Collaboration is way of working with others with shared understanding to achieve mutual goals. Sometimes collaboration goes outside of our comfort zone to accomplish goals. It is critical to understand it to be more effective at it.
Collaboration helps us solve big problems this is a known fact but unfortunately we get confused sometimes and we get lost in a rigmarole of ‘thinking about its inefficiency’, we feel to it is ‘too risky’ to get out of comfort zone.
We might also have our concerns on the ‘unconscious’ signals we are sending to others on our over zealousness and sometimes we are afraid that our image and our relevance might take a beating.
Under such circumstances, it is essential that we clarify ourselves what collaboration is and is not.
It seeks to lay rest to our concerns and when the value of collaboration is clear, we will willingly seek out value added cross- functional projects to contribute and develop the necessary skills to effectively collaborate.
Here are some pointers to help us navigate the difficult waters.
What it is not
Knowing ‘what it is not’ helps us to come out our comfort zone fast. Knowing that we are not alone and there are others in the same boat as ourselves, helps us psychologically.
When I first heard about business tutoring – I wasn’t fully aware of how beneficial it could be for my business.
I’d been quite successful in my area, and I wanted to give something back to those just starting out in the industry – so I was willing to volunteer some of my time to a few local business learning hubs and enterprise networks But I thought it was just going to be a one-way street. I was wrong.
My initial idea was that I was going to help out with a few up-and-coming entrepreneurs and that would be that. I didn’t realize becoming a business tutor could actually help my business. In reality, the process wasn’t just about sharing my knowledge with others – it actually helped me learn, and gave me a number of unique ways to collaborate and draw on a range of different skill sets.
How my collaborative efforts improved with the new network of talent I had access to
Because I was now working with a lot of motivated, inspired young-business people – the opportunities I had to collaborate on different projects skyrocketed. I was now drawing on a wide-range of talents and ideas – some of which I could use in my own business.
I was tutoring different people with different skills – and more than just sharing my knowledge with them, they were sharing theirs with mine. Not only did I collaborate with them to help on a few of their ideas and projects – but they actually helped me with mine. It was now a two-way learning street.
Local private tuition companies like Smile Tutor offer these collaborative opportunities in the Singapore area.
How becoming a tutor helped me learn new ways of doing business
I might have been the senior businessperson – but that doesn’t mean I didn’t have things I could learn. Through our collaboration, I knew that some of my ideas were stuck in the past. I got some great new ideas that I could implement in my business.
I was actually tutoring someone who ran an online business and was very interested in social media. It was at a time when social media was just taking off, but I’d been so busy I’d sort of neglected getting involved.
He needed some help with more traditional aspects of his business, so we worked together so I could set him straight. While collaborating helped him immensely – it also helped me. I saw how powerful social media could be in promoting a new business (especially on a budget). It was so effective, I implemented it in my business and started seeing positive results. Through our collaboration – we both learned something to improve our skill set.
It was a busy day. As I drove down the road during one of those errand trips, I heard the local radio channel go boom with this question, ‘Did Stephen King narrate bedtime horror stories to his children?’ The radio jockey further asks the reasons for our ‘yes’ or ‘no’. I sat bewildered. Stephen King is a very popular and celebrated author who is known for his work on horror stories, fantasy, and science fiction. I did not know the answer nor I could say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the question.
I thought about it the next day. It hit me as a father. I had narrated hundreds and hundreds of bedtime stories to my kid daughter. My daughter is quite demanding at that.
Many times, I had run out of stories. Sometimes I concoct and make it up and sometimes my kid daughter insists that I retell the stories. I later found out that each time you repeat the story, kids start seeing it in a new angle. They reinterpret the stories and the characters.
Each time they hear, they see a new meaning in it and their imagination has no bounds. It lays the seed of creativity in them. What happens without saying is that you are effectively collaborating with your kids for their development and it is fulfilling for you as well.
I later researched and found out that, two of Stephen King’s children have become authors.
Creativity is something that we need to nourish it from a very young age.
Even within an organization, nourishing creativity and cultivating it is a skill. We are all waiting for the next big idea and a potential break through. We cannot afford to look at it as counterproductive to productivity and control.
The 2017 Nobel peace prize for Physics was awarded to 3 scientists in the United states. Rainer Weiss from MIT and Kip Thorne and Barry Barish both from Caltech won the prize for their scientific discovery of ripples in space-time known as gravitational waves.
This discovery validated Einstein’s theory of relativity ( E=MC2 expresses that mass and energy are the same physical entity and can be interchanged).
The theory of relativity suggested that matter and energy would warp the very structure of space-time. The warp would happen in the same way an ‘air pillow’ sags when an infant rests its head on it while asleep. Interesting.
This phenomenon would stretch space-time, expand and collapse it forming black holes making it so dense that even light cannot escape it. The motion of these black holes as the universe expands in space-time would send ripples of gravitational waves into space.
What was more interesting for me was the question in Newyork times “Why did they win?” Well the question “How did they win?” Would be much more interesting sans the ‘Astrophysics’ part.
Well the scientists were the ‘brain child’ behind the organization called LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational –wave Observatory). In fact, LIGO was also the scientific instrument for the detection gravitational waves.
LIGO was a scientific collaborative organization comprising of a thousand researchers from around the globe who analyzed data, designed materials, and co-authored hundreds of scientific papers on the research area.
IndiGO is the consortium of Indian gravitational physicists. IndiGO is the Indian partner to the LIGO laboratory in USA for planning and setting up the LIGO-India project.
The LIGO laboratory has scientific collaboration with its other advanced LIGO partners in UK, Germany and Australia and also with the US National science foundation. Together they provide hardware and designs for setting up the Indian operations of LIGO.
Current trends in scientific collaboration
Most of us have a scientific temper. We are so curious at times that we keep watching television channels for interesting science stories and snippets. It is not for the reason that they would affect our immediate lives but somehow we are glued.
You will surprised to know according to a research report from Physics org. the number of multiple author science papers have been doubled internationally from 1990 to 2015. It has grown from 10 % to 25%. Moreover, 58 more countries have participated in scientific research contribution since then.
A certain portion of productivity and collaboration comes from within the stellar team members you hire for the job. If you have budding, innovative minds who are eager to work together to move mountains for your business, you’ve already won half the battle. The only thing you should be concerned about is whether or not their office environment is actually stifling their abilities. After all, if you put an astronaut in a lawyer’s seat, would she know what she was doing?
If you want to make the most out of your workplace talent, you need to set the proper stage they’ll need to perform. A few small changes can make a world of difference in enhancing everyone’s ability to work to the fullest extent.
Space to Move
Your employees might spend a significant amount of time sitting around their computers, or even emailing each other. When they’re doing this, the need to have enough space to set up and work on what they’re working on. It’s hard to get much done when you’re bumping elbows with your coworker every time you try to hit “send.”
Even strictly virtual work requires more space than most people may realize. Some work requires a bubble of silence to concentrate on, and when employees can’t get that, they wind up sending out messages full of typos and incomplete thoughts. If everyone is too close together, it might be time to check out Gumtree for a larger office building. Growth tends to happen quicker than we may think, and you might have packed too many people into a small space.
Coming together is just as important as working separately. The whole group needs to be able to sit at the same table in order to discuss and plan an upcoming project. Some of that work is meant to be done within the group, but other small tasks may require privacy. If everyone else needs to be quiet so one person can make a phone call, this is a sign that you don’t have enough designated zones for specific kinds of work.
Make sure you have enough quiet places where your team members can make phone calls or sit down with clients to go over personal information. Attempting to do these things in a team setting is overwhelming, and not much will get done. Everyone needs a little corner to handle these quiet tasks before they can come back and share what they’ve learned with the group.
When things feel up in the air, it’s hard for employees to stay grounded. If your business is changing ownership, the staff might feel uncertain about their futures. Their concerns will change, and they’ll view their careers from a different perspective. Until the change has been completed, the days will need to go on the same way they always have. Keeping things flowing means changing the way collaboration works under these new circumstances.
Know What Needs to Be Done
When new owners come in, old long term goals or policies might change. Think about what needs to get done in the moment. No one can work together productively if they feel as though what they’re working towards is useless. What does your team definitely need to accomplish before the transfer? What long term projects can be scrapped to accommodate current priorities? Make sure everyone is on the same page as far as what is most important at this time.
Take it Out of the Office
Whether you’re selling a brick and mortar office business or selling a website, the people who aren’t sticking around for the new owners are going to be working in a new environment soon. Staying in the office might be a little uncomfortable or downright upsetting to the people who aren’t happy about what’s going on. Encourage your team to collaborate in new environments. Let them work at a coffee shop or in a public park. The change of scenery will take their minds off of a big change they may not be happy about. Allowing them to work remotely from home is also a valuable alterative.
Don’t Stop Team Building
People value the relationships they build at work. If you know your deal will be completed in 90 days, you shouldn’t stop team building activities for that time. They’re still going to be working together. You need your team to feel strong and focused. Transfer of business can be demoralizing if you let regular day to day activities fall apart. Ownership may change, but in-office relationships can remain the same throughout the process.
Fostering social collaboration at work is an art as well as science. Whether you are a new entrepreneur or an executive in an established company, fostering social collaboration and thereby leading to innovation needs the acceptance of chaos in the initial product development stages.
It is imperative that we avoid making detailed long-term plans but instead focus on the smaller details of users or customers’ needs and wants. We have to allow managerial teams to compete with many alternative designs and projects within a framework of goals and limits to achieve the desired results.
Further, it is a common understanding and perception that small companies foster greater social collaboration at work than large companies. This is not necessarily true. However, there is a lot to learn from the managerial practices of some of the world-class companies on fostering social collaboration at work and innovation. These practices can help other companies and managerial teams to learn and be more socially collaborative.
Firstly, what is social collaboration at work ?
Social collaboration at work is a set of processes where groups of individuals interact with each other to do common goals. The interaction might also be a ‘Brainstorming’ activity where people participate and new ideas emerge out of the participation and contribution.
Wiki Collaboration has permeated virtually to all forms of on-line collaboration and social media. It was a seed concept which was invented and developed in 1994, came to be used so widely today. The best example of Wiki collaboration, the Wikipedia, is the most referenced online content repository in the world.
Talking about Wiki collaboration, James wales, the Founder of Wikipedia has recently announced that he will be starting a new publication called the ‘Wikitribune‘ to cover fake news. James says, ‘Wikitribune’ would be a ‘news site with a sense of community’ with ‘Evidence-based journalism’ on the underline.
Wikitribune will bring together the public and the journalists on the same plane. Wikitribune will project facts as it is and news content will be taken out of bias. It will be unrestricted for all with a genuine sense of community. Commendable.
I am not going to talk about -what ails Wikipedia? or the rise and decline of Wikipedia. There has been a number of articles written on the decline. I feel that there is a lot to learn from Wikipedia. Now with the announcement of the Wikitribune, my sincere hunch is that it would reverse the trend for the better.
Vannevar Bush, the celebrated engineer, inventor and administrator must be one happy man in his grave. He left a legacy and passed away. His invention of the Memex in the 1930’s, led to the development of the internet as we know today. The memex also led to the development of the Wiki collaboration software.
It was in 1994, Ward Cunningham the inventor of Wiki software, was inspired by Vannevar’s ideas on Memex and further developed it into a software where people can share and collaboratively edit documents.
His desire was that people can collaboratively contribute and talk about their experiences by adding and editing content without much technical know-how on computers.
There are thousands of active wikis in use around the world. They are used as team collaboration software, knowledge management tools, corporate intranets and community forum websites.
A wiki is an online software that lets you share and collaboratively modify and edit contents and documents with others using a simple web browser.
Did you know: Wiki is a Hawaiian name, which means ‘Quick’.
Wikipedia: the best known Wiki collaboration software
I was amazed to know that about 10 billion people visit the Wikipedia in a month for the English version alone. No wonder it is the 6th most widely read magazine in the world.
An article from MIT technology review from Tim simonite was a thought to provoke. Though the article was written in 2013, the title of the article ” The decline of Wikipedia’ caught my attention’. You can find the article here.
I saw some valid points. Apart from that I have not seen much written about it in the recent years. There is one from Andrew Lih titled ” Can Wikipedia survive” published in the Newyork times. You can find the article here.
A lot to learn from Wikipedia
I came to know that there were a lot of improvements that Wikipedia was working on, ground up. Surely, there must have been a lot of challenges that Wikipedia as a Wiki collaboration software would have faced over the years.
How did Wikipedia face them and what were those? What are lessons that we can learn from its journey? are the few questions that came up to me.
There is a social instinct in all of is to collaborate and contribute content. We do it for the greater good. Wiki collaboration needs a good dose of altruism. On this take, Wikipedia is a strong example of wiki collaboration and stands tall as a beacon.
Its success and sustainability are far more important to students, academicians and knowledge seekers of the world than to the volunteer professionals who regularly edit and contribute content. Though Wikipedia in the recent past has suffered from a lack of young contributors, it is still doing fine.
There is no centralized control. No restriction. Anybody can contribute. The Wikipedia foundation is a non-profit organization and yet the volunteers contribute on their own free will. A commendable sense of community spirit. They are a set of passionate folks. They do it for the ‘Love of the WWW (World wide web)’.
There is a lot to learn from Wikipedia as a channel for wiki collaboration. Though Wikipedia has been so popular, it is not been seen as social media tool by many. Perhaps, the founders and volunteers need to shape it up in such a way so as to encourage a lot of public contribution.
Best practices for Wiki collaboration
There has been no alternative to Wikipedia so far, as a Wiki collaboration tool. It is online collaboration at its best.
A good characteristic which distinguishes itself from others is the concept of NPOV (Neutral point of view). Wikipedia depends on its volunteers to update and contribute information. The final information that is presented to the user is neutral in nature.
Volunteers update information from various sources. Some may agree and some may not agree on the information presented. The contentions and disputes among volunteers on information sources and claims are quickly resolved. What finally is presented is the information on a topic or subject matter from a neutral point of view (NPOV). A good best practice that even today, there are many regulations on information management and databases that are derived from it.
Another important practice that Wikipedia does is to weed out vandalized information on a continuous basis. Online Wiki collaboration has its bane as well. Any good information found on the internet which is free and easy to edit and collaborate is also prone to information being vandalized. The volunteer editors at Wikipedia have a very tight network where they immediately discard unwanted information in a matter of minutes.
Many other publications had tried to emulate the success of Wikipedia. One such example which is worth mentioning is “LA Times“. LA times introduced ‘Wikitorials’ which was shortlived. They introduced it with the intent that the public would edit and collaborate with each other to work on their editorial page. But with the absence of dedication and commitment from the administrators and volunteers, the site was quickly vandalized by some elements in the public. They had to shut it down.
So, it was the sheer dedication and the spirit of community among the Wikipedia volunteers that led to its success. Maintaining such a comprehensive repository of information and knowledge on the public domain is no mean challenge for Wiki collaboration.
There was harmony among the volunteers to produce content which was acceptable to everyone. It was done for the ‘love of the World Wide Web’.
Off-late some pitfalls
Wikipedia was at its peak in 2005 and its English language version was the most visited reference site in the world. Andrew Lih in his New York times article talks about the staff crunch that Wikipedia faces.
It was said that they had about 60 editors who were allocated for admin roles in a month. Now, it is hard to allocate even one editor in a month.
The number of volunteers who contribute new information is dwindling. There is a dearth of young contributors, who have the potential and zest to write about topics, agrees Tim Simonite from the MIT Technology review.
Obviously, there seems to be a generational gap within the old timers who stick to the traditional approach for updating information and are unwilling to change. Wiki collaboration has to change with the time. The newcomers and the younger generation want information to be updated on the new mobile computing infrastructure. There is a learning curve attached as well. These governance issues need to be sorted out.
The Wikipedia foundation which runs the administration and infrastructure portions have plans to bring in new software and editing capabilities, to steer the way the Wiki collaboration happens among the volunteers.
It is time now that Wikipedia is used by its users as a social media tool as well. Just like how Facebook serves as an entertainment social media. Wikipedia should place itself as a ‘knowledge social media’. Though I have been hearing talks, I haven’t seen any ‘share’ or ‘thank’ buttons incorporated yet.
The Final word
Wikipedia will succeed and overcome its challenges. It is a matter of time. There is now enough impetus with the introduction of Wikitribune. As a Wiki collaboration software, Wikipedia offers us many lessons to learn not just about how Wiki collaboration should function and work but on the remarkable spirit of community and for the power of free expression.
In my opinion, the ability to see fresh beneficial opportunities from challenges and deep entanglements, is one of the proven and established benefits of brainstorming.
But how much of it, is realized by working professionals is left to be seen. Perhaps, delving a bit into this activity and highlighting few tips would help.
It was interesting to read about an Arthur Anderson Survey that more than 70% of business professionals brainstorm and they do it at-least once in a month.
That is a good number.
But then, there is a general notion among professionals that “they have seen it all” and they don’t care much about brainstorming.
The good part is brainstorming facilitates, better collaboration and better innovation. There is no lone genius. Good ideas and insight are produced through successive iteration of ideas. It happens over a period of time through collaboration and group think among team members.
Brainstorming is all about exercising your mental muscles and keeping it sharp. Each and every time, again and again.
Just as we exercise to keep ourselves fit and healthy, it is good to regularly brainstorm.
Is there a right way to stimulate brainstorming and make it engaging and result bound not only for us but also for others?
The answer is – Yes!
Is there an online environment yet? Probably not.
We haven’t seen it much happening on online social media collaboration platforms on the consumer side. There isn’t much focus either.
So what is brainstorming?
Brainstorming is an opportunity and an activity for the team to produce new ideas spontaneously to solve a difficult problem.
There are two key words in the above statement, which emphasizes and plays a critical role in making brainstorming very successful. They are: 1. Team 2. Spontaneously. We will try to explore on them.
Useful note: Brainstorming as a term was popularized by Alex. F. Osborn in the 1953 book “Applied imagination”. Even earlier, Osborn, conducted many group thinking sessions and outlined his approach in his 1948 book, “Your creative power”. He wrote with clarity in his book, on how to organize a team to produce great ideas.
There are many approaches and methods to brainstorming. We will pick and choose some of the best practices around the world. It is nevertheless a challenge, to apply it within a social media collaboration context.
IDEO, an international design firm for the past 20 years have been at the forefront for spreading best practices in brainstorming, organizing and bringing together motivated teams for the same. There is ‘Brain Trust’ sessions from Pixar, to learn from as well. Pixar is the celebrated movie production and animation company, loved by people all over the world. Pixar conducts brainstorming sessions among its senior leadership team and other team members.
As we discussed earlier, two critical factors play a big role namely: Being spontaneous and motivated teams.
Here are some simple practical tips, which could help you cultivate these vital areas for successful brainstorming.
Being spontaneous and passionate helps for brainstorming
Focus: Before getting into the meeting with your team members, it is important that everyone comes in with a clear mind. A clear mind with no distractions aids in airing the right ideas on the table without bias and misconceptions. Clarity in the mind on the problem would naturally help in bring in spontaneous ideas.
One way to go about this, is to ask the team to spend about 30 minutes to an hour outside the office, before the session. Probably, a good walk in the park or around the office building would do. The focus should be on critiquing the ideas and not the people. It is good to set aside the top-down hierarchy and go along with the dynamics of the group for initial idea building.
A good takeaway from the “Brain Trust” meeting session from Pixar is that, the group would always consist of senior people who are experts in their field. They would work individually on their ideas, at their desks and then gather for brainstorming. During the brainstorming session, the experts would air their ideas and problems openly and ask for feedback. Their ideas would be critiqued, suggestions would be offered and problems are seen from a fresh perspective.
Build and Jump: It is encouraged to build as many ideas as possible. There is no limit. As long as the team finds enough possible ideas, they would go at it. But then, when they reach a point, where they cannot go any further on a topic, it is advised to branch out and start building again.
Go for quantity: It is always encouraged to have as many wild ideas as possible. There are no good ideas or bad ideas. All ideas are good. Go for the quantity. It is only on the successive iteration of ideas that new insight happens.
Physically think through objects: A good takeaway from IDEO is that, they always encourage their employees to bring in physical objects during the brainstorming session. Props help in looking at the problem from a different perspective. It allows team members to build fresh ideas on flaws of earlier designs. It also allows the team to talk about a problem or a great design in one object, relative to another.
Put it in writing: It is a good idea to put all the ideas in writing. When you write, you will remember and come back to it later. It is a good idea to put all the ideas on a post-it slip and stick it on the wall for everyone to see.
Build trust: Trust is one of the very important factors. Only when there is trust, will people in the team open up. It is important for the leadership team to foster a culture of trust in the organization. It is good to give everyone a free hand in the contribution process. When team members feel and see that their ideas are valued, it builds trust.
Bring in diversity: It is good to have a diverse set of team members in the brainstorming session. Diversity in subject matter expertise, experiences and gender allows to look at problems from a fresh perspective and brings in Wisdom. The ability to see fresh opportunities in long held challenges is one of the greatest benefit of having a diverse brainstorming team.
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