The first thing that perhaps comes to our mind when we think of partnerships is getting together with our team members on a project that we are working on. While managements definitely encourage working among groups rather than in silos so that different ideas can get thrown around and products are creatively put together, it may be useful for us to think about the potential of that creativity unrestricted by roles and functions.
By this I mean involving people who have absolutely nothing to do with your work. A thought you might have here is ‘What do they know about what I am doing?’ What might surprise you instead is how much perspective is added to what you do. A lot of the times working on our own with people who speak the same language leads to groupthink – the tendency to make even an irrational decision because you are conforming to a group. What it might also lead to is an alignment in thought – we do the same work in the same way, have very similar experiences because of our similar environments, and therefore end up thinking of things with a similar point of view. What you need here is a jolt of perspective, and that will only come around if you ask for it.
Innovation has almost become synonymous with effectiveness. With multiple companies doing what you do, it is necessary to do it differently and more effectively. At the individual level, with multiple people doing what we do, the same logic applies. A key is to bring in perspectives, to collaborate and ideate with different people to create something unique.
At the outset, it is imperative to differentiate between an organic way of making this collaboration take place versus one where organizations put spaces together hoping that collaboration and innovation will take place even though the basics go against the innate tendency to collaborate in that space. The ability to create the former is what sets a Google or a Pixar apart as organizations known for their collaborative spaces and the innovation that it creates.
Increasing informal social interactions have been seen to be the most consistent and effective ways many organizations have fostered collaboration. However, what has also been seen is that while organizations might have created these spaces, its people might not be best equipped to make the most of it. Given that studies in the area of collaborative work spaces is relatively new, organizations have also been seen to create spaces that they feel foster collaboration (like cafes, lounges, etc.) without really distinguishing between the traditional spaces, extracurricular spaces and the real collaborative spaces.
Here are a few things you could do that could perhaps push your team members towards more organic and effective collaboration:
Chance encounters: Many organizations are shifting to office spaces with no boundaries when it comes to seating spaces. They are doing away with cubicles and assigned spaces, encouraging team members to sit with different people at different times, increasing the likelihood of these chance encounters. Talking about what they do for the organization through their respective functions in settings that are less restrictive will lead to more ideas on how one’s work flows into the others and thereby lead to better ways of doing what they do. It leads to sharing of perspective that would have otherwise been hindered with closed doors and restrictive work places.
A space with different tools: While we continuously emphasize the importance of different media for learning, we tend to overlook that when it comes to different media for brainstorming. Instead of conference rooms, many organizations are moving towards rooms that are equipped with different tools that fuel ideas and innovation – while you may think better with flowcharts on a white board, I might benefit by watching different videos. The end result that we might want to create is the ‘Eureka!’ moment, and the space should be conducive to that. Ideally, the tools should also encourage more informal communication such that your team could reach out to others across borders and time zones. The power that this has to support adjustment to changing work needs is immense.
Encourage cross-functional interaction: While all of this seems well-placed in the need to make your work environment more conducive to collaboration, a fundamental approach that we tend to miss out on is the need for cross-functional interaction at every level. Gone are the days of top-down flow of information about what other teams within the organization are doing. With ease of access and more modes of informal social interactions, it becomes necessary to encourage all team members to understand how their work is perceived by those beyond their own team and how it can be improved. A lack of this could mean that individuals think their contribution to the organization is the most important, undermining the contributions of others. To avoid this, it helps to bring in thoughts, ideas and improvisation from people even beyond your organizations.
With the potential of collaboration and innovation still being tapped by various studies and organizations, one could even collaborate to innovate the most collaborative workspaces!