Collaborate for Greater Success

“Collaboration Is a Team Sport, and You Need to Warm Up”

As discussed by Adam Richardson in the Harvard Business Review, collaboration is a vital factor for a successful workplace, but also something that must grow over time.  It is necessary to lay the groundwork for your team to collaborate and then respect the process and the time it may take to unfold.

Why is Collaboration So Important Today?

The problems we are trying to solve today are complex and require a variety of core competencies to solve, which requires that many different types of thinkers come together for a common goal. “Bringing an innovation to market especially needs a mix of left- and right-brain people – visionaries and ditch-diggers, stubborn idealists and open-minded pragmatists. All this requires collaboration,” Richardson states.

Collaboration is a Process, Not an Event

“The first thing to recognize about collaboration is that it is something that best happens over a period of time, with a “warm-up” period before critical work happens,” says Richardson. “Just like a runner, you don’t want to do a 10K cold. You need to get things loosened up first.”

Helping People Warm Up for Collaboration

Here are some ways Richardson suggests companies purposefully help people prepare for successful collaborations:

* Give people public forums to introduce themselves, and talk about their professional and personal backgrounds (prior companies and hobbies are both fruitful ways of understanding someone).

* Make use of social networking tools to facilitate familiarity, especially in larger organizations.

* Find the people who are networking hubs in the organization, and introduce newcomers to them. Think of your organization as a party. Who can you introduce a new person to who will help them get to know the rest of the group the quickest?

* Consider a mentoring program.

* Mix up disciplines. Don’t segregate engineering from marketing, HR from finance, and so on. Make it easy for people to absorb others’ perspectives just by walking around. Mix levels of seniority together for the same reason.

* Provide project spaces where teams can work continuously, all sitting together. If you just have individual workspaces (e.g. cubicles) and group meeting rooms (e.g. conference rooms that must be booked far in advance and vacated after an hour), then you are missing a key tool for facilitating collaboration, team-, and trust-building.

* Celebrate wins publicly by crediting the whole team, not just individuals. Get teams to talk about what worked and didn’t work with their collaboration, so that others may learn. Get people into a mindset of thinking consciously about how and why a collaboration is working (or not).

What’s Good for Collaboration is Also Good for Innovation

The great thing is that all these methods to aid collaboration also build a company’s effectiveness at innovation. Why? Because:

* Innovation comes from putting ideas and perspectives that have never been combined before. Good collaboration makes this happen more efficiently.

* Innovation involves risk-taking, and that doesn’t happen if there’s no trust that others will cover you when there is the inevitable stumble. The methods for building trust for collaboration help people more readily take risks as a result.

* Most innovations can’t be accomplished by individuals toiling away, or even by single organizations working in isolation. We need people around us to fill in the skills and knowledge gaps, and to tell us when we’re full of crap. Collaboration is a critical skill for any organization wanting to do actually bring innovations to market.

Adam Richardson, Assistant VP of Strategy and Marketing at global innovation firm frog design, is the author of Innovation X: Why a Company’s Toughest Problems are its Greatest Advantage. He can be found on Twitter at @Richardsona.