Collaboration: A By-Product of the Technology-Driven Marketplace
has done wonders for American management. Yet the complexity of
today's technology makes it impossible for any one person to know
all of the intricacies behind a new product's design and development.
Only 20 years ago, designing and developing a product were more
of an individual effort, and organizational design centered on a
hierarchical approach. Today companies have to accept that rapidly
emerging technologies, a global marketplace and an increasingly
competitive and complex business environment demand workplace collaboration.
Collaborative Work Environment
simplest way to define a collaborative work environment is to think
of how we arrived there in the first place. It began with the massive
introduction of computers in the mid-1980s. Better enabled by computers
and their infinite capabilities, a new breed of "knowledge workers"
was born and, in many ways, they share the same behaviors and value
sets. The more the computer distributed power in organizations,
the less we relied on traditional models of industry. Clear divisions
of hierarchy have been blurring ever since, shifting from a manufacturing
model to one of integration.
collaborative work environments representing this stage of the timeline
are team-based organizations with highly aligned people and structures.
In this setting, team roles, goals and operating principles are
clarified, and joint problem solving and innovation are essential.
a company to this point is difficult. The traditional hierarchies
of most companies don't easily lend themselves to team-based structures
&emdash; especially large organizations that are complex and
more difficult to manage and modify. The non-profit Association
for the Management of Organization Design promotes the knowledge
and practice of organization design. After more than a decade of
studying companies, they state on their Web site, ".We see the emphasis
shifting on a number of dimensions.less reliance on hierarchy and
more reliance on networking and strategic alliances; less reliance
on physical labor and more reliance on knowledge workers and technology,
less reliance on isolation and more reliance on value chains and
the willingness to build strong, healthy communities."
Means a New Design
design is the planning and integration of the way people work in
an organization. It's also an essential business tool for building
a collaborative workplace. Although organization design previously
focused more on physically modifying an organization's structure,
information technology is changing this approach. With the technical
tools now available many types of dispersed work methods have emerged.
Home offices, drop-in work centers, electric conferencing are symbols
of what has vastly changed the focus of a company's organization
define efforts. The high-tech world is finally redefining today's
process-based organizations and changing the lines and boxes of
traditional organizational charts.
Random House dictionary defines collaboration as: to work, one with
another; cooperate. In many ways, a collaborative workplace is characterized
by teamwork--a new style of teamwork designed to fit today's changed
organization. Collaborative work teams aren't necessarily without
structure, nor are they without levels of power and status. The
difference lies in the fact that the structures are set up to change
rapidly and to encourage innovation.
example, companies such as DreamWorks or Apple Computer tend to
perfect their definition of teamwork as they grow. Decision making
power and authority are constantly changing. Or, there are companies,
especially those with extensive sales efforts, that must manage
dispersed teams where managers work in one location and their teams
are located in several other places throughout the world.
complexity of building a collaborative environment dictates the
need for expertise in its planning and implementation. Originally,
small teams of five to 20 people characterized the collaborative
models. Increasingly, however, teams are getting larger and more
geographically dispersed. Arriving at an operating style that works
for all team members is sometimes a hurdle, which is why companies
often work with organization development practitioners.
a collaborative work environment that supports the work of engineers
shows how models should be altered to accommodate specific needs.
In engineering organizations, frequently the concept of team is
associated with a loss of creative freedom and individual uniqueness.
In an organization where the charter is to imagine and invent, even
the possibility of losing the freedom to innovate can be traumatic.
engineering work is not a matter of continuous improvement, but
rather of creation and innovation, leading to technological and
conceptual paradigm shifts. This type of work does not easily lend
itself to cross-training or pay-for-knowledge reward systems that
are typical within team-based process organizations.
length of feedback loops in engineering organizations is much longer
than those in manufacturing organizations. On an engineering project,
it may take years before one knows if the customer or the marketplace
thinks positively about the product. This is in contrast to quality
control or internal inspection in manufacturing organizations, where
feedback may be received in a matter of hours or days. Traditionally,
engineers were trained to be independent workers. They are often
frustrated by today's technology and the structural constraints
market demands are exerting on their work environments. In general,
engineers prefer being measured on individual uniqueness and heroics,
not on collaboration and team behavior.
effective models of collaboration is challenging. Even when a company
has decided to team its special (best) talent to meet today's critical
challenges, the ensuing process cannot be underestimated. It warrants
a great deal of attention, especially regarding the players in the
collaboration. One common philosophy points toward the three components
necessary for team success:
A goal that is clear, significant and embraced by all members
Members who are competent in the behavioral and technical requirements
of the team effort
Ability of the members to work together effectively and collaboratively
exciting experience of being part of a collaborative team is often
enough for players to maintain their commitment. As members build
on each other's ideas, the resulting synergy is rewarding. But these
attributes don't just happen by accident. It's not enough to get
a couple of the elements right, because this is still a system.
Systems are interdependent by nature, so changes in one part of
a system create corresponding changes in other parts. All of the
elements need to be designed in concert with one another in order
for the collaborative workplace to operate well. Ultimately, paying
attention to the total design of the organization, and not just
its structure, is as important as paying attention to customer satisfaction
or financial results.
to the Resource Index