The Case for Collaboration

June 30 • Business


We do better when we do things together. Even the most die-hard introverts amongst us would probably acknowledge that in certain contexts, collaboration is an inherently useful and sensible approach to take. Yet so often we find it challenging to do. We start thinking “this would be easier and quicker on my own” or “I don’t want to burden anyone else with my work” and in some instances this thinking might make sense. But when it comes to trying to solve complex problems, come up with innovative new ideas or create real change within a business, two heads really are often better than one.

The world of work is evolving so rapidly, and the pace of that change so great that the expectations on us as leaders, managers and contributors to produce, iterate, produce, iterate and do it all by yesterday is huge! So, we have to continue to come together to keep up with the pace of work and adapt to the constantly changing environments we face – this last year being a painful and all too real example of just how much uncertainty exists in the world.

If you can set the right conditions for collaboration, you can get incredible results:

  • Higher Quality Outcomes: when you bring the right people together for the right reasons, the quality of their outcomes or solutions is greater than if you did it alone. And even more so when you actively encourage a diverse group to collaborate together: diversity of thought and experience yields even higher quality outputs. A 2018 study by Harvard Business Review found that the most diverse companies who collaborated together were also the most innovative. They found that companies with higher-than-average diversity had 19% higher innovation revenues.

  • Boost to productivity: structured well, collaborative work is more likely to result in higher productivity. When a project or piece of work is complex and demanding, this is where group effort comes in – helping to divide tasks, elicit creative solutions quickly and drive the work forward at a greater pace.

  • Breaking down of silo mentality: collaboration can break down invisible walls. Bringing people together from different backgrounds, roles etc across the business creates new connections, strengthens existing ones, and provides opportunities to learn and skill share together. Whilst your work will benefit from different people coming together, you will personally benefit from making new connections and having different interactions outside of your usual sphere of contact.

  • Innovation, idea generation and “eureka” moments: this is the biggest one – we become more creative and innovative when we collaborate. Ideas spark from things other people say much more than they come out of the blue.

In the 1990s, psychologist Kevin Dunbar completed research at science labs around the world to video and analyse every element of their work, including their conversations, to see where their best, most innovative ideas came from. He discovered that contrary to what you might see in Hollywood where the lonely scientist makes a solo discovery under the microscope, innovation came via the weekly meetings when everyone shared their data, findings, and most importantly their mistakes. It was the different backgrounds, the different people, the jostling with each other, that led to the generation of ideas and innovation. It was the collaborative aspect of work that yielded the biggest innovations.

Keeping with the science theme, you can’t get a bigger and better example of collaboration in recent times than the development of the vaccinations for COVID-19. The fact we now have vaccines in circulation all over the world, developed in a fraction of the time it takes for normal vaccines to get approved, is due to worldwide collaboration to fast-track research and clinical trials. This wasn’t about competition: it was about a unified effort to achieve a common outcome for the good of everyone.

Collaboration isn’t always easy, or even the right thing to actively choose to do every time but if you can normalise it in your team or even better, make it part of your culture, it won’t seem clunky to collaborate, it will simply be the ways things are done around here and you will naturally create more efficient and productive and engaging workplaces. And that’s good for business.

So, what are you waiting for? Who will you collaborate with next?

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