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Collaboration Is a Team Sport, and You Need to Warm Up

How do you build a collaborative mindset in a company? Collaboration needs to be seen as a process that happens over time, and that the crucial groundwork for successful collaboration needs to be laid before the "actual" collaborative work happens.

First, let's ask why collaboration is so important today. The main reason is that the problems we have to solve — whether deciding company strategy or bringing an innovative offering to market — are more complex than they have ever been. They require a variety of skillsets, perspectives, and approaches to solve them, and need a lot of pieces to come together smoothly to be successful. Bringing an innovation to market especially needs a mix of left- and right-brain people — visionaries and ditch-diggers, stubborn idealists and open-minded pragmatists. All this requires collaboration.

But there are barriers to collaboration, many of which exist even before somebody arrives for their first day of work. In the US, our education system is largely focused on individual efforts, and team work is not actively taught in the classroom even at the graduate level. How students and teachers at the K-12 level are incentivized tends to focus on clear goals met through individual knowledge and expertise, neither of which are realistic for the contemporary workplace.

Further, if this study cited by David Rock in his piece on collaboration is to be believed, then college students moving into the workforce are even less well prepared for good collaborative experiences since collaboration requires empathy, being able to look at a problem from other peoples' perspectives.

So collaboration is not necessarily a "natural" leaning, or, to paraphrase Sir Ken Robinson, we have been educated out of collaborative habits.

Continue reading about how to "warm up" for collaboration, and why improving collaboration also improves innovation, at Harvard Business Review Online >

This post is part of the HBR Insight Center Making Collaboration Work

AVP of Marketing Strategy Adam Richardson is the author of Innovation X: Why a Company’s Toughest Problems are its Greatest Advantage. His book is the manual for leaders looking for clarity about the emerging challenges facing their businesses. You can follow Adam on Twitter @richardsona.