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More isn't always better when it comes to collaboration

As hierarchies flatten and organisations mobilise networks of talent to become responsive and agile in the face of a dynamic market, businesses must focus on ensuring that all collaborative activities are driving greatest return. To do so, moving away from the paradigm that collaboration on all accounts is always a good thing and questioning the quality of the cooperative activities is critical. Networks that thrive are those are fit for purpose, allow for a free flow of valuable information and innovation and show true resilience.

Collaboration is one of your company values. Your organisation is designed to comprise of globally dispersed, closely connected networks of teams. You have hired people whom seem to thrive on social interaction. Yet, you are still not seeing the disruption, innovation and efficiency that a networked approach should proffer. Why?

Quite simply, it comes down to what is happening beneath the surface of the network - social dynamics are key to unlocking the potential of the collaborative networks. The nature and quality of the interactions between people, and the types of activity this creates, will determine how collaborative your organisation is – and ultimately the degree to which it is fit for the future.

Research shows that more isn’t always better when it comes to collaboration. When looking ‘under the bonnet’ in businesses that are recognised to be effective at using collaboration to drive their competitive advantage, it becomes clear that there are certain patterns of activity that are present within all of their vibrant networks. That is, they all share similar network characteristics. Therefore for greatest value creation across the organisation we would recommend your business strives to create optimised networks of talent that display the 6 characteristics that are cornerstones of successful collaboration.

What are the 6 characteristics of an optimised collaborative network?

Honest communication: dialogue is open, challenging and forthright. Network members are able to set aside their preferred perspectives to really listen to what is being said by others. Nobody shies away from healthy conflict but instead all are committed to overcoming it, together.

Active resource flow: the right resources (information, social and personal) are transferred in real time through the network in a rapid, efficient way with bottlenecks being quickly identified and strategies put in place to overcome them.

Reciprocity: trust, the primary currency of the network, is established and valued and members recognise the diverse contributions of others. Self-interest is discarded as a primary motive and the network seeks out opportunities that provide unique, but not necessarily mutual, benefits for all involved.

Self-accountability: network members set challenging goals, to which people find a personal alignment and hold themselves to personal and collective account. Decision rights are dispersed to empower informal leaders to use their expertise to decide upon the best way forward.

Collective, yet independent, mind-set: strong interpersonal connections are created through a shared history, a sense of belonging and a strong identity - one that centres around diversity of thinking and celebrates independent thought.

Resilience: continually learning, the network is agile and working practices are open to change. The network protects members from becoming overwhelmed and individuals rely upon one of the most effective methods of resilience humans have: social support.

How familiar does this look to you? If you have not been seeing the benefits expected from collaborative activities start by asking yourself to what extent do the networks in your organisation consistently display all of these characteristics?

In order to do so we recommend you focus your attention on 3 priorities:

People analytics: are you looking at the right things? Do you have robust, real time big data that shows you where the true networks are in your organisation and how, when and why your people are interacting?

Talent strategies: are you assessing for and developing the individual foundations of these network characteristics; interpersonal adaptability, emotional intelligence and collaborative resilience

Reward and recognition: are you rewarding collective efforts and reinforcing the behaviours that drive value creation in a global network?

By focusing attention on these 3 areas the HR strategy will rapidly support the development of the 6 critical network characteristics whilst creating an environment in which autonomous, collaborative networks thrive - contributing to an uplift in performance across the board.

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