Collaboration has long been realised to be of great benefit to businesses. As Helen Keller once famously put it:
“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much”.
In particular collaboration is often considered by management gurus to go hand in hand with innovation. When people collaborate in groups, it is argued, they are able to come up with a much vaster array of ideas from which new solutions can be gleaned that might not have been possible if one person sat and pondered a problem alone. This is at the core of Helen Keller’s enlightening comment about collaboration.
There are some risks of groups working in organisations collaboratively. Group think is a particular concern that some leaders have. This can occur when there is a lack of diversity in the team, and so people start thinking all in the same way, with no one challenging ideas effectively. This stifles innovation. However, collaboration has been changing and has broken organisational boundaries, operating both inside and outside the organisation to drive solutions.
Collaboration has been an amazing thing that has stimulated a lot of change in the modern world, making solutions that bring benefits to many people and that are achieved in a more cost effective manner than teams in businesses working on them. For example, take the concept of open source technologies. Here, code is shared and developers work together to create new technological solutions. Lots of great minds working on the same project at once mean that excellent and useful plug-ins and add-ons can be developed for such open source software programs. Many open source software programmes are available for free, thanks to these types of collaboration. This makes a huge difference, especially for start-up organisations that cannot afford the hefty fees that some companies attach to licenses for certain types of software. Open source software is available for everything from business process development through project management and customer relationship management, allowing businesses to take advantage of the end product of collaboration.
Interviewed by McKinsey in 2014, Clay Shirky an author and New York University professor argues that social media has changed collaboration. In fact Clay explains that social media has been a disruptive force that has changed the ways in which people collaborate. This disruption is not a new thing according to Clay. He points to the printing press and the ways in which this new technology drove a scientific revolution to create change by presenting the opportunity for newspapers, and also the spread of democracy – itself a type of collaboration. Clay Shirky opines that this latest change has also led to new types of collaboration.
Clay Shirky explains that social media websites are grounded in collaboration. People share what they want to with others, and this is the major premise under which such websites are able to exist. Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest among others all rely on collaboration through sharing to be interesting and fun for their users. Looking at a less “fun” social media website, Wikipedia has been of tremendous use to many people all around the world and often supplies one of the top search results for many different subject areas. The way in which collaboration makes this happen is that people contribute to Wikipedia, sharing their knowledge as writers and editors on different topic areas. Most contributors to Wikipedia are not staff members and do not get paid. They are simply interested in sharing what they know about a particular subject. This has led to the massive expansion of a website that contains information about just about everything. It is continuing to be added to all of the time. There are some quality concerns around the content on Wikipedia, but most sources are cited, so individuals are able to judge for themselves the level of validity of the content served to them.
Clay Shirky argues that scarcity has an important role to play in driving collaboration to deliver solutions. As he puts it:
“Abundance breaks more things than scarcity. Society is really good at managing scarcity”.
To some degree this may be seen similarly to the phrase “Necessity is the mother of invention”; namely if you have a need for something then it can be brought into being, and it might be argued that collaboration has a huge and growing role to play in that.
Paula Newton is a business writer, editor and management consultant with extensive experience writing and consulting for both start-ups and long established companies. She has ten years management and leadership experience gained at BSkyB in London and Viva Travel Guides in Quito, Ecuador, giving her a depth of insight into innovation in international business. With an MBA from the University of Hull and many years of experience running her own business consultancy, Paula’s background allows her to connect with a diverse range of clients, including cutting edge technology and web-based start-ups but also multinationals in need of assistance. Paula has played a defining role in shaping organizational strategy for a wide range of different organizations, including for-profit, NGOs and charities. Paula has also served on the Board of Directors for the South American Explorers Club in Quito, Ecuador.