Collaboration is the corporate equivalent of exercise: we all know we should do more of it but reality often falls short of the ideal.
A report by Deloitte on behalf of Google attempts to quantify the benefits, estimating that collaboration already adds a net $46 billion to the Australian economy, with potential to grow this to about $56 billion.
There is room for improvement, with 30 per cent of those surveyed saying they would like an increase in collaboration in their own organisations.
Most of the key findings were released in a preview of the report back in July, but on Tuesday Google released the full report along with a tool for individuals to rate their organisation’s collaboration prowess.
My colleague and I both took the test and there was good consistency between the two sets of results. On my test, Fairfax scored an overall score of 78/100 and on her test the company reached 80/100 – putting Fairfax in the top 20 per cent of companies in Australia for collaboration.
The test is weighted one-third to workplace design, one-third to technology and one-third to culture and governance. It is not surprising that Fairfax did well on the first two points – the company uses activity-based working, which involves hot desking and lots of breakout spaces and meeting rooms. We are equipped with laptops, Google Drive and Google Apps and we encouraged to use social media.
Where Fairfax fell down was the third factor: culture and governance, which includes things like how hierarchical the company is and how people are rewarded. My job involves more collaboration than my colleague’s so we had a slightly different view on this, but we both agreed it was the weakest factor. The average of our two scores for culture and governance was 58/100, only just above the national average of 54.
John O’Mahony, a director at Deloitte Access Economics, says culture and governance is the hardest of the three to fix.
“Workplace design and technology tools [are things] you can spend money on, but workplace governance and culture is harder to change because it involves behavioural change,” O’Mahony says.
“The only thing I would say is that workplace design and technology can make the other changes easier, they can catalyse other changes. One business we spoke to found that as soon as they changed the workplace design, the culture started to change as well.
“We also found that technology tools, in particular video conferencing facilities and electronic document management systems, were highly correlated with stronger levels of collaboration inside firms. If people don’t have the right tools, they can’t collaborate.”
We’ve all sat in a meeting room where a video conference link has failed or failed to find a meeting room in the first place. But beyond those basics, the process got me thinking about the cultural enemies of collaboration.
1. Lack of time
For my colleague, the biggest barrier to collaboration is lack of time. She finds that collaboration takes the same amount of her time but produces better results. The barrier is that she is reluctant to intrude someone else’s time.
My colleague is not alone. Deloitte’s O’Mahony says this was a common response uncovered by the research. “The biggest barrier to collaboration inside organisations that individuals cite is a lack of time,” he says. “For an individual doing their job to come up with a collaborative way to do it better will often require a bit of an investment – they’ll have to communicate with their colleagues, they’ll have to work around organisational issues and they may come up with a solution that may face resistance inside an organisation and faced with the investment of time, people often just take the easiest option of doing the work themselves.”
2. Not knowing who to collaborate with
For me the biggest barrier to collaboration is not knowing, in an organisation of 10,000 people, who is responsible for what. My job involves collaborating with other people in editorial, at various mastheads, and also colleagues in advertising, marketing and product development. It has taken a while to get to discover who the key people are and there has been a fair bit of change along the way as well.
This is a problem for smaller organisations as well. You might work for a tiny start-up where you know everyone intimately but collaboration is not just something that happens inside an organisation, you can also collaborate with other companies, your customers, government bodies, and so on. Open innovation – joint innovation with external partners, including large partners, start-ups, universities and government agencies – is growing in importance.
3. People working from home
Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer caused controversy when she banned working from home, because she wanted the company to become more collaborative but she also had a point. There is a magic that happens when people are together – just as a small example, I would never have asked my colleague to take the collaboration test if she hadn’t been sitting right near me.
Don’t get me wrong: I am not opposed to working from home. Telecommuting has great benefits. Firstly it provides people with much-needed flexibility to combine their careers and personal lives. Secondly, it is a great boost to productivity. I get a lot more of my individual work done when I’m home alone, and I get a lot more collaboration done when I’m in the office. There is a balance needed.
4. A culture where talking to colleagues is frowned upon
“Organisations may lack a collaborative culture if people are encouraged to do work by themselves or if sitting behind your desk being quiet is seen as working hard and talking with your colleagues is seen as being too social or putting responsibilities onto other people,” O’Mahony says.
5. Management rewards the opposite of collaboration
Managers and HR departments trying to implement a performance review system need to keep the goal of collaboration in mind, or they can end up rewarding individual competition instead. Many companies have tried to implement stack ranking systems that rank all employees on a bell curve and found the effect is to destroy a collaborative culture. Microsoft is one of the latest high-profile examples of a company that has tried and then ditched the controversial stack-ranking system.
O’Mahony says there needs to be a balance. “If the manager is assessing people individually there’s going to be less opportunity for people to collaborate and share the benefits of what they’ve come up with,” he says.
“Our research shows the importance of having the HR strategy aligned to get collaborative outcomes – i.e. you recruit collaborators, you promote collaborators and you pay people based on collaboration. If you are talking about an individualised way of ranking and assessing people that would work against encouraging collaborative behaviour if there wasn’t alongside those metrics, other metrics that measure people’s overall contributions to overall team efforts and joint collaborative problems.”
6. Meetings that waste of time
The report notes that it is important for companies to ensure that collaboration is effective. “If employees can see time saving benefits, they are more likely to collaborate as part of how they work, rather than something additional that they ‘have to do’,” the report says.
The recommendation is to give employees choice, recognising that the more say they have over what meetings or conversations they are a part of, the more likely they are to engage. The other suggestion is to seek staff views on the effectiveness of activities and to stop doing anything that is labelled a waste of time.
M&C Saatchi was ranked one of BRW’s 50 Most Innovative Companies this year and group innovation director Ben Cooper has used the tool, which he said aligned with his idea of collaboration and enabled him to see where he could make improvements.
Cooper says collaboration is misconstrued as “throwing a lot of people into a room” but in his experience it needs to be facilitated. “You literally have to design it and when you do, brilliant things happen,” Cooper says. “What you need is a room that’s run rather than a room that’s dominated by particular personality types; it’s about finding the balance of all the different dynamics in the room. Once you get into the rhythm of it, the speed it actually allows you is quite incredible. You’re suddenly then dealing with different skill sets all at once rather than casting on as different pressure points roll out and the benefit in our business is creativity.”
* Original Article: http://www.brw.com.au/p/leadership/the_six_enemies_design_collaboration_o9T4323d0cvcdP7rjgtL2K