Can't force collaboration

Collaboration is important to buisness, but it isn't the only thing.  And it can't be forced by merely rearranging the deck chairs.  Peter Vander Auwera has an interesting discussion on The Myth of Collaboration, which is an interview transcript.

Collaboration is an important part of productivity. It’s a highly desired commodity, but seemingly more elusive that you’d might think.., and it cannot be forced.

The focus of the interview focused on the idea of forcing collaboration to happen, rather than creating an environment in which it can happen.  

The framing example was around redesigning office layouts with collaborative spaces.  Organizations that do this operate with a healthy dose of the "if we build it, they will come" magic.  Of course, that isn't the reality.  

Collaboration - or more specifically activity that requires collaboration - is only one component of many things that have to happen in business.  Assuming that all activity is collaborative and therefore all workplaces must be designed for people to "collaborate" just doesn't work.  There has to be a mix of spaces and possibilities within a physical space.  This is a little easier in online spaces - people can just not visit the online spaces.

But how does an organization encourage collaboration without jamming it down the throats of people?  I don't have all the answers, but there are definitely some elements of this - and some things that tickled me in the text of the interview:

  • Commit to helping one another, when possible - even when it is outside of your area of responsibility.  Teach each other how to ask questions.
  • At the same time, commit to accepting "No" and "Not now" as the response to a request.  People need focus time, and they cannot necessarily help at the drop of a hat.  Built into this is an acknowledgement that many organizations have a terrible track record of prioritization - it is impossible for everything to be HOT HOT HOT.  Allowing for "No" can create the opportunity to think intelligently about priorities.
  • Commit to learning from one another as a regular part of how we do things.  No, not a "database", but people.  Sure a database or SocBiz tools can provide pointers to people, but only the people can give you a feel for the experience and watch-outs.  They are the ones that can also ask interesting questions.

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