Collaboration Conundrum

What do future leaders and perfect party hosts have in common?

Collaboration

Insights from Dr Nicola J. Millard on the collaboration conundrum

By Dr Nicola J. Millard, Head of Customer Insights and Futures.

Nicola Millard200So what made your New Year party great?  Was it the spirit of excitement and hope, or the cocktails? The great food? The DJ? The yummy appetizers?

Actually all of those things can be great, but without good planning the party can be a failure.

The perfect party host makes sure that the place is set and there’s plenty to eat and drink. They seem to know a little bit about everyone, and they make sure guests are introduced to really get the party started. Without them things can get off track quickly – as the guests sitting on the couch ignore those in the kitchen, and the introverted ones sit alone with their phones .

What can businesses learn from successful parties and the perfect party hosts?

Tip 1 - Create connections.

In these days where we are all connected by communication technologies rather than necessarily by co-location, it is easy for us to form groups who don’t talk or collaborate with each other. Even if we are co-located, the people on floor 4 (the equivalent of the couch “guests” at our party) may as well be in a different country to the people on floor 3 (the kitchen guests), because we simply don’t have the time or inclination to connect with people that we don’t see and don’t know. This is the collaboration conundrum.

Because of this, collaboration is becoming an increasing focus for many large organizations. And yet it doesn’t happen by magic. It needs people to come together on some kind of ‘common ground’ (whether physical or virtual), with trust and purpose.
The key to success is connection, and perfect party hosts can span the boundaries between employees in different rooms, different countries, and different disciplines.

Tip 2 – Value (and teach) networking skills.

It seems that networking only comes naturally to about one in four of us (according to research). The natural networkers are the ones who broker introductions across silos, countries and offices. We probably all know them – because they make it their job to get to know you. They may not, however, be the people in charge because networking skills are not necessarily recognized as being important by many organizations. That means that they are not the first in line for promotions because promotion is often about individual contribution rather than the ability to connect.

Being the perfect party host is often an underestimated skill – until now.

Leadership is 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.

In short, our future leaders may emerge from the dense connections between people and networks – because they are the people that are at the heart of those connections.

Research from MIT’s Sandy Pentland has thrown light on this – as his “social physics” uses a big data approach to exploring how people connect in the workplace. By analyzing how people collaborate, his team have found that effective flow of conversation between team members account for almost half of the performance variations between high and low performing teams.

Tip 3 – Eliminate the echo chambers.

So talking to each other is vital – but the perfect party host knows that varying the mix makes for a much more fun party. If the kitchen guests never come out of the kitchen, they may never have the chance encounter that interesting introvert in the corner. Staying in the kitchen creates what Pentland calls an “echo chamber” – and not just because of the tiled wall surfaces. If no new or dissenting voices are heard, few innovative ideas are likely to emerge and productivity stagnates. This is a BIG problem in business – especially if it is the board who never emerge from the kitchen.

Our future leaders do need to be perfect party hosts – and recruitment and promotion should recognize people for their abilities, but it is also a scarce skill. The good news is, because it is a skill, it can be taught.

So, like any great party, the first thing that you need is a reason for people to get together (an agenda and a clear purpose). You need a physical or virtual “common ground” to gather them on (whether it’s over audio, video or in the office). They need the right drinks, music, and appetizers (the tools to do the job) but, without the perfect party host, people are unlikely to talk, bond and collaborate. Watch them and learn.

And here's why you should download the white paper.

Collaboration is a team sport. It would be difficult to collaborate by yourself – so the ability to collaborate clearly isn’t a pointless obsession amongst large corporates, as some futurists claim. It's good for employees and it’s good for the bottom line.

Complete the form to download the collaboration conundrum white paper.

About the author.

Dr Nicola J. Millard is head of customer insight and futures in BT’s Global Innovation team. Despite working for a technology company, Nicola isn't actually a technologist and combines psychology with futurology to try and anticipate what might be lying around the corner for both customers and organizations.

Connect with Nicola on LinkedIn.

Follow Nicola on Twitter.

You might also be interested in :