Creating a more collaborative workplace – 3 ingredients you can’t miss

collaborative workplace
A collaborative workplace requires a certain degree of give and take and works on the essence of shared understanding among employees. Kevin, our guest author shares three ingredients for a successful collaborative workplace from giving freedom to employees to top management commitment. Please find his post below. Image credit : Pixabay

If you’re not fostering collaboration in your business, you will lose to those who do!

For starters, Millennials are taking over the workplace and majority of them (88%) prefer a collaborative culture over a competitive one. But more important, having all moving parts of the office work together simply makes good business sense.

Did you know?

Companies with a collaborative culture increase their productivity by 15%, reduce their time-to-market by 20%, and improve communication by 50%.

On the other hand, creating such an environment is easier said than done.

In particular, highly skilled employees – the nerds and geeks of the office – are not too keen on sharing their expertise and working with others. Many fear they would lose their edge at work by collaborating with co-workers, a point discussed in a post here at Work Monkey Labs.

And let’s admit it:

People, in general, are almost always resistant to change.

So what’s a business leader, like you, to do?

Read the rest of this brief guide and discover the five must-have ingredients for building a work environment where people love to work together.

Strong encouragement from the executive team

Supporting collaboration from the executive level isn’t just about having a mission or vision statement with the word “collaboration” in it. You need to go beyond mere words and show your support through actions.

Let’s take a look at a few ideas.

First on the list is to exhibit the behavior you want employees to adopt, and executives of the Standard Chartered bank do a fine job at it.

Members of the general management committee frequently travel to meet face-to-face and substitute for one another. Not only does this set a fine example for the rest of the company to follow. But doing so also enables executives to fill in for each other whatever the task – whether it’s to plan and run an internal event, start a dialogue with employees, or speak at a conference.

Frequent mentoring and coaching sessions can also encourage employees – both new and seasoned vets – to provide feedback and impart their knowledge. Both of which are crucial to collaboration.

At Nokia, new employees are exposed to the strong coaching culture of the company from the get-go.

Within a few days of stepping into a new job, the manager will meet with the employee and hand over a list of all the people in the organization the newcomer has to meet. The standard next step is for the new employee to set up meetings with people on the list so he or she may learn from them.

Designing an office to increase chance encounters and informal conversations among workers from different departments is another idea you should consider.

Google and Apple have done this masterfully by bringing offices together and adding kitchens and vending machines between teams.

Have you read ?

1. What collaboration is and is not . It is a habit and not a rare species
2.  The computer says yes but can AI really drive happy accidents and social collaboration
3.  How to foster social collaboration at work – Best practices

A suitable platform for collaboration

Make no mistake:

Creating a strong sense of community and having excellent leadership are essential for a collaborative work environment.

However, picking the wrong platform limits your chances of success.

Here’s an extreme example:

Using email to pass around and edit a document. The approach is just tedious and inefficient! A better way to go about editing a document as a team is to use tool like Google Docs where you can invite people, set permissions, and view changes real-time.

Clearly, you need to exercise good judgment when shopping for a social collaboration tool for your business. Fortunately, you have plenty to choose from as far as platforms are concerned, each bringing plenty unique bells and whistles to the table.

For large enterprises, Microsoft, Cisco, and Google lead the way in providing a scalable suite of tools which boast tight integration with each other.

Small to medium-sized businesses, on the other hand, turn to best-of-breed solutions like Trello because of the wide array of third-party applications built around them. Not to mention the affordable rates and low total cost of ownership are also a huge draw.

But the size of your organization isn’t the only consideration when looking into collaboration tools.

More important, you want a platform that solves your collaboration problems.

So instead of swooning over the latest buzz, ask questions like:

  • How do you want employees to work together?
  • What challenges are they facing?
  • What do you want to get out of the tool and the increased collaboration it will bring?

From here, you can create a list of features you will need. Time-tracking and a robust shared calendar, for example, are must-haves for increased productivity in the office. But you will also want to get input from your team, the very people who will use the platform.

If you can find a tool that users love and has all of the features you need, you’re golden!

And lest we forget:

Look into the platform or suite’s security features.

Go for one that offers end-to-end encryption as you don’t want outsiders getting their hands on confidential company information. Multi-factor authentication is another security measure you don’t want to miss.

Let employees do what they ought to do

Directing and micromanaging people may be necessary in some cases – like when training a new member of the staff or coaching an under performing employee. In the long run, however, micromanaging will only kill the motivation and collaborative spirit of your team.

Think about it:

Why encourage collaboration in the first place if you’re going to do all the talking and team members have to follow your instructions down to a tee anyway?

Even worse, however, micromanaging puts your employees health at risk!

In a study involving 2,363 employees, researchers from the Indiana University found that highly demanding jobs which give people little control over the way they work are associated with a 15.4% increase in risk of death.

Autonomy, on the other hand, is the antithesis of micromanagement. Giving workers autonomy means they have some degree of control in how they work and use their skills.

Dan Pink, an NYT and WSJ best-selling author, identified autonomy as one of the key drivers of workplace motivation and performance alongside mastery and purpose. And Gensler’s 2013 Workplace Survey echo Pink’s conclusion.

In the survey, employees with a say in how they work surpass their peers without a choice at work by a large margin:

  • They perform better by 5 percentage points
  • More likely to innovate by 10 percentage points
  • More satisfied with their job by 10 percentage points

Not bad for giving employees a say in the workplace, don’t you think?

If you picked the right team members and have set clear guidelines, success metrics, and objectives for the project, then it’s high time to let your team take the reins so you can focus on the bigger picture.


6 best books on social collaboration – A recommended reading list

books on social collaboration

The moment we hear the term ‘social collaboration’ what comes to our mind is people interacting and sharing to achieve common goals. That is correct.  But little do we understand that this simple behavior has deep roots in the very survival and evolution of the human species.

Not withstanding, the Twitter wars of  our world leaders.

Social collaboration is multi disciplinary in nature and involves in good measure, disciplines as diverse as Sociology, Cognitive Psychology, Computers, Mathematics and Ethnography to name a few.

In most of the cases it is viewed from an enterprise perspective, but we should not forget that our immediate surroundings, the environment where we live and work and our upbringing have a huge impact in the way we interact and share with others. There is diversity.

Needless to say that it is the social behavior that we exhibit in our personal lives is what we bring it to our professional lives as well. How much of this diversity is respected and accepted as part of an inclusive development within an organization and the society at large remains to be seen.

I have always emphasized that social collaboration is art as well as science. The following books give us a good starting point to understand as well as a first hand account of the experiences of thought leaders and examples from industry practitioners.  Just like in other fields, to excel in it we need to practice it.

Please excuse me. I have not provided direct links to the book author’s site nor to any online store. Lets do our bit on the online search.

Book 1: Social collaboration for Dummies

This book cannot be understated. Dummies as a book brand with its various titles and subject topics provides for simple reading with friendly instructions. The book series serves as a great reference book for starters and learners. It has around 2500 titles under its kitty.

‘Social collaboration for dummies’ written by David Carr details how social collaboration and social networking can be applied and put in place within an organization context for achieving organizational goals. Specifically, it looks at

1. How to introduce social collaboration practices in workplaces.
2. How to transform an organization into a social business.
3. The book also presents case studies and best practice examples of adopting social collaboration and creating a learning environment.

This is a good book for anyone looking to understand how social collaboration can be used to enhance productivity, innovation and creativity within the workplace.

Book 2: The social life of information

The book is written by John Seely and Paul Duguid. John Seely was the former chief scientist at Xerox corporation and Paul Duguid is the professor at UC Berkerly school of information.

The book argues that increased digitization cannot necessarily give us a better future. Organizations need to rethink the how information is shared within organizations and not follow the tunnel vision methodologies of the technology enthusiasts.

This book gives us a solid grounding as to how information needs to be managed, shared and the business practices that need to be followed in a business context. Though it is written in the year 2000, the principles stand relevant even today.

Harvard University reprinted it in 2002. Undoubtedly one of the best books for social collaboration.

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Here is why Retail chain stores and coffee bars are better than traditional R&D

coffee cup and collaboration skills

Cheers to  #National coffee day ; Drinking coffee is good for your heart and lowers the risk of cognitive decline.

This is the third part in the series on the Best practices for social collaboration.  You can find part 1 and Part 2 here.

Please find few more

Create a system, which is not too loose or not too rigid

One of the best ways for improvisation is to create a system, which is not too loose nor too rigid.  Something, which is at the edge of chaos.  To know more, please read our blog post on ‘Social collaboration’ at the edge of chaos here.  The essence is in the usage of ‘semi structures’ as Brown and Eisenhardt point out.  You can request for a research report at Research gate.  A structure, which is not too rigid and yet flexible enough to create a change even at the last moment.

There are very few such global organizations, which can boast of such intelligent semi-structures.  Titan is one among them.

There is a need for critical balance for problem solving at the edge of chaos.  For example, the design process at Titan is not structured and the designers had the freedom to improvise and change plans even at the very last moment.

Processes need to be flexible to change in response to an unforeseen development should it happen. Something called ‘opportunistic planning’ as cognitive scientist Barbara Hayes Roth calls it. We will discuss more on ‘Opportunistic planning’ in our upcoming posts.

The company has built coffee shops everywhere, an increasing trend we have been seeing lately where people communicate and interact with each other.

Another company called cruising has successfully developed cross-pollination of projects – where everybody borrows ideas from everybody.

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Benefits of Social collaboration in workplaces

benefits of social collaboration

In the recent years, there has been a lot written about social collaboration within organizations. Both employees and managers within workplaces can realize enormous benefits through social collaboration.

The benefits of social collaboration go beyond the obvious oft-repeated ones like social interaction among employees and community building.  The benefits have positive business impact and the primary among them is the enhanced knowledge, and information employees gain for collaborative problem solving.

What is social collaboration in workplaces?

Now having said that, we can ask the question, what is social collaboration in workplaces?

Social collaboration in workplace is all about a group of people interacting and sharing information to achieve common goals. Such collaborative processes finds acceptance in a natural ubiquitous medium like the corporate intranet space, where Information and ideas disseminate quite fast.

The concept of ‘social collaboration’ although not new, emphasizes the fact that ‘ideas are all around us’ we need to be open enough to see them.  No one-person need to have all the expertise in the world to solve the problems.  People do not operate in silos.  When they join and collectively add their thought processes and ideas, it is bound to value add to the entire process and probably turn it to a newer direction which would have been not so obvious if they (people) were on their own.

Social collaboration in workplaces is also known by with the word ‘Enterprise networking’ and is associated with software tools called ‘corporate social networks’ or ‘Corporate social media’.

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Understanding viral information flow and rumors in a corporate social network

viral information flow

The following is an extract from the original article published in ‘Warwick blogs’ by the same author in March early this year, 2017.

The figure is a  simple free form sketch of a viral information flow among people in a closed network. Some are happy and some are not. The sketch was drawn using ‘Sketchbook’ from Autodesk.

I just happened to search the internet on the influence of social networks and social media at workplaces. And I bumped into this article from Gallup business journal, which happens to be a gem not just from the insights that we can gain, but there is much to learn from social network experts like Dr. Jon Kleinberg.

The article that I am talking about is “The power of social networks” from Gallup business journal. You can find the link above.

The article interviews Dr. Jon Kleinberg of Cornell University. Dr. Jon is a professor of Mathematics at Cornell University and a recipient of many awards including the Rolf Nevanlinna prize.

The Rolf Nevanlinna prize (May sound new to many) is awarded by the International congress of mathematicians for outstanding contributions in the field of Mathematics aspects of computational and information science. This award is given every four years.

Now, what interested me in this article, was Dr. Jon’s expert views on information cascades and the contagion theory in the social network, that exists in the offices. Why certain messages go viral and how information flows and thrives in the social network.

I have mentioned about the fine synergistic relationship between Social media and Social network, in my earlier posts. Both exist to complement each other. The underlying structure of the social network, embedded inside the social media, makes it (Social media) more acceptable among the masses.

Social media is an ‘attitude’, it is the medium through which people interact and share information with others.

By sharing and by interacting with others, a social network is formed. We need a medium, a tool, in the form of a social media to control and better able to structure the network and fine tune it. We then leave it to be self -organizing.

We cannot enforce any strict rules on a social network. People’s behavior, ties, and connections within the network is self-regulating and self-organizing. It is like an organism which evolves continuously.

Now having said that, it needs some incentive structures to be built inside it. We need to motivate the masses.

Incentive structures and benefits should be structured in such a way, that it mobilizes people for a long-term sustainable change.

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