Collaboration: Increasing Your Workplace Productivity Through Others

“The in-box culture is dead.” — Evan Rosen, author of The Culture of Collaboration: Maximizing Time, Talent and Tools to Create Value in the Global Economy

“In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.” — Charles Darwin, British biologist

“Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.” Ryunosuke Satoro, Japanese poet.

The term “collaboration” has a number of interrelated meanings in the working world. In one sense, it refers to broad community efforts designed to make work-life easier and more productive for everyone. In another, it applies to delegation: the practice of handing off part of the workload to others who can do it more easily or cheaply. The idea can extend to other forms of work- and information-sharing as well, including processes like mentoring and applying other peoples’ solutions to your own problems. Science as a whole, for example, is a collaborative effort. So is society, when you get right down to it.

Indeed, one of the traits that makes humans unique (and gives us an advantage over most of the animal kingdom) is our ability to cooperate and strategize with one another for our mutual benefit. In combination with our amazing abilities to adapt and communicate, this has put us at the top of the food chain.

In its most useful sense, perhaps, collaboration simply denotes close-quarters teamwork—an essential condition for success in the modern business environment. While productivity training tends to focus on individual accomplishment, most of us do work in team environments. The white-collar wage-slave toiling in isolation has become increasingly rare; hence Rosen’s statement above regarding the death of the old in-box culture.

Ideally, your organization already has a collaborative team culture in place, one you can slot into as soon as you begin working there. But if it doesn’t, do your best to foster one, in the best “many hands make light work” tradition.

Getting It Started

Effective collaboration requires careful planning. Although it may seem difficult to achieve, strive to share the following with your team on each new project:

– Common goals.
– Common metrics for measuring progress.
– A valued outcome.
– A firm deadline.
– Clearly documented processes for accomplishing specific tasks.
– A familiarity with each team member’s working style.
– Mutual respect.
– A willingness to learn.
– Sufficient resources, accessible to all.

You’ll also need a clear division of labor and unambiguous leadership. Determine immediately who’s in charge. This should shake out naturally if the collaboration includes the group manager, but this doesn’t always happen.

Needless to say, remain as flexible as you can, roll with the punches, and accommodate the eccentricities of your co-workers—but don’t let them take advantage of you. You can’t and shouldn’t try to do it all yourself. Work instead to heighten what some commentators call the “collaborative intelligence” or “CQ” of your organization, if you can do so without damaging your personal productivity. Increased CQ facilitates and increases your agility within both the company and in the marketplace.

Keeping It Moving

Once the ball starts rolling, continue to build buy-in, solidify team spirit, and otherwise encourage group cohesiveness. True collaborative efforts require cooperation, commitment, and flexibility from everyone involved…and sometimes a cheerleader. They also require an investment of time; a scare commodity, true, but the likelihood of increased productivity makes it worth the outlay. By harnessing others’ labor, abilities, talents, and skills, and letting them harness yours, you maximize productivity all around.