03 Oct 2017 19:40 IST

The challenges of collaboration

Creating space and tech to foster teamwork is important. But so is imparting behavioural changes

All over India, companies are engaged in rebuilding their offices or redesigning the spaces their employees work out of. From HUL, Google and Steelcase to Sapient and start-ups such as Hike Messenger, new age workplaces have sprung up. And the operative word in these new designs is ‘collaboration’.

Several companies are also now renting desks at shared office spaces offered by the likes of The Hive, WeWork and Awfis. These spaces encourage a collaborative work culture, where networking happens naturally.

‘We want to break the silos and get teams from every department together’ is a war cry in companies today, as they try and create areas where people from finance, marketing, IT, HR bump into each other often. These lead to interesting little intersections at offices, where creative conversation can happen.

Bonding over tech

It’s not just physical spaces. Even enterprise software is becoming more and more collaborative. Numerous tools, such as Google Documents and Microsoft Team, are now geared for shared work, where multiple people can open, view, edit and work together on a file.

Earlier this year, office furniture maker Steelcase and Microsoft joined hands to develop a range of ‘technology-enabled spaces’ to foster better collaboration.

These ‘creative’ spaces use Microsoft Surface devices with Steelcase architecture and furniture, melding space and technology into one platform. Showcasing a variety of creative spaces — including duo studios for people working in pairs; a Surface Studio with a lounge area for multiple people to use; and an ‘ideation hub’ where people can co-create and share ideas — it’s an interesting proposition.

The importance of collaboration

But why exactly is collaboration becoming so important? Here are a few reasons.

~ Speed and scale : The digital era and the speed at which technologies are changing, have led to an increased need for teamwork. Gone are the days when an individual could finish a task alone using his/her core skill.

Today, too many skillsets are needed for a task and outcomes are faster when you pool your skills and knowledge. The ability to go to market faster also increases when employees break silos and work across departments. This also helps decrease duplication of work.

~ Creative thinking : Two heads are better than one when it comes to creative thinking, which is a critical job skill these days. Companies are pushing boundaries to make creativity flow, and increased collaboration is one way.

~ Reduces risk and costs : Getting a buy-in from many, reduces the risk element in certain decisions. And if work is simultaneously being done, it also reduces cost.

~ Builds lasting partnerships : Successful teams at work often end up hanging out outside office too, leading to winning partnerships that have a great effect on work-life balance and productivity.

The flip side

However, collaborative working is easier said than done. It’s all very well for companies to think that once the spaces have been built and the technology provided, everyone will start using them as desired.

But are these spaces really fuelling collaborative work? How many people in an organisation really use collaborative software and share ideas? As one HR head admitted, in India especially, collaborative work is proving very difficult as most schools reward individual brilliance. Organisations, then, end up having to teach basic team play to their employees.

So now, after space and tech, a whole set of behavioural tools are coming in to foster team spirit. Several collaboration consultancies have sprung up to help companies build a ‘collaborative culture’. Let’s Go and Innosis, to name a few, specialise in this area.

Deloitte, meanwhile, has come up with a system called Business Chemistry, that identifies different work styles and helps match compatible people at work. You can read more about it here .

Also, companies a big shift is now happening towards including team performance appraisals in the annual reviews. It is admittedly a challenge to get people to think as a team. But to get ahead in the new world of work, collaboration is the need of the hour.