Hardly anyone would argue that collaboration is futile — even though on some days, it might feel like you’re rolling a boulder up a hill. Group collaboration done right is the gateway to greater success — higher productivity, profits, and engagement. In this post, I'll cover two of the unstoppable trends I see that are demanding we become masterful collaborators:
Growing Awareness and Need for Context
Context is why humans have so many face-to-face meetings — to hash things out, get a common understanding, to get "on the same page". Yet context is forever getting lost, causing confusion through misinterpretation and misunderstandings.
Here’s a very in-your-face example of context. Watch the video and come back. Thecontent of the situation didn’t change. A man, who appears to be ill, is lying on the ground coughing. In the first scene, he’s dressed shabbily. People walk right past him, ignoring him. In the second scene, he’s wearing a suit. People stop and help him. The only thing that changed was the context: the clothing he wore. Setting aside the morality and ethics of the scenarios for the moment, do you see how the context dramatically impacted people’s behavior?
Here’s a business example: It’s early morning. Your boss sends you an email “I need to see you at 4 today. Be there.” You wonder what he wants. People all over the company have been laid off during the past week. Most layoff meetings occur in the late afternoon. You become obsessed worrying about being laid off. At 4 p.m. you go to his office, he tells you to take a seat, and your heart is racing. He hands you a flash drive and says, “Proofread this and double-check the sources for me by 8 a.m. tomorrow. I need it for my meeting with Ann (his boss).”
Had he simply attached the document to his email, or dropped off the flash drive with a note, your day would have been completely different. Instead, for eight hours you were so distracted you didn’t get any work done. Your context was company layoffs. Your boss’s context was his presentation to his boss.
Context is powerful not just for dealing with near-term issues, such as making sure everyone is viewing the latest version of a document. It is even more important in the long-term. Tacit knowledge is invaluable and elusive. That’s because as time passes, memories fade and people come and go. And relying solely on email and document storage systems for institutional memory is a stop-gap measure at best.
As a result, we waste countless hours and thus many millions of dollars every year because projects lose traction due to misunderstandings, or needing to reinvent processes, recreate documents, redefine policies, etc. The context is neither preserved nor easily accessible, and most content that’s findable, isn’t always useful. This lack of context cripples our ability to collaborate effectively.
Context is essential for high productivity. The awareness of its need will continue to grow.
Increased Employee Engagement
Gallup’s State of the American Workplace Report shows conclusively that more engaged employees lead to higher earnings per share. Why? They cost less and produce more. Sadly, only 30% of Americans are engaged at work. That’s a staggering 70% of employees who are either not engaged or actively disengaged! [Shudder]
Gallup’s research implies that poor managers are the root cause of non- and dis- engaged employees, “These managers from hell are creating active disengagement costing the U.S. an estimated $450 billion to $550 billion annually.” Gallup’s been doing this research since 2008. And the trend around engagement levels has been pretty steady. But a sea change is coming. The composition of the workforce is at a tipping point. The Boomers have been on their way out for the past 10 years and the X-Generation is taking over.
But by 2025, 75% of the workforce will be made up of Millennials (those born in the ‘80s).This generation not only expects collaboration, they demand it. And collaboration, when fostered and guided, creates increased engagement. With increased engagement we find higher productivity, loyalty, and passion. That in turn translates into higher earnings per share and yields higher returns than workplace incentives such as on-site dry cleaning, free bus service, or free meals (Gallup).
The Millennials’ impact is unmistakable even though it’s just beginning — look at the rise of social networking sites, community blogs, wikis, and other online collaborative tools. In fact, if a firm doesn’t provide guided outlets for their Millennials’ collaboration, it will happen anyway. That should send a spear of fear into the heart of every CIO charged with protecting a firm’s knowledge assets. Nonetheless it’s our reality.
Millennials will force collaboration upon us, whether we want it or not. The tremors are starting and the tsunami is forming. Either get to higher ground, or drown.
Stay tuned for my next post, where I'll discuss the two other mega-trends I see for group collaboration.