Stop, Collaborate and Listen: It’s About Nature, Nurture and Technology

Friday 10 March 2017

Collaboration is key in the digital economy, to amplify teamwork and get the best performance from staff and teams. Deep collaboration takes time, effort and great leadership to foster within an organisation.

Consider, for example, great jazz musicians collaborating wordlessly on improvised melodies. The groups are comprised of incredible individual talents. Yet they still require leadership. And the tunes don’t materialise without a considerable amount of practice, learning about each other’s strengths and a deep understanding of musical theory and composition.


The fact is that, while it is a given that successful workplace collaboration increases productivity, boosts business performance and improves employee engagement, many companies still struggle to implement the best culture or make use of the most appropriate technologies to foster collaboration in the workplace.


Attracting and retaining the best talent


Get it right and you can attract and retain the best talent, which is essential in today’s knowledge-based economy. Get it wrong, or fail to overcome the technological or organisational barriers hampering collaboration, and you risk losing business to your competitors and failing to nurture consistently high quality talent in your organisation.


Younger millennial workers, in particular, thrive in an environment that allows them to freely exchange ideas with one another, whether that be face-to-face in person or over digital or mobile platforms. And if this kind of culture is stifled in a business, the talented tend to move on quickly to organisations where they feel more valued.


So if you are struggling to attract or retain the right talent to your business, perhaps you need to consider if there are any barriers to collaboration in your organisation’s culture that need to be addressed.


Collaboration is innovation


Firstly, if you are experiencing difficulties establishing and promoting an open and collaborative culture in the workplace, don’t think you are alone. This is one of the most commonplace issues faced by modern companies, particularly those that have longstanding habits, ways of working and styles of management that have become deeply entrenched over time.


Before you look at the best strategies to foster a strong and productive collaborative culture you need to consider the business objectives for doing so. These will of course be slightly different for each industry, though it’s fair to say that the general aim of fostering better teamwork is to enable innovation.


And innovation requires two things: agility and transparency. For a business to find solutions to the increasingly complex problems thrown up by the modern digital economy, it has to be able to move quickly. And it has to allow information to be shared freely and transparently amongst management and staff.

Hierarchy is no bad thing


One management buzz-phrase that’s been widely misused in recent years has been the “flattening of hierarchy” within the organisation. This is because it’s misleading to equate a culture of collaboration and innovation with a lack of clear leadership.


And while the hierarchies in modern companies may not be as rigid or as bureaucratic as the typical pre-digital 20th-century business, there is still a very clear need for strong leadership or, to employ a popular phrase, “distributed leadership”.


As Edgar Schein, explained in his influential management tome, Leadership and Organizational Culture: “With the changes in technological complexity, the leadership task has changed. Leadership in a networked organization is a fundamentally different thing from leadership in a traditional hierarchy.”


This is where nurturing collaboration in certain traditional settings can prove to be difficult for management. Rigid organisational structures and tightly-defined job roles are ideal for companies built around planning and executing very clearly set goals.


Yet they are the enemy of companies trying to compete in today’s always-on knowledge-based industry, which demands constant learning, open brainstorms between management and staff, flexible and remote working practices and constantly encouraging the best use of the many collaborative technologies we now have to hand to make better decisions faster.