4 min read

Why 2021 Is the Year of Collaboration

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What do we mean by great collaboration? We’re all familiar with the term and we know it’s something we want to develop. But the bar has been raised. We’re not in the physical workspace where in the past collaboration developed as function of our architecture and our workplaces.

Solving new problems and meeting a new set of expectations without the luxury of a physical workplace requires the ability to collaborate at a level that’s previously been unattainable. To examine how remote working changed the dynamics of collaboration, Digiworkz’ Laurence Collins, was joined by Matt Lewis-Strauch, Head of Global Talent Management at Sun Life, and Laura Weis PhD, Chief Strategy Officer at Satalia.

In the first in a series of three webinars on unlocking value in remote teams, we discussed the five critical factors for collaboration as discussed by our expert panel. The goal being collectively intelligent collaboration which contributes to long term business value and healthy, purposeful interaction.

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  1. Challenge mindset

The extent to which there is a culture that creates a climate for collaboration and encourages people to challenge themselves and each other by exploring innovative ways of solving a problem without the fear of failure.

The presence of a challenge mindset starts with culture, says Matt: “Who are we and who do we want to be? Do we need to change our culture to thrive?” As an example, Matt uses the concept of empowerment which is something the team at Sun Life has talked about as a way to drive results, but in a risk averse culture, it’s taking time to foster:

“We know that we need to give people flexibility to drive towards outcomes even if they way of getting there is different. Leaders don’t always have the opportunity to see how this is done. We’re working hard to set new cultural norms”. This includes knocking down hierarchy and looking to flatten the organisation so people at all levels are comfortable with challenge.

Laura sums up a growth mindset as: “Characterised by embracing rather than avoiding challenge, believing that talent can be developed, its not innate, that failure is a chance to grow rather than a lack of intelligence”. In summary, it’s a culture of psychological safety. Laura also makes the connection to culture, highlighting that we all have an innate inclination to have either a fixed or a growth mindset, but what ultimately shows is a function of the culture and the people around us.

  1. Hyper connectivity

The multiple means of communication channels and formats that enable people across organisational boundaries and markets to be connected simultaneously in the exchanging of knowledge and information.

Although the use of technology for collaboration has been slow to blossom and mature as part of the management tool kit, the pandemic has acted as a catalyst. We do have multiple channels and a wealth of technology at our disposal, but we shouldn’t assume that everyone uses it in the same way, says Matt. To be truly connected, “we need to collaborate with purpose, not by accident”.

Organisational network analysis can throw light on how teams are connecting, adds Laura, and to analyse whether teams are connecting in a healthy and unbiased way. As companies move towards a networked, self-organised, distributed way of working, organisational network analysis can be used to address a new set of challenges:

“There may be no transparency about how work really gets is done, informal relationships become more important, the formal organisation chart does not mean much anymore so there is a need for understanding of how we strategically connect and that connections don’t have biases”, says Laura.

  1. Neurodiversity

In the workplace, neurodiversity is an area of diversity and inclusion that refers to alternative thinking styles such as dyslexia, autism, ADHD and dyspraxia. As a result, teams will be built upon different skills, talents and problem-solving capabilities.

Many organisations have systemic barriers to accessing neurodiverse talent. As Matt highlighted, the front end of the funnel to joining an organisation is usually an assessment or interview. These are usually designed around neurotypical thinking meaning businesses miss out on talent that could be a really important part their organisation. A lot of key roles may not require neurotypical thinking but we are not offering them a way in, he says.

At Sun Life, changes are being made to the performance management process to better nurture neurodiverse talent. Moving away from a traditional review by an individual’s manager, Sun Life is looking at a more distributed model that will offer more support.

  1. Social cognition

The foundations of how we perceive ourselves relative to other people, why we perceive people a particular way and the understanding of the factors that influence how we collaborate. How to trust, beliefs and integrity shape knowledge and ideas exchange?

Social cognition is how people select interpret and remember the social information around them, says Laura. This is important to effective collaboration because it encompasses key team behaviours such as how good we are at listening, giving feedback, empathising and perspective taking. Highlighting this aspect of collaboration has become more critical since the pandemic, says Laura.

“We are lazy cognitive processors and remote working makes this worse. It de empathises interaction. What makes people more willing and better at empathy? The social power of personal experience is one of the biggest predictors of people becoming better processors.”

What can we do to address social cognition in our current working environment? Having an awareness of these social power dependencies in teams is really important. Organisations should take steps to monitor whether they engender a healthy climate where people listen to each other and people are willing to think around the edges.

  1. Team intelligence

“The ability to match and combine people’s ability to solve problems based on experience, skills and motivation in order to optimise high-impact interactions.”

Collective intelligence is a term we use a lot in transformation projects. Collective team intelligence can be monitored and improved by organisational network analysis. But what about the ethics of these practices? Why should employees trust that listening and monitoring is supportive to bringing about positive change and better team working?

There needs to be a strong understanding of the purpose, says Laura. By being purpose-driven, and by bringing people on board who understand the psychological implications of listening technologies we can use technology for good. As Laura described it, team intelligence is about ‘optimising interconnectivity’ for example, understanding what kind of interactions are healthy or unhealthy.

At Sun Life, Matt says his team is just scratching the surface in this area. Their starting point for understanding collective intelligence and team connectivity is gathering feedback on what is working and not working for their teams.

Thank you to our panelists for bringing this complex and fascinating topic to life. You can listen to this webinar again, on our website, here.Watch the full webinar here

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