Rob Cross, Thomas H. Davenport, and Peter Gray
No question, collaboration allows companies to serve exacting clients more seamlessly, respond more quickly to changing environments, and innovate more rapidly. But when an organization tries to boost collaboration by adopting a new formal structure, technology, or way of working, it often adds a steady stream of time- and energy-consuming interactions to an already relentless workload, diminishing instead of improving performance. Employees struggle with increases in email volume, the proliferation of new collaborative tools, and expectations of fast replies to messages — with deleterious effects on quality and efficiency.
Even though employees are acutely aware that they’re suffering, most organizations don’t recognize what’s happening in the aggregate. With increasing pressure on organizations to become more agile, there is also a tendency to swamp employees with collaboration demands in pursuit of a networked organization. People have, on average, at least nine different technologies to manage their interactions with work groups. The result can be overwhelmed and unproductive employees, sapped creativity, costly restructurings, and employee attrition.
Fortunately, through analytics, companies can improve their collaboration efforts in five key ways: scaling collaboration more effectively, improving collaborative design and execution, driving planned and emergent innovation through networks that cross capabilities and markets, streamlining collaborative work by diagnosing and reducing collaborative overload, and engaging talent by identifying social capital enablers of performance, engagement, and retention.
Ethan Bernstein, Jesse Shore, and David Lazer
Leaders help establish the rhythm for their organizations’ and teams’ collaborative efforts. For at least a century, they have done this largely by planning working-group meetings, huddles, one-on-ones, milestone reports, steering committee readouts, end-of-shift handoffs, and so on.
But collaborative rhythms have become much more complex and less controlled in recent years, given all the digital tools at our disposal, along with email, texting, messaging, and the profusion of meetings that haven’t gone away. Collaboration has gone omnichannel — and orchestrating it has become a major challenge.
Given how hyperconnected most people are now at work, is more collaboration simply better, as we tend to assume, or should organizations have a rhythm that alternates on and off? The authors’ research suggests that alternation is essential for work that involves problem-solving. While always-on connectivity helps employees coordinate and gather information, people produce less innovative, less productive solutions without dedicated unplugged time.