If there is one topic that stands out in my mind in the last few months, it would be the topic of collaboration. We have been asked to help others collaborate and we ourselves also desire greater collaboration in our work. Why is collaboration so needed in our workplace? Why do talent searchers look for hires who are collaborative in nature? Why are training courses offered to help staff become more collaborative? Is it the next silver bullet for workplace efficiency and employee satisfaction?
If we think of team sports as a metaphor for collaboration, it can shed some light into why we all desire it. In sports, we talk about collaboration because it is often thought of as an important ingredient for winning. In sports as in business, we all want to win.
In reading about this topic, I’ve simplistically grouped a number of widely agreed upon attributes into six distinct areas or ingredients that contribute to a team’s overall success. The six ingredients of a great sports team require the following ‘greats’:
The above are understandable and undeniable factors for winning. However, when it comes to the workplace and not team sports, we get asked to help organizations develop another ingredient. Often, that ingredient is some kind of a digital enterprise tool. If we go back to the team sports analogy, developing or revamping a tool (or a suite of tools) to create, generate or improve collaboration is like getting new equipment for the team. It’s admirable and good. But how does the purchase of new equipment benefit the team? The cost-benefit of the purchase should be looked at before committing to retooling on a large scale. These days, anything that is not put together by an internal team can be perceived as large, expensive, and ‘involved’. Some questions we all need to think about include the following:
When looking at “new equipment”, not only do we need to think about these tough questions, but more importantly, we need to look at the new equipment in the context of the first six ingredients – the ecosystem. What is the return on investment of the equipment in comparison to –
When I talk about retooling or purchasing a tool, I am not talking about small, internally-initiated, agile, build-what-you-need-as-you-go approach. Many effective teams are already building small and thinking big. Airbnb is a good example. In their data science team, for example, they build their own R packages, which are fundamental units of reproducible R code. Their teams collaborate simultaneously to improve their tools and fix bugs on the fly; review each other’s code, and deploy as they need. What I am talking about is something much more pre-packaged and purchased off the shelf. Purchasing large enterprise systems in order to collaborate is rarely the choice of teams that are already agile and work in a collaborative environment.
My thought is that until we start working on the first six fundamental elements, retooling at the enterprise level is the least of our concerns.
Yvonne Shek is the VP, User Experience at Akendi, a firm dedicated to creating intentional experiences through end-to-end experience design. To learn more about Akendi or user experience design, visit www.akendi.com.
Akendi is a product strategy, user experience design and usability research firm. We are passionate about the creation of intentional experiences – whether those involve digital products, physical products, mobile, service or bricks-and-mortar interactions. We work shoulder-to-shoulder to optimize the experiences you deliver. Akendi Corporate Overview (PDF).
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