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Survival of the social: the how & why of effective collaboration

Survival of the social: the how & why of effective collaboration

If you’ve been following me for a while now, you’ll know that I often talk about the social aspect of being human and how it affects the way we work. That’s because I really do think that it’s key to business success, and is becoming increasingly important in a competitive and interconnected world. Quite simply, it’s our ability to collaborate that sets the human species apart, and ever increasingly, it’s the companies that harness this power appropriately that do well in the business arena.

Traditional company structures were hierarchical and operated under a command-and-control system; that’s now giving way to flatter organisations and a resurgence in matrix organisations with increased workplace democracy. While there are difficulties in the shift, these structures, when done well, allow for an increase in collaboration which in turn boosts employee engagement, innovation, and the overall business bottom-line.

So, how do you boost collaboration?

Well the specifics of ‘how’ depends on whether you are looking at increasing collaboration within your team, across teams, or with clients and other external stakeholders. One of the first things you need to do, is realise that you want to be collaborating with all of these groups as you never know where the best ideas are going to come from. So, while the detailed ‘how’ of collaboration is not a one-size-fits-all answer, here are three areas you can work on to improve collaboration in your team.

1.Connection is key

The idea of a solitary genius and the great eureka moment is myth. The greatest ideas are a culmination of thoughts, questions, discussions, and challenges. The European Enlightenment was one of the greatest periods in human development and it centred around the rise of the coffeehouse, or rather the networks they facilitated. Coffeehouses were more than a place to get your daily caffeine fix, they were places of robust debate and a meeting of minds—they were hotbeds of innovation, progress and development.

So the first step in boosting collaboration is building your coffeehouse (don’t worry, I’m speaking metaphorically here). Where are the spaces—physical or virtual—where your team members can meet and build networks? How easy is it for them to build new connections? Is your water-cooler a hub of activity, and if not, what can you do to change that?

2. Trust, Respect, and Equality

Humans need to feel secure in order to perform—it’s based on evolutionary biology, and it’s something that’s been discussed in management since the very beginning (hello Maslow!). The question is, how secure do people in your team and organisation feel. If they don’t feel safe, respected and valued, they aren’t going to be particularly forthcoming with ideas and creative solutions. The importance of diversity is spoken about ad nauseum, yet there is still so much room for improvement in this area—how are you tapping into different perspectives and ideas? How are you showing that you respect and differences of opinions?

3.Giving and Giving up

Okay, so point three is really two separate ideas: first, you need to give up control, and second you need to give—be generous with your time and knowledge. Democracy is messy. As Churchill famously remarked it’s the worst form of government, except for all the others. As a rule, true democracies (particularly those with flat social hierarchies) tend to be the wealthier nations; this is because all people feel empowered and work hard for themselves and the common good. I’m not asking you to put your managers and executive suite up for election by employees, but if you want to get the most from your people, you need to actively give up control and empower your employees with greater freedom and agency.

Next, you need to be generous—give your time and knowledge to those around you. Lead by example and show that when people are generous, there is greater collaboration which leads to greater outcomes. If you are stingy with your time, knowledge and other resources, everyone suffers: people keep their ideas to themselves and hoard resources (it’s that survival instinct kicking in again). When you share, you empower others to do the same and improve collaboration.

It’s vital that we all remember that each organisation is a mini society in its own right. It’s a group of people that interact and work together and just like different countries, some organisations have the structures and cultures that are effective and productive, others less so. As a leader, you need to ensure that you are fostering an effective and collaborative culture to ensure business success.

If you want ideas on how you can boost collaboration in your team and organisation, contact me now. I’d be happy to share some more simple tips or reveal some fantastic resources that you could use.


Just wanted to thank yourself and Yewan for organising the Scavenger Hunt for the team last week, we all had a ball. Everything was so well structured and organised, although very easy going. You both did a great job in making everything run smoothly on the day – even if my team did struggle with the silly ‘face’ question. We will definitely be in touch in the future and look forward to seeing what other team building ideas you may come up with!

Sam Noske, Halls Head Dental