Home / News / Business Of Life /  Cracking the collaboration code


Teamwork makes dreams work, right? Well, some of us might choose to differ. Rather than a dream, collaboration within teams can sometimes be akin to a nightmare. Getting the team aligned on vision-and-mission is easier than aligning the emotions, egos and eccentricities of different personalities. Add to the mix virtual presence (or should I say absence), cultural nuances and time differences, and you have a combination that makes you want to give up before you begin.

However, interdependence is where we are at. Working in collaborative communities and teams is the only way to deal with an environment where no one person has all the right answers. The external diversity has to be matched by the internal diversity. The issue, though, is aligning the stars to make things work.

While there are many upsides to collaboration in teams, there are also huge process losses when teams come together. These losses, if not managed correctly, can lead not just to lack of productivity but to a decline in morale and health, and a toxic culture.

In November, #ihrchat invited Adil Malia (@malia_adil), group president, human resource (HR), Essar group, to help the community crack the collaboration code. The 60-minute international chat generated hundreds of tweets from India, Australia, the UK and US.

The community agreed that in the current uncertain environment, collaboration was the fastest way to pool resources and energy to get things done. Yet difficulties arise, as Malia noted, because of self-centric personalities who have poor interpersonal skills, claim credit for others’ work and are jealous of others. Gautam Ghosh (@GautamGhosh), a social media HR leader, noted how the archetype of the lone creator was a myth, yet organizations often didn’t reward collaboration. Like many things, the group agreed, the leadership at the top sets the tone for collaboration at other levels.

The goal of collaboration, though, cannot simply be to collaborate for the sake of it but rather, to harness the energy of the collective to move things forward. Ganesh Natarajan (@GaneshNatarajan), chief executive officer of Zenzar Technologies, cautioned that delayed decision making and procrastination could sometimes be the result when excessive conversation takes place in the name of collaboration and at the cost of getting things done. The term “collaboration fatigue" describes situations where everything is about collaboration rather than action.

Vivek Paranjpe (@vivekparanjpe), a veteran HR professional, remarked that collaboration cannot be deployed, it has to be embraced. The mindset of collaboration cannot be mandated, it must be nurtured. He added that for this to happen, it isn’t just the role that has to change but also the rewards.

When putting together teams for collaboration, a common mistake is to hire people who are similar to the leader in orientation, when the real power of innovation comes from diversity. The ability to harness and manage this diversity, though, can be a challenge.

Diversity can take the form not just of skin colour or gender but of talent, skills and perspectives, said Lois Martin (@LoisMarketing), a US-based marketing consultant. Ultimately, the leader has to manage both the trust and emotions of the teams to ensure a smooth collaborative process. Malia noted that a leader has to believe in inclusiveness and translate this into team practices.

Ghosh shared the way to an information and image management model that lays out the life cycle of collaboration:

u Awareness: We become part of a working entity with a shared purpose

u Motivation: We drive to gain consensus in problem-solving or development

u Self-synchronization: We decide as individuals when things need to happen

u Participation: We participate in collaboration and we expect others to participate

u Mediation: We negotiate and we collaborate to find a middle point

u Reciprocity: We share and we expect sharing in return through reciprocity

u Reflection: We think and we consider alternatives

u Engagement: We proactively engage rather than wait and see.

Finally, one thing is clear, while the process of collaboration in teams and outside them is challenging, the rewards are there for those who work at it. As the African proverb puts it, “If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together."

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Tanvi Gautam is the founder of Global People Tree, a consulting and training firm. #ihrchat is Asia’s first trending Twitter chat for leaders.

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