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The New Competition: Collaboration at Work

Competitive environments have long been valorized as the best way to bring out individual strengths, thus contributing to a stronger future organism and body as a whole. As the basis for natural selection, competition surrounds us and is inherent to our fundamental biology. This concept is also true for capital markets and business environments.

Collaborative behaviors, while perhaps less assertive than competitiveness, is no less crucial to our survival. Large-scale cooperative endeavors are driven more by cultural need than evolutionary principles; if everyone is starving, everyone needs to work together to feed the village. Competition becomes counter-productive.

Enter Adam Grant, the youngest and most popular professor at Wharton. According to Prasad Setty, leader of Google’s people analytics group, Grant is Google’s go-to guy when there are big problems to solve. Grant recently stated in a provocative New York Times article:

The greatest untapped source of motivation…is a sense of service to others; focusing on the contribution of our work to other peoples’ lives has the potential to make us more productive than thinking about helping ourselves.

Grant is also a man studying his own success. He is both exceptionally collaborative and helpful as and is highly successful in his field. In fact, his work lies on the edge of organizational psychology studies: Grant publishes and teaches on the motivators behind group dynamics and collaboration.

What makes a collaborative environment?

Collaborative environments are simply groups of individuals working together to serve a common goal, and—in most business cases—to provide customers the best product or service possible. Grant has pioneered research theories in the field of pro-social motivation—the desire to help others, independent of easily foreseeable payback. Collaborative behaviors thrive on pro-social motivation. And in today’s complex business environments, leaders are recognizing that even their best and brightest can’t do it alone. In order to tackle the complex and interconnected problems of 21st-century organizational infrastructure, collaborative environments must be part of a dynamic business environment.

Why are collaborative environments better?

Competition is not the best strategy for long-term success. Life shouldn’t be about striving to outsmart, outperform, or outdistance everyone. Our aim should be to partner with others, sharing our resources and giving our time and assistance freely to those around us. By coming together, engaging in conversations and raising new questions and possibilities at a collective level, we build ideas and we build business. Collaborative organizations and teams offer us the chance to learn from individuals we wouldn’t have the opportunity to open up to in competitive environments.

It is vital to understand that the motivation to share and contribute within the workplace originates from a spectrum of drivers, from self-actualizing to pride. These widely varying states of mind and conscious or subconscious motivation fuel  the resultant behaviors—nurturing the environment, the organization and its members. Regardless of motivation, collaborative dynamics reduce what economists refer to as “transaction cost,” leading to more fluid and dynamic professional environments.

How to develop collaboration within your workspace

Collaborative environments can be built virtually with remote teams, across departments, throughout an organization or even within a single team. Though the dynamics of the group will depend upon the level of collaboration required to achieve the desired outcome, here are four important points to remember when participating in a collaborative team:

  1. Define mutually agreed upon, mutually beneficial goals
    Decide upon the problems that are to be fixed. Appreciate that what works today won’t necessarily work tomorrow for the team. Agree upon your goals and “eat the elephant a bite at a time.”
  2. Develop insights from your data
    At each stage, present your metrics with transparency and curiosity. Learn as much as you can as early as you can from the data you share. Make connections and discuss them. Data will become information, and information will become insights.
  3. Use smart tools
    Don’t expect your information workers, sales teams, marketers and leaders to get where they need to go driving a jalopy. Understand the nature of the work, evaluate the communication needs and invest in the right tool for the job. If you have a global team or remote workers, don’t limit them to audio-only communication; humans are visual creatures, and web conferencing and video conferencing both drive significant value toward employee productivity and business device usage.
  4. Share your knowledge—with all your heart
    Do not hoard knowledge; it is a power to be shared. When we empty ourselves in this way, we become available for more, not to mention we become the “go-to guy” for what people value.  Tim Sanders wrote an outstanding book that will inspire you toward shedding the fear of sharing yourself. Don’t miss it.

Time is a gift. Whether your team flourishes in a collaborative environment, is spurred by the energy of competition or is experimenting with a hybrid “co-opetition” approach, nurturing innovation is what it takes to thrive in today’s market. As Thomas Friedman notes in the New York Times,

There are many examples here of companies trying to kill each other in one market but working together in another—to better serve customers. Microsoft Windows runs on Apple Macs because customers wanted it. When Apple Maps failed, Apple asked its users to download Google Maps.

What type of collaborator are you? Find out with PGi’s collaboration personality quiz

Photo courtesy of Flickr user oscarberg

 

Related Posts:

A Changing View of Collaboration

2016 Future of Business Collaboration eBook

Quiz: What’s Your Virtual Collaboration Style?

Big Data: The Key to Collaboration-Centric Business

 

About Lea Green

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