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Blog: Blog

The Collaboration Conundrum

Thursday, May 2, 2019   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Cam Mackey
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In this article: With technologies becoming more decentralized and disappearing into the cloud, is it also time for traditionally centralized and hierarchical organization structures to follow as hierarchy becomes “wire-archy”?  Logic (and technology) would say yes, but human nature often stubbornly disagrees. A whole host of collaboration conundrums, challenges and contradictions rear their heads as we have employees (and customers) who are connected by communication networks rather than real face-to-face ones. 



According to recent surveys, only 13% of employees are engaged in their job. With low levels of engagement, employees are often less productive. Today, employees seek flexibility in their work. Additionally, we need to consider “shoulder bag employees,” an increasingly untethered workforce of employees who can carry their “office” around in their bag. The challenge of such a workforce is collaboration


In the digital space we all work in, we need leaders who are especially good connectors and networkers. These types of people are called charismatic connectors -- they are very good at networking, connecting people and getting them to collaborate. In an MIT study on Social Physics however, data showed that only one out of four participants was a charismatic connector. So where does this leave the important business of collaboration?


Key insights about collaboration:
  • Generally, people will only collaborate if it has a purpose
  • More collaboration is occurring within the digital space
  • Over 50% of people will not collaborate unless they get recognition and/or rewards
  • Collaboration does not happen by magic, there are tools you can use to facilitate it


Collaboration challenges:
  • The physical office is not designed for collaboration
  • There are an increasing number of virtual workers, calling in from home or cafes
  • By 2020, there will be five different generations in the workforce; this age diversity will affect collaboration
  • We must help older workers get comfortable with technology
  • Culture, gender, and personality traits (introverts versus extroverts) can also influence collaboration
  • When it comes to collaboration, “one size does not fit all”
  • Email is a common communications tool, but it is a terrible collaboration tool


  • Design the workplace to encourage collaboration
  • Augment face to face meetings with videoconferencing
  • Encourage socializing at the office, even if it is in the cloud
  • Know when to disconnect to avoid becoming “techno-stressed;” a big issue in the U.S. and the U.K.
  • The less sleep workers get, the less productive they are
  • Train your people to become better networkers



A big problem is disconnecting from work as the temptation in today’s environment is to be always on.  We even sleep with our smartphones.  But this can lead to being “techno stressed” which is a big issue in the U.S. and the UK. And being always “on” leads to not only more stress, but also less sleep,  and less sleep leads to less productivity.



Collaboration is about trust and reciprocity. Collaboration does not happen by accident. We do not collaborate unless we have a purpose. Ninety-five percent of high performing organizations instill a good sense of purpose. Teams with pre-established relationships between 20-40% of members had stronger networks and stronger collaboration from the beginning. The effects on behavior are four times more powerful when ties are strong than when they are weak. By addressing these factors, organizations can help foster collaboration.

Dr. Nicola Millard is head of customer insight and futures in BT's global innovation team. Despite working for a technology company, Nicola isn't actually a technologist and combines psychology with futurology to try and anticipate what might be lying around the corner for both customers and organisations.

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