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  • Kate Isichei

How can we encourage collaboration?

Collaboration within teams, across business units and geographies fuels engagement. Why? Because engagement craves collaboration and collaboration is born of communication. The same could be said in reverse. Which came first? Collaboration or communication?

The elements of corporate collaboration are based on the simple philosophy that all employees are better off sharing their knowledge through building relationships. In turn, those relationships create a solid base on which to build a highly engaged organisation. These are the basic tenets which underpin Knowledge Management. Managing the knowledge that resides within individuals, in organisations, for the greater good.

Take the example of Vicky Smith (fictional character), in the IT department. Vicky is the only one who knows how to get xx app to work. It’s supposed to work in one way but it doesn’t and Vicky is the only one who can make it do what it’s supposed to do. What if Vicky were to fall ill or have an accident (God forbid)? Where would that leave the fictional organisation she works for? Up the creek without a paddle presumably?

Does Vicky enjoy being the only one who knows how to work the app? Possibly, as it means she has information power and this power gives Vicky some leverage in the business. Then again, perhaps Vicky doesn’t like being the only one in possession of this knowledge. Perhaps she’s tried to teach her peers but they’d rather not share the responsibility.

This is all well and good but effective and meaningful collaboration could make all the difference to Vicky and her colleagues.

How can we ensure that knowledge sharing is democratised? By providing a social collaboration tool like Chatter (SF), Workplace (FB) or Teams (MS)? There are too many to mention here, but you get the idea. Does technology facilitate collaboration or does the culture of an organisation create an environment conducive to effortless & stress free discussion and information sharing?

In my 18 years in communications, I have worked for many multinational organisations. Some have been better than others at creating an environment that made collaborating somewhat straightforward. However, all have suffered from culture blockers that also made collaborating harder than it needed to be.

Why, you might ask? Well, I think there are several reasons for this:

1. The desire to retain information and knowledge power

2. The organisation’s reward systems support information and knowledge power

3. The organisation’s reward systems support individualism

4. The organisation punishes collaborative behaviours

There are many more reasons why this situation might come about. Most, if not all, will point to a negative culture that doesn’t value a collective approach to problem solving.

Many studies have proven that interdependence is the ideal state of being, from both a personal and business perspective. Indeed, Stephen Covey’s seminal book ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’, stresses time and time again that Habit 1 - ‘Be Proactive’ – depends on individuals adopting interdependence above all else in all that they do.

In conclusion, it would be worth considering possible remedies to this age old quandary and some are already alluded in the above causes.

1. Set up reward systems that support sharing knowledge

2. Set annual performance targets around collaborative behaviours

3. Encompass collaboration in organisational values

4. Create a culture of collective problem solving

5. Create recognition programs for collaboration

When all is said and done, it can be tempting to apply a band aid to organisations which do not recognise and favour collaborative working styles. But it is a combination of many elements, including the culture, recruitment process, values and behaviours which will have a positive, or negative, effect on collaboration. It will take time and effort to transition from one state to another.

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