This is the second in a 13-week series of highlights from the broadcasts of HR Trends, a special edition of Coffee Break with Game-Changers on the business channel on Voice of America Internet talk radio. Industry experts will be discussing a variety of topics that are trending in HR today, such as this one on collaboration in the workplace.  /wp-content/uploads/2014/09/graham4_player_wide_476716.jpg

In this week’s radio broadcast, expert panelists liken collaboration in the workplace to success in winning a three-legged race – you must communicate, respect each other’s strengths, and have a shared goal. This concept was initially discussed by panelist Sarah Miller Caldicott, a great grandniece of Thomas Edison, and the CEO of her own innovation consultancy, The Power Patterns of Innovation. She was joined in this chat by Kevin E. Bennet, chair of the Division of Engineering of the Mayo Clinic of Rochester, MN, and Mark Brandau, vice president, HCM Solutions for SAP, Cloud Business Unit.

Beyond the hype and marketing-ese – what is collaboration?

The first discussion point in this lively broadcast was each person’s viewpoint of what collaboration really is. According to Caldicott, it goes beyond teamwork, which tends to be task-oriented, and is more about leveraging learning and discovery within a team setting. She believes that Thomas Edison accelerated his innovation effectiveness with collaboration, but in today’s world, corporations have yet to master this. Her advice: start with smaller teams of about eight people.

In Bennet’s viewpoint, collaboration often involves working to develop something that is new and hasn’t been done before. And he says, it’s at this point, when people are looking at things they don’t understand, that miracles can occur via collaboration.

SAP’s Brandau adds that collaboration requires a definition among those collaborating otherwise there will be confusion when people try to work together.  He adds that sometimes collaboration is as simple as making a phone call.

How to win the three-legged race of collaboration

In a roundtable discussion, the panelists each put forth recommendations on how to best utilize collaboration in the workplace.

  • Experiment and communicate. In situations that require close collaboration, like in a three-legged race, people need to communicate back and forth quite a bit. Experimentation is key, says Caldicott, because as people expand the context of what they think might work, they can get in motion in a more fluid way.
  • Be ready to intertwine with different people. Some managers typically want to group people that work well together, but Bennet says that people who bring different strengths are additive in supporting the convergence of goals. This is true especially in creating connections in distance collaboration where it’s important to make asynchronous teams successful via a
    shared vision.
  • Align goals – and be flexible. Brandau says that collaboration must be adaptive and flexible, based on business conditions, whether static or changing. Caldicott notes that it’s important to align work styles, and the definition of progress, but allowing that sometimes the end goal changes. If a team can’t roll with the changes, adds Bennet, the end result could be failure. 
  • Select teams wisely. Continuing on that theme, Bennet says that if someone on the team isn’t interested in making the process work, the team can fall apart quickly. While creativity and experience are important, a similar working style and purpose are key to collaboration because people are put together with a basic goal and they must figure out the rest. Brandau
    agrees, saying that it’s important to look at both skills and behavioral competencies, such as interpersonal communication. Caldicott notes that some people may not be cut out to work collaboratively – and that they may not be able – or willing
    – to build a new competency in this area.

The crystal ball: What will be trending in collaboration in 2020?

Here are the predications from each expert on what the trends will affect collaboration in the future:

  • Caldicott believes that high school education will look different, with more preparedness around collaboration and innovation before entering the workforce. She also expects to see the emergence of new learning communities and the reshaping of existing ones.
  • Bennet agrees that innovation is absolutely critical, and thinks that success in this area will be directly enabled by more effective distance collaboration. He expects to see a greater emergence of transcultural products, underscoring the need for international collaboration to learn about and solve issues.
  • Brandau states that the workforce is and will continue to be the only sustainable competitive advantage. To sustain that with innovation, Brandau believes that learning must transform within a business and that every employee must become a both student and a teacher.

You can hear the full broadcast on Collaboration here, including a discussion of what an employer’s responsibility is regarding Boomer career progression, retirement, and more. You can listen live or access the archive here.

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