5 Rules to Avoid a Collaboration Hangover
In a world gone social, an ever increasing number of organizations are chasing the benefits of social collaboration, both inside and outside their own walls. With initiatives such as Google launching its high altitude balloons to wirelessly connect billions of people in remote areas, global collaboration has never been easier and is expected to surge in the next decade. The core drivers to have employees, customers, partners and many other kinds of communities collaborate with each other are obvious: spread knowledge, reduce costs, increase innovation speed and success, share risk, boost market performance and improve operating efficiency. Yet, despite the fact that the promises of social business are overwhelming, Gartner estimates that throughout 2015 about 80% of social business efforts are not expected to achieve the intended benefits. Even more so, many collaboration initiatives leave participants behind with a hangover, generating the opposite effect of what was intended originally.
How to make sure you don’t suffer from a collaboration hangover?
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1. Share a Clear Purpose
Too many collaborative initiatives are set up for the wrong or unclear reasons, or for no reason at all. When the underlying motivation to start collaborating is the opportunistic desire to just make more money or to look better, you are bound to fail simply because the reason to collaborate is not mutually shared between all participating actors. Make sure you spend enough time articulating the why behind your collaborative efforts, creating a shared and crystal-clear compelling purpose for co-creation. Similar to the story of the elephant and the blind men, only too often we make the wrong assumption that our perception of the world is similar to someone else’s. Without a clear unifying vision, one ends up making too many bad compromises in an effort to address everyone’s concerns, destroying the potential impact of your collaboration. When in 1970 the 3-member crew of Apollo 13 seemed doomed after an oxygen tank exploded, everyone successfully united around one clear purpose: saving the lives of all three astronauts, making sure nothing would go wrong during their 200,000-mile journey back to Earth.
When the underlying motivation to start collaborating is the opportunistic desire to just make more money or to look better, you are bound to fail simply because the reason to collaborate is not mutually shared between all participating actors.
2. Make Yourself Uncomfortable
It seems counter-intuitive, but one of the main stumbling blocks for collaboration is that our own success gets in the way. The more successful we are or feel, the faster we stop looking for inspiration from others. Take a brand like Nokia. Being the world’s largest vendor of cellphones from 1998 to 2012, Nokia became too arrogant, assuming past success is a sufficient guarantee for future success. But once a crisis or emergency hits us, it forces us to think and act differently. Fight your own success demons by getting people out of their comfort zones, not allowing them to settle for current success. Create a positive vicious circle of open discovery: the more people (want to) know and discover, the more they realize what they don’t know. Think of the immense amount of time aircraft pilots spend in simulation environments, getting prepared for emergency situations they will hopefully never have to encounter in reality. Organizations should develop a similar simulation, moving from a ‘crisis-prone’ to a ‘crisis-prepared’ context by immersing themselves in less than comfortable business contexts and surrounding themselves with people thinking differently or being more critical than they are.
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3. Embrace Opt-In
You cannot force collaboration upon people. It happens because people are intrinsically motivated to be part of it: when they want to, where they want to and how they want to. Collaboration hangovers often result from the fact that people are pushed into instead of pulled towards something. The old ‘plan and push’ is out, the new ‘engage and pull’ is in. Consider the example of Microsoft Encarta vs Wikipedia: while well-paid professionals incentivized with standard extrinsic motivators developed Encarta, Wikipedia was built for fun by unpaid volunteers and ‘Wikipedians’. Just before Microsoft decided to remove the software from stores in 2009, Wikipedia got 97% of U.S. online encyclopedia visits, Encarta just 1.3%. Create the necessary degrees of freedom for people to act autonomously, tapping into their unique strengths and capabilities as fits them best. Next time you think about organizing yet another 2-hour client focus group or internal brainstorm session to squeeze every drop of inspiration out of people, consider alternative formats which allow more flexibility in time and format for people to contribute.
You cannot force collaboration upon people. It happens because people are intrinsically motivated to be part of it. Collaboration hangovers often result from the fact that people are pushed into instead of pulled towards something.
4. Trigger Curiosity
“Curiosity has its own reason of existing“, Albert Einstein said. Humans are indeed ultimate learning machines as long as their engines are oiled by curiosity. Even if people have no immediate benefit, they love to explore the answers to things. Even the best artificial intelligence algorithms fail if they are not encouraged to openly explore new options. Yet, while people are inquisitive by nature, they unlearn a big part of it while growing older, with rigid educational systems and bureaucratic organizational thinking getting in their way. Did you know human capacity for non-linear, imaginative thinking drops from 50% at the age of 12 to 20% at the age of 16 all the way down to less than 10% the moment we graduate from university? Think about how you nurture the creative child that resides within your workforce, make collaboration a fun and engaging experience and allow people to ‘waste time’. The World’s Deepest Garbage Can is a great example of this, making it fun for people to pick up trash and dump it in a garbage can.
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5. Make it Human
In the massive global change around us, there is one constant: humans remain human and will always act as prosocial beings. So don’t confuse collaboration with a piece of technology or software: they do not solve problems, people do. Collaboration does not take care of itself, but needs to be nurtured through a group of people, tapping into human needs and solving human problems. Think of using more ‘Facebook-like’ enterprise collaboration technology that puts social first and collaboration second. Have people do and experience things together, thus creating the necessary social glue for smooth and relevant interactions, sharing and co-creation. Keep it small enough, taking into account Dunbar’s magical number of 150 persons with which we can keep stable social relationships.
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