Collaboration seems to be a buzzword and a trend in business nowadays. Is it just marketing? Is it the same activity we always followed and merely replaced the term ‘teamwork’? Is it even required? I am writing this article all by myself and later I am my own editor and publisher.
Regardless of how you feel about collaboration and how beneficial it could be, I think there is one key that unlocks the potential and enables collaboration. If that aspect isn’t a given, then there won’t be collaboration.
Maybe people would fake it and pretend to be big in collaboration, but I don’t see it happening effectively or genuinely without this enabler. But what enables collaboration then? What’s this one thing?
It’s not a technology.
You got a cool social enterprise tool? You deployed your “Work-Facebook” already? That’s great, but the best enterprise collaboration solution won’t establish collaboration where there is none. It’s merely a platform that supports collaboration. Don’t listen to the sales and marketing folks of companies, trying to sell their solution. If there is no sense for collaboration in your organization, technology alone won’t enable collaboration.
It’s neither a process nor methodology.
Methodologies and process frameworks are great. I love them all. They certainly support the best possible outcome and make the best use of your time. You introduce Design Thinking – you are innovative from now on. You introduce Six Sigma – you never make mistakes again. You introduce ITIL – all your IT services are permanently available. You’re agile from now on, introduced flat hierarchies, banished divisions and silos – everybody is collaborating. Wait… no they’re not.
It’s not a book and not the latest TED Talk.
Reading or even watching speeches on collaboration spirit, teamwork, innovation and other “work essentials” are certainly interesting. Maybe you can even pitch something to your line manager and maybe they will follow the whole thing through, invest money, hire the person to make a motivational speech on site. Certainly in good will, but unlikely that this will enable collaboration. But all this didn’t work? What enables collaboration?
Trust is what enables collaboration. Collaboration might be supported and can further benefit from the bullets above, however it can’t enable collaboration in a sterile, isolated, mind-your-own-business business.
As a centerpiece of human social living we developed a basic trust for what our peers are doing. We trust them not to harm us and we trust them to help us if we need help. We trust strangers not to kill us by pushing us in front of a train when waiting to get home on the platform in a train station.
In a professional environment for some reason humans partially behave differently. We certainly won’t witness assassination attempts, like with the exaggerated example above, but it goes down a similar road. Sometimes people could help but don’t, for a variety of wild reasons.
We trust our coworkers to support us. We trust our manager to clear the path, so we can work without distractions. We trust our employees to complete their assignments in the most professional, fastest way, without unnecessarily sacrificing quality. Wait – do we trust them? Or is it more like we trust them to stick to their minimum due diligence and stay out of trouble? Or do we not trust anyone at all? Are you working in an environment in which you can’t foresee what’s going to happen? Or are you certain that nothing will happen when asking for a collaborative effort?
It’s trust that you need to nurture. Everyone needs to feel that they won’t be harmed by passive aggressivity or by skipped assignments. Establish trust by offering help and actually go for the extra mile. Why would you? It’s not part of your performance evaluation? And heck even “that’s not my job” and “I am not paid enough to do that”? Because it’s the right thing to do as far as business ethics go. Why would you not help? It feels great! It gives you nice ideas and other interesting impulses. It improves not only your personal rapport with your peers, but the overall mood and feeling of an office and later of the whole enterprise.
But how to fix all of this? I promise you, if you are stuck in negativity and no-trust-space, you’re deep in it. Improving this organically can take up to a decade of your time in the process, if you’re employed in a large company. On the other side, the path up is full of positivity, nice feelings and good stories. When you climb this trust hill, you can next climb the mountain of establishing collaboration and then the rock mass of innovation. I don’t think a different order would go well, if you aim for great services and products, prepared by great and happy people for awesome customers.
What do you think about collaboration? Are you collaborating all on your own? Is that even possible? Have you found some collaboration allies in your flat hierarchy, whom you can count on? I would love to hear your thoughts on this matter. Please share your opinion below in the comments. Thanks for reading!