How does the dictionary define collaboration?

“Collaboration: The situation of two or more people working together to create or achieve the same thing.” Cambridge Dictionary

To really simplify it, it’s the action of working with someone to produce something.

“Great things in business are never done by one person. They’re done by a team of people.” Steve Jobs

Hard to argue against collaboration when someone like Steve Jobs was a proponent, isn’t it?

Yet people do. You’ll often hear people deride collaboration – “it’s a waste of time,” “nothing ever gets done,” “it’s counter-productive.” I would say these people simply aren’t getting it.

In these cases, collaboration is often confused with “doing things by committee” which I would agree can become all the negative things above. But doing things by committee is not collaboration. Again, as the esteemed Cambridge Dictionary tells us, collaboration – by definition – must have a result. It is not collaboration if nothing gets done.

Working with someone. To produce something.

The outcome is to “create or achieve the same thing”. To produce something. The very point of collaboration. It is inherently results-driven.

The catalyst is “two or more people working together”. Working with someone. The crucial element of collaboration. It’s using the knowledge, experience, skills, and creativity of the individuals involved to collectively produce the result.

Where collaboration really gets interesting is when that “two or more people” are made up from very different backgrounds, skillsets, experiences, and interests, creating an environment that is cognitively diverse.

As Matthew Syed points out in his excellent “Rebel Ideas”, “The power of cognitive diversity is set to become a key source of competitive advantage, and the surest route to reinvention and growth.”

So, how do you go about giving your organisation this competitive edge?

Here are my three top tips:

1.    Provide a visible, always-on platform

Organisations often embrace cognitive diversity already. They’ll very enthusiastically host team-building outings or brainstorming sessions. The success of these on the day will vary from lukewarm if your groups haven’t bought into the objective to red-hot with enthusiasm as ideas across these diverse groups spring from their wells of creativity. Even in this latter “best-case scenario”, the chances of taking this plethora of ideas and turning them into action in a fast, communicative way are slim. They get log-jammed somewhere in HR or Innovation who are already bogged down with other responsibilities, senior management moves on to other priorities, and the worst thing that can happen does: NOTHING. This dampens even the most enthusiastic participant and the whole affair is so counter-productive as to become a cautionary tale of what not do to.

By providing a visible platform, updates, progress reports, red flags, questions, and more are available for all participants to see. They will start to see these great ideas take shape.

And by making the platform available 24/7, you keep the flow of ideas constant. This is especially important for those “intrapreneurs” within your organisation who will embrace being able to provide suggestions and ideas whenever inspiration hits.

2.    Give structure and measurement to the platform

What happens whenever you get a group of people together and ask them to work with each other without any instructions? Chaos is what happens. And, not much else. Add the dimension of different perspectives and we can add debate and disagreement to the mix.

By providing a specific structure by way of both challenge and idea submission, you equalise the playing field and ensure all ideas are treated the same. By adding a means of measurement at the inception of the challenge, you create an objective assessment process that would normally be highly subjective. Additionally, and crucially, this also ensures ideas can be progressed or disregarded quickly.

3.    Democratise the process

What do I mean by this? Stop thinking that a “one size fits all” approach to driving change and leading innovation is going to work. Stop putting all employees into one basket and stop making your HR or innovation teams solely responsible for the management of your strategy.

Decentralise the responsibility to local leaders who are far better placed to know what questions and issues to present to their team and are far better placed to drive the implementation. This has the secondary benefit of creating a sense of ownership for your local leaders. If they are involved in the process, they’ll be invested in the solution.

However you choose to approach collaboration among your employees to drive change, start the journey. After all, as Ken Blanchard famously said,

“None of us is as smart as all of us.”

And, if you’d like to learn how smartcrowds can help with your collaborative idea crowdsourcing, get in touch; I’m happy to share more.