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Collaboration by Design

Posted by on February 13, 2012

Collaborating is one of those things we all do every day.  We don’t think about every interaction we have and then wonder, “hey, did I just collaborate?”  It’s just a part of how many of us work and behave; we’re social creatures.  This is why it’s always amusing to have discussions on the value of collaboration because we are essentially trying to value something that we are already doing and have been doing for many many years.  Why don’t we try NOT collaborating and see what happens?

The issue doesn’t become why should we collaborate but how can we collaborate better and more effectively and how can we do it at scale across an entire organization, essentially, designing our companies for collaboration.  It’s similar to designing a sports car.  All cars have the same common features; engines, tires, transmission, seats, and windows.  But, some cars are specifically designed for off-roading, some are designed for luxury travel, and some are designed for speed and performance.  Companies need to be designed the same way that everything else is designed except in this case we need to design for collaboration.

Much of what I’m seeing today are companies implementing various tools and strategies that they were not designed for.  Going back to the car example it’s like taking a Ferrari engine and trying to force it into a Honda Civic, cool idea and you’ll get a lot of power but at the end of the day the Civic was not designed for that kind of an engine and if you want to make it work you are going to spend a ton of money on modifications and customization’s.

Designing for collaboration starts with the people at your company and encouraging them to share and communicate with one another.  It rewards and provides incentives to employees that collaborate and doesn’t see leaders managing by fear or power.  Designing for collaboration means believing in the voice of employees (and customers and partners) and building an engaged workforce where people love what they do and are fulfilled with the work they do.  Designing for collaboration involves employees having access to the tools and resources they need to get their jobs done effectively and allowing employees to build communities of interest where they work.  It means senior leaders help lead and evangelize this change.

As organizations continue to deploy these new tools and strategies for collaboration we should keep asking and challenging ourselves to design for collaboration.  Design isn’t easy and it takes time, but, when you make that design a reality it becomes beautiful and great.