery­one, so you can in­tro­duce peo­ple to each other and then they can start to talk and to cre­ate and build so­called ‘fast trust’.

By tak­ing that ap­proach, you’ll cre­ate con­nec­tions, you’ll al­low net­work­ing and you’ll pro­vide an en­vi­ron­ment made up of dif­fer­ing per­son­al­i­ties, which erad­i­cates the echo cham­ber.

Lead­er­ship is now be­com­ing less about ‘com­mand and con­trol’ and much more about con­nec­tion and cre­at­ing pur­pose for col­lab­o­ra­tion.

New lead­er­ship re­quires a much more in­clu­sive, trust ori­ented, co-op­er­a­tive, par­tic­i­pa­tive and open ap­proach — rather than a more pas­sive ‘I can see peo­ple at their desks, there­fore they must be work­ing’ one.

And that is why the idea of a chief col­lab­o­ra­tion of­fi­cer per­haps now doesn’t seem as far-fetched as it may have done.

Ob­vi­ously, col­lab­o­ra­tion is a team sport and needs buy-in from ev­ery­one through­out the com­pany, but there’s no doubt it is good not just for em­ploy­ees, but for the all-cru­cial bottom line.

And that, af­ter all, is the ul­ti­mate goal.

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