Fostering High Value Collaboration In Korea.

The dictionary defines “collaboration” as “working together.” Strictly speaking, then, any work that relies on the cooperation of two or more people would qualify as collaboration. However, there should be a definition that is useful to practicing managers. And, it is essential to highlight the truly distinctive quality of collaboration: the unstructured and voluntary component of working together. Thus, the definition of collaboration should be people working together on things that require negotiation of meaning and order.

After reviewing the diversity of work activities one finds in organizations, it’s concluded that there are two defining characteristics to collaboration. The first dimension has to do with purpose or why collaboration is initiated. Sometimes collaboration is instigated by an intentional search. For instance, someone is looking for the solution to a problem or a partner who can provide much needed expertise. The initiator may not know all that she needs, but she knows that she’s got to find people who have pieces to the puzzle.

The second distinguishing characteristic of collaboration is its orientation ― it can either be proactive or reactive. Sometimes collaboration is proactive: people assemble to pursue a common goal, usually one they consider to be constructive and aligned with or complementing a positive organizational objective.

For example, employees mobilize informally to smooth the on-boarding of new colleagues from an acquired company ― even though the HR organization is effectively managing things like benefits enrollment. In other instances, collaboration may be reactive: it comes about in response to shortcomings in, or the failure of, a formal structure or process.

Four types of collaboration

Progressive collaboration out as the product of an individual’s search but grows into something larger as collaborators discover a shared need or passion and recruit others to do it. Richer conversations lead to a refined understanding and a deeper appreciation of the complexities to be found in the object of common interest.

Self-organizing collaboration emerges out of the discovery of shared purpose or interest on the part of previously unconnected individuals. Social media and networking websites ― including those that are a part of a company’s intranet ― offer a place where people can post their interests or accomplishments and others can see them. Once a connection is made, creation of a subgroup or alliance is possible.

Remedial collaboration occurs as a constructive reaction to elements of the formal organization that do not work completely or well. Rather than throw up their hands in frustration or wait for someone else to repair a broken process, people find workarounds that enable them to complete their tasks.

Oppositional collaboration may seem a contradiction in terms, but it is a reaction triggered by the shortcomings, the failings or the perceived injustices associated with a formal policy or process. Unlike remedial collaboration, oppositional collaboration does not seek to ameliorate or compensate for those shortcomings; it seeks instead to leverage them in order to strike a more attractive effort bargain, or to grow a counter-culture and a distinctive identity based in opposition.

Fostering collaboration

Three of these four types of collaboration are attractive from a managerial perspective, but each poses unique requirements and challenges alongside the opportunities.

For progressive collaboration, a major challenge resides in finding ways to reduce the time and the energy required for people to find one another ― that is, to root out who has expertise or experience in a particular domain ― and then to “qualify” (gain comfort or trust) in the information or expertise the other person has to offer.

For example, executives in a consumer products company noted with concern that analysis of data collected through employee surveys and interviews revealed that the integration of so many new companies and staffs overwhelmed the existing software and social relationships that had previously made it possible for people to find the in-house expertise they needed in a timely fashion.

Avoiding situations like this also requires a continuous refreshing (or scrubbing) of shared databases or knowledge exchanges to insure that they remain current and don’t lead people down blind alleys.

In the ideal, self-organizing collaboration ought to enable a company to fluidly capitalize on new opportunities regardless of functional, hierarchical, geographic or organizational lines. In reality, however, self-organizing collaboration challenges managers to accommodate themselves to the fact that success often involves high levels of uncertainty, non-linearity and serendipitous advance.

For example, a pharmaceuticals researcher casually scanning a corporate database discovered that someone in a different lab who shared an interest in the behavior of an obscure peptide had already proven the utility of that compound, albeit in a drug that had failed in clinical trials. Their chance encounter, enabled by user-friendly software that made search simple and straightforward, led to a collaboration that turned one person’s failure into a significant organizational success. Without a platform for knowledge exchange and willingness on the part of management to encourage broad-based search, such a discovery would probably never have happened.

However, the process of broad-based search can appear to the untrained eye to be aimless time-wasting. In many organizations, and especially in those with managers unaccustomed to supporting broad-based search, it is common to hear complaints about people idly surfing the web or chatting on Facebook when, in fact, people may be scanning the environment garnering potentially valuable connections for the company.

Remedial collaboration is highly valued because it addresses bottlenecks, breakdowns and failures in existing processes. But, in the absence of a clear set of priorities ― which repairs or improvements really matter ― and lacking a shared methodology for analyzing and repairing breakdowns (such as six sigma or total quality management) it is common for people to find themselves inundated with requests for collaboration.

Technology that allows for instant communication and cross-platform connectivity (such as presence-based applications that follow the subscriber from PC to smart phone to videoconference) can exacerbate problems they were meant to solve when all they do is multiply (and amplify) the number of calls for collaboration.

For example, the new leader of an expanding consulting practice was stunned when she found her pleas for more collaboration between specialty groups were met with boos and catcalls at a unit retreat. Subsequent investigation revealed to her that no one opposed the idea of collaboration, but virtually everyone complained that they suffered from “initiative overload” and were expecting the new leader to reduce, not to expand, the number of strategic initiatives by applying a logical prioritization, and to do so without investing in even more communication technology.

Seeing collaboration in action

Collaboration ― of any type ― is largely invisible without the right tools or lens with which to see it. Fortunately, social network analysis (SNA) has emerged as a powerful new way for managers to see the patterns of interaction ― information sharing, problem-solving, and mentorship, as well as collaboration ― that make up the less visible, often informal side of an organization. By asking simple survey questions online and identifying the people with whom they most frequently interact, SNA makes it possible to depict the networks that underlie or exist in parallel to the formal organization charts and process diagrams. Repeated surveys will, over time, reveal changes in networks or in patterns of collaboration ― making it possible to assess whether interventions such as reorganization or targeted efforts to improve collaboration (like offsite events, new communications tools, or incentive programs) actually have their desired impact. Moreover, targeted questions can reveal different types of collaboration.

Cultivating collaboration

In times like these ― when increases in market volatility and complexity have delivered a one-two punch to many organizations ― collaboration brings a richer and more diverse gene pool of interests, skills and experiences to bear on a common topic. And, perhaps most importantly, it encourages initiative from people who might otherwise wait for direction.

But it is important to recognize that not all collaboration adds value and not all value-adding collaboration is evident when it begins. Progressive collaboration produces value indirectly, largely by adding depth to the understanding of a process or an activity that directly creates value. Remedial collaboration helps achieve value when a system is incapable of monitoring and correcting itself. Self-organizing collaboration helps people discover the common interests that often serve as the precursor to value-creating activity. Oppositional collaboration usually destroys value or dissipates it.

Collaboration is most powerful when focused on the creation of intangible assets like ability to innovate, talent and human capital development, leadership development, reputation and brand. Fortunately, tools like social network analysis are making it possible to do something more than “water and wait” when it comes to cultivating collaboration. By utilizing more effective ways to depict collaborative networks, to see change in them as a result of targeted interventions, and to distinguish among the types of collaboration possible, managers are finding that they can encourage collaborations that are likely to yield fruit for the organization.  Source:  Accenture Korea.


Posted on November 28, 2011, in Employee Engagement and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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