30% of employees did not spend enough time to learn from external social collaboration – HBR Research

external social collaboration

Ideas can be life changing. All you need to open the door is one more good idea”

The above quote is from the American author Rim Rohn.

External Social collaboration has the potential to make those small hunches and ideas worthwhile to pursue. They can develop it into a workable idea and before you know, friendly collaborators will spur you to execute it.  The intentions of utilizing external social collaboration networks are good but how much of this learning is used and diffused within the organizations? This is something we need to know. Nevertheless, there are certain principles that need following within workplaces to make idea generation fruitful for everybody.

Perhaps this is what companies are doing to spur innovation. A recent article from Harvard Business Review titled “A study shows how to find new ideas inside and outside the organization” talks about how employees in workplaces can generate new ideas by networking not only with fellow colleagues but also with experts and industry luminaries outside the organization. You can find the article here.

Big companies like Proctor and Gamble, Lego, and Bausch use employees who have the necessary skills to network externally to source ideas for them. Social media collaboration within the consumer space can be a huge help. The time and costs spent my employees’ networking and collaborating outside their workplaces sometimes outweigh the benefits of generating new ideas required for innovation.

Balance Internal and External networking

However, there is a catch. According to the findings, employees who network extensively outside the organization with their business partners, vendors, and industry experts are not necessarily productive. In addition, employees who network within their colleagues inside the organization are not completely devoid of new ideas either.  There needs to be a balance.

Senior employees within the organization, network with a range of industry experts and they spend a considerable amount of time doing this. The amount of time spent outside the organization can hamper the proceedings of the internal meetings and inputs, where their ability is required. Sometimes, time spent outside can derail the efforts of time-constrained innovation that needs to happen within the organization. It was revealing to understand that 30% employees (Respondents) do not spend the time to learn from their external social collaboration.

This means they (30% of employees) do external networking in a casual way, which may or may not add value in the end.

External collaboration and building relationships outside the organization requires a lot of time.  Learning and gaining valuable industry nitty gritty not only takes time, it is an art as well.

There is a concern that employees, who spend time externally this way, may not understand the innovation needs and priorities of their workplace in the first place.

Spending time on how to execute those ideas internally within the workplaces is equally important, if not more, feel most of the organizations. The irony is that, only when we spend time externally with counterparts outside the workplace, will we learn more from them.

Please read our blog post article, Benefits of social media in the workplace An employee perspective

The studies further point out that employees sitting at their desks all day and spending time only within their business units should not miss out opportunities to learn more from their colleagues in other units. In fact, there were more ideas generated, when employees collaborated with other employee groups. Sometimes, employees’ source of inspiration could be just right across the desk. We fail to recognize this fact.

Simple principles to follow

In such situations, how can organizations balance collaboration in external networking and internal networking?  The answers lie in the following simple principles for external social collaboration within workplaces.

Let me explain these simple principles.

The manager needs to understand the ability and skill level of the employees

It is not necessary that the all the employees need to engage in external social collaboration. It is important to understand the current organization goals, priorities, and needs. External social collaboration activities need to align with the organizational goals. Managers should encourage both internal and external social collaboration and networking. It is imperative to understand and take up that approach that works best for them.

Spending time to learn from external social collaboration and networking

It is imperative that employees need to spend enough time for networking and building relationships with external partners and industry experts. People need to be aware that it takes the time to build trust and to deepen their network ties with authenticity and sincerity. Employees need to understand that they should do not spend much time for casual chats. They need to be responsible for their actions and learn productively from their relationships.

Utilize the external information and learning and spread it to the others in the workplace

The learnings need to be used effectively. The time spent outside needs to be productive. They will have to come back, take some time to absorb and analyze the information and see how they can apply those learnings practically within the organization.  One good way to do this is to pair them up with internally focused employees. That way, they will be able to understand and assess how the newly gained ideas and knowledge can be used internally.

Finally,

To realize the benefits of external social collaboration, the emphasis is twofold. First, the employees need to understand the innovation needs of the organization and their current challenges. Second, they need to spend enough time for responsible networking for external social collaboration.

Having said that, organizations also need to encourage internal networking as well.  Both need to go hand in hand to boost innovation within workplaces.

 

Cheers.

Ramkumar Yaragarla
Available at

Ramkumar Yaragarla

I am 42 years old. I have spent double digit years working as a business analyst and a program manager in Human resources and IT functions in several Fortune 100 companies in India and the UK.
Completed Masters in IT for manufacturing at the University of Warwick, UK and a PRINCE 2 certified practitioner.

My interests include collaborative innovation, group dynamics, Idea hubs and work life balance. I am open to your suggestions.
Ramkumar Yaragarla
Available at

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