I have been visiting many engineering colleges the past few months. Many of the colleges talked about collaboration between the different Engineering schools/Departments and how they encourage students to work with students from other disciplines on their under graduate projects. I visited some top schools like MIT and Stanford and they were also discussing collaboration. They select the top students from the world. These students get there because they are very competitive. In such a high powered student community how would one build and encourage a collaborative team?
The same goes to Engineering teams in the corporate world. We hire the best and promote the best among them to senior levels. By nature the senior team is competitive. How do you take this competitive senior team and expect them to be collaborative?
With true collaboration, the collective results are typically higher than what each participant could achieve individually. Collaboration cannot be coerced; it has to be part of the team’s culture. Many companies have large workforce and large teams. Each team cannot get competitive with each other; rather they need to work together towards a common goal.
Collaboration also allows for people of different background to come together and share their experience. Over the years, I have been involved in variety of teams. I was part of a team where you feel inclusive, comfortable expressing your opinion, brainstorming to come up with good ideas. Even activities with co-workers outside of work place feel comfortable and I have tried water skiing something I had never done before. However, there are teams where you feel disconnected and not included and just going out for a team lunch feels awkward.
The review process in most companies actually promotes competition between peers rather than collaboration. Many companies end up rewarding managers and employees who compete with each other. This sets a wrong precedent and promotes unwanted behavior. I have seen managers/employees take credit for others’ work and peers being at war. Managers even are competitive with their own employees.
Collaboration is most important in companies going global. Being in India for a few years now and have always been considered an underdog to other more experienced geographical locations. If the more experienced teams start competing and not collaborating with the underdogs, the new teams will never grow. Studies have shown that it is more beneficial for companies having multiple development centers across the globe. It is not only for cost benefit but also because the markets are shifting.
I believe collaboration is a culture that has to be nurtured and even pushed by leadership. It may not come naturally. Collaboration requires team work, mutual respect and trust amongst the team members. It is up to the leader to set a collaborative culture in the team. A few things that the leader can do are: Set a common goal which compels the team to work together; Set up clear roles and responsibilities; Reward employees who help their peers and who truly collaborate.
Even companies are getting together to collaborate on standards. Open source development promotes collaboration across developers around the world. We have Wikipedia – a source for information, a collaborative effort to organize information. The Information technology world is moving towards collaboration. Can we afford to have non-collaborative teams within the company in these modern days?
A collaborative team is a happy family and “Happy Family is but an earlier Heaven” according to George Bernard Shaw. I want to be part of a happy team and a happy family. Don’t we all?