Collaboration

Lawyers, knowledge and collaboration

Collaboration

‘Collaboration’ is a lovely buzzword, but what is it, do you want it and, if so, how do you achieve it?!

If you have been to any business or legal themed conference in the last few years, you would have been treated to a chorus of ‘collaboration’.

‘Collaboration’ is a lovely sounding buzzword, but what is it, do you want it and, if so, how do you achieve it?!

‘Collaboration’ means to work with another person or group in order to achieve or do something. The immediate question that comes to mind: why is this seemingly obvious concept so hot right now?

… why do we need to do anything at all to encourage people to do something that comes to them naturally?

A reasonable observer would presume that collaboration comes naturally to humans. After all, every family, company, firm, city, nation is a living, breathing example of collaboration. Human society would not exist as we know it without collaboration. So why do we need to do anything at all to encourage people to do something that comes to them naturally?

Over the past few decades, employees and teams have been increasingly pitted against each other in a competitive fervour of economic Darwinism …

Is ‘collaboration’ just another buzz; an offshoot of the corporate ‘synergy’ madness that swept through the 90s and noughties? Synergy is defined as a state in which two or more things work together in a manner that produces an effect greater than the sum of their individual effects, often also expressed as ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’ … sounds a lot like collaboration.

So, why would you waste your precious corporate time and resources on something obvious, which occurs naturally? Arguably, while collaboration is still at the heart of society at large, our culture has been focusing on individual achievements and competition for quite some time. Over the past few decades, employees and teams have been increasingly pitted against each other in a competitive fervour of economic Darwinism thinking that this was the most efficient way to get the best out of employees.

I would argue that collaboration shouldn’t be seen just as the latest corporate buzzword but a long-term, strategic cultural imperative.

However, did this trend diminish our collaborative nature and are the effects of this potentially grave cultural miscalculation are now starting to show and being recognised as a growing issue, affecting creativity, productivity and profitability?

And, if so, can we create a truly collaborative culture without cutting adrift, at least to some extent, the individualistic, often savagely competitive, corporate culture we cultivated over the past few decades?

Individualism and internal competition, while useful business tools in their own right, must be carefully balanced against the need for collaboration to remain creative, efficient, productive and competitive.

I would argue that collaboration shouldn’t be seen just as the latest corporate buzzword but a long-term, strategic cultural imperative. Individualism and internal competition, while useful business tools in their own right, must be carefully balanced against the need for collaboration to remain creative, efficient, productive and competitive. However, in my view that balance has been lost over the past few decades and must be readjusted in favour of collaboration.

Law can be a particularly individualistic profession. This shouldn’t come as a great surprise given the external pressures presented by a mercilessly competitive market and the internal pressures arising from fierce,  interpersonal competition for coveted partnership positions, which are rare and hard-earned prizes. This can often cause lawyers to carefully protect both their business connections and intellectual output. Not a culture particularly conducive to collaboration.

In order to breakdown the barriers to collaboration, we must readjust expectations, key performance indicators and the structure of existing reward systems geared primarily, sometimes even solely, towards creating a culture where the focus is on competition which in turn can lead to an excessive emphasis on individual achievements.

As with most things in the workplace, and society generally, collaboration comes back down to ‘culture’. In this case, the culture of collaboration should serve not just organisations by making them more innovative, productive and profitable but also the individuals by creating a more humanistic, collegiate environment in which they can thrive. This is particularly significant, because while you may wish to reduce the focus on individual achievements, you still need to focus on demonstrating the clear benefits of collaboration to the individuals in order to engage them.

… ‘collaboration is the corporate equivalent of exercise: we all know we should do more of it but reality often falls short of the ideal’.

As from a knowledge perspective, frankly I can’t imagine a meaningful knowledge function in any organisation that does not involve sharing and collaboration.

As the BRW succinctly put it, ‘collaboration is the corporate equivalent of exercise: we all know we should do more of it but reality often falls short of the ideal’.

Often one of the most fundamental barriers to the knowledge function are ‘knowledge silos’, whereby people hold on to their knowledge and resources and are reluctant to share, those knowledge and resources being fundamental to their individual success and advancement.

Without sharing and collaboration ‘managing’ knowledge can prove to be a difficult task and where the appropriate culture is not in place, the first task of a knowledge professional will be to foster the establishment of the right conditions for sharing and collaboration. I would argue that this can only be achieved by support from the leadership team of an organisation or, at a minimum, respected opinion leaders.

An additional layer of difficulty is created by the fact that professionals are extremely time-poor people. Be cognisant of the fact that collaboration does require an effort, including an investment of time. However, in the modern workplace there are many old ways and new technologies available to facilitate collaboration between people.

A coffee in the office kitchen, or in the communal area of your open-plan office, or at a nearby coffee shop is a good ‘old school’ face-to-face method that will work for some.

Others will only be tempted to cooperate by more modern means, such as corporate social networks and knowledge sharing, collaborative platforms. Although it’s also important to recognise that technology by itself won’t make people collaborate. You can provide the best social collaboration platforms technology can offer to your employees, but without the right culture it will not achieve its intended outcomes.

If you are interested in the development of social collaboration, a trailblazer corporate social platform developer, HighQ, created a fantastic, informative infographic history of social collaboration and also recently published an informative piece on ‘socialising knowledge’ and the benefits of doing so.

… consider the July 2014 Deloitte report … which puts the actual contribution of collaboration to business performance and the economy at $46 billion …

Usually, it doesn’t take too long to work out who the true collaboration leaders are within an organisation and the best methods of engaging them. As usual with matters of knowledge in any organisation, the key words will be flexibility, patience, perseverance and an ability to manage both the ambiguity of collaboration and knowledge sharing and those individuals who are filled with doubt about the value of knowledge management, sharing and collaboration.

On a final note, if you still question the importance of collaboration, consider the July 2014 Deloitte report titled The collaborative economy, commissioned by Google. The report estimates the contribution of collaboration to business performance and the economy at $46 billion in Australia, which is 3% of Australia’s economy.

So while the ‘buzz’ around collaboration may eventually die down, collaboration will never go away, it will just likely become another foundation component of an efficient, productive and competitive business culture.

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