Yeah, yeah, we get it… but has anyone figured out how to do it right? We have all heard that collaboration is the answer to the complex challenges we face. Heck, it’s one of the big selling points of our company. But blind pursuit of collaboration – and all of its trappings (video conferencing, open office plans, multi-disciplinary teams) – doesn’t necessarily create the interpersonal knowledge and connections that allow for information to flow freely between individuals. It’s time to acknowledge the other parts of collaboration – the solo thinking that moves ideas forward and the trusted relationships that foster understanding.
“The story of Apple’s origin speaks to the power of collaboration. Mr. Wozniak wouldn’t have been catalyzed by the Altair but for the kindred spirits of Homebrew. And he’d never have started Apple without Mr. Jobs… But it’s also a story of solo spirit. If you look at how Mr. Wozniak got the work done — the sheer hard work of creating something from nothing — he did it alone. Late at night, all by himself” (New York Times).
“The original rationale for the open-plan office, aside from saving space and money, was to foster communication among workers, the better to coax them to collaborate and innovate. But it turned out that too much communication sometimes had the opposite effect: a loss of privacy, plus the urgent desire to throttle one’s neighbor” (New York Times).
“The average empathy level of college kids has plummeted in the last decade. One hypothesis: We’re not spending time reading social cues as much anymore. We’re staring at screens, having “conversations” on text, email or via social media… Good collaboration is critical to success, yet collaboration requires carefully navigating complex social undercurrents to get things done. Conflict is only ever a poorly written email away” (Harvard Business Review).
“Not only was it annoying, but groups where one person dominated tended not to come up with as balanced and thoughtful a result — it wasn’t as intelligent as the first group’s effort. When Woolley looked for the qualities that made successful groups successful, she found that the individual intelligence of group members was unrelated to the outcome” (National Public Radio).
How can we build the right teams, the right spaces, and protect individual work?