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How many businesses measure the impact of collaboration on their enterprise? Heidi Gardner, Harvard Law School Distinguished Fellow and Lecturer, and author of “Smart Collaboration: How Professionals and Their Firms Succeed by Breaking Down Silos,”  explores the importance of recognizing the role collaboration plays in order to help companies understand the true value of teamwork in the workplace.

Daisy: Why is collaboration important in today’s business environment?

Heidi: Collaboration is prominent across many business environments and sectors, in part because of a a rise in “expertise specialization.” The rapid pace of knowledge change creates an incentive for executives to specialize, or become experts in, a specific subject matter across all knowledge-based industries. At the same time, however, problems are increasingly complex and multi-disciplinary, no matter the subject area you are examining, from the business environment to the political climate. Therefore, narrowly specialized experts who integrate the knowledge with others’—that is, foster collaboration with their peers—are increasingly important across the landscape.

Daisy: What are the imperatives for organizations or individuals to think about when developing collaboration incentives? What kinds of problems are these parties trying to address?

Heidi: First and foremost, there is no “silver bullet” to collaboration implementation. Companies must realize that they need to transform their employee mindsets from individualized to team-oriented. Therefore, they must tackle this process with a multi-pronged approach that promotes individual and collective adoption of collaborative behavior.

How do you incentivize your employees to embrace a collaborative mindset? Find the pockets of collaboration excellence that already exist within the organization, and promote the upside of engaging in these ways. From financial profits to strategic company advantage, growth and reputation, organizational leaders must demonstrate how colleague-to-colleague collaboration strengthens the core business.

When working to develop new initiatives in a corporate atmosphere, there is a certain level of resistance stemming from the idea that “that couldn’t happen here.” Therefore, leaders must take a look at the atmosphere already in place. What performance measurement practices does the company have? Are employee management and corporate communication systems running effectively? Are there physical arrangements in place that provide opportunity for employees to have spontaneous interactions throughout the day, which sociologists have historically noted as important for community development? By taking a closer eye to these key components, businesses can more effectively establish collaborative practices and technologies that remove the common perception that it is too difficult to get people engaged, keep them updated, and avoid duplicated performance efforts.

Daisy: How can employers use collaboration tools and strategies to knock down barriers and provide more flexibilities in employee work?

Heidi: As mentioned earlier, while technology isn’t a “silver bullet,” it is a crucial tool to facilitate collaboration.

First, collaboration technology assists with corporate growth and development. For instance, when companies are experiencing global growth, possibly through a merger and acquisition, this evolution can make it difficult for individuals to realize their own company service offerings. With the right technologies, companies can provide access on an “as-needed” basis for people to explore their company and connect back with the individual who is best suited to address their questions and needs.

Secondly, these tools help to make work “come alive,” by replicating interpersonal relationships. Many companies lack the ability to foster familiarity and trust amongst employees. Collaborative technologies provide rich environments where colleagues can move past the immediate questions that come to mind when working with peers (such as others’ intentions or willingness to share credit), and participate in projects in a “functionally equivalent” manner.

Relationships can not only be fostered, but advanced, through the use of collaboration technologies. Developers have enabled these tools to humanize experiences and functionalities as much as possible through the creation of virtual workspaces. Employees are able to share emotions with each other and coordinate on ideas through a respectful rapport.

Third, collaborating across time zones is never easy. With collaboration technology, however, bridging time zones is possible, as employees no longer have to wait to catch up on conference calls, but can now work productivity in a “round-the-clock” fashion. Additionally, with virtual workspaces, users can input doodles and quick notes that capture direct emotions more effectively than a typical font face would.

Daisy: Have your clients used collaboration technologies in specific lines-of-businesses?

Heidi: Yes. Across my research and client base, I have seen collaboration technologies support retention of top talent, improve onboarding of new hires, and enhance employee development. In fact, one of my financial services clients is utilizing collaboration strategies to bring people with different expertise, who may have otherwise not collaborated, together to create a more holistic, customer-centric business approach. In doing so, this business is acknowledging that office environments are not always conducive to direct cross-department partnership. Just because people are working in the same office environment does not mean that they are regularly conversing and bouncing ideas off of one another. With collaborative technologies, employees who have highly complementary knowledge bases have a platform to connect and share.

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