Collaborate to innovate (Part II)
Collaborate to innovate (Part II)
Matthew Syed firmly believes that those who understand the science of how to collaborate will produce better work: ‘It goes back to the Romans where they gathered in the forum, people meeting together face to face,’ he explains.
The reason this is important, he says, is that the human exchange of ideas is a complex transaction. ‘There’s great work that has been done by anthropologists that shows that communication is not just verbal. Its physical, too – we explain and learn by showing, not just by speaking. There’s tacit knowledge exchanged in human interaction.’
He expands on this: ‘One of the key things in understanding what people are saying requires reading their actions. Content is not just what comes out of their mouth; it’s to do with body language, tone. If you can read these things you can better empathize with what they really mean, and engage better, ask better questions.’
Content is not just what comes out of the mouth; it’s to do with body language, tone. If you can read these things you can better empathise with what they really mean
It’s like, he says, when people say, ‘You what I mean?’. ‘Here someone is acknowledging that the words they have just used may not be enough to express what they are trying to convey. By asking whether you know what they mean, they are inviting you to question the content of what they have said should you wish to.’
So in-person meeting is charged with nuances that help collaboration and stimulate good ideas. But the act of coming together has further benefits, says Syed: ‘I always think that about 50% of what is useful about a meeting is what happens afterwards, or as you’re leaving with your colleagues. These are the crucial informal conversations: “What did you think of that?”; “I just had an idea…”.’ Indeed, many meetings involve coffee breaks and pauses in which these conversations can take place. But then even outside the format of a meeting, the simple fact of together allowing for impromptu follow-up on matters that have been discussed formally. ‘That sort of thing is impossible to replicate through video conferencing,’ says Syed.
I always think that about 50% of what is useful about a meeting is what happens afterwards, or as you’releaving with your colleagues. These are the crucial informal conversations
And why is this sort of collaboration so critical? Syed has a simple answer: ‘It really is the most important thing for a business. Some 200years ago the problems we faced were simple enough for one brain to solve. Today the challenges are complex, multi-dimensional and need different brains, and ideally brains of people with diverse experience.’ This is where collaboration comes into its own, he says. ‘When there is a problem that no one person can solve on their own, that’s when you need to collaborate.’
And effective collaboration is about understanding how to get the best out of people. ‘The key is to make sure that you’re not creating an echo chamber,’ insists Syed. ‘We’re attracted to people who think and look like ourselves – it’s very validating when people tell us what we already know. But that limits what you will get out of collaboration.’
When there is a problem that no one person can solve on their own, that’s when you need to collaborate
The important thing is to create an environment in whichpeople are enabled to have different perspectives relevant to a subject. ‘That’swhat results in the creative tension that breeds great solutions andinitiatives.’
Syed advises on meetings where there are no ‘steep hierarchies’.‘When people are scared of the boss they only say what the leader wants to hear, and then the leader becomes more and more narrow in what they think. That sort of autocratic style can be successful, of course, but if the world changes and your leader’s singular vision is no longer fit for purpose, then you have a problem. And the world is changing very quickly at the moment.’
Instead, Syed says, use collaboration as an opportunity to explore ideas and take on board multiple viewpoints. ‘Interestingly, of my clients, it’s the big tech organisations – and though I can’t tell you who they are, you would know their names – who really get this. They are constantly looking at how to pool the ideas of their people to innovate.’
It is perhaps no surprise that a relatively new industry has adopted an enlightened approach to collaboration. But all progressive businesses, regardless of sector, have this tool available to them. They just need to create the environment to allow it to happen.
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