Belfast Telegraph

How to unravel the collaboration conundrum

By Dr Nicola J. Millard, Head of Customer Insight and Futures at BT’s Global Innovation team

Collaboration is very much in vogue. The term is bandied about with gusto in meetings as the must-have function for the modern business but, while many companies realise it's 'a thing', few have been able to implement it thoroughly.

That's perhaps a result of realising collaboration should be seen as much more than a passing fad, rather an essential in this day and age.

We would go so far as to say that every firm should consider having a chief collaboration officer to complement the CEO and COO.

They are needed to tackle the collaboration conundrum, the term which sums up the challenges created by today's mobile workforce. More and more employees are choosing to work from home or from dispersed offices (40% of workers globally to be precise), a movement made possible by technology, but one which throws up new problems for company bosses.

They are realising that being distant from colleagues reduces trust and cohesion, but having the choice to work elsewhere increases wellbeing and individual productivity.

What to do?

Some organisations have stubbornly refused at this first major hurdle and are running back to the starting blocks, bringing workers back into the office at great expense to both their wallets and to the environment.

But co-location can lose valuable talent who don't want to be tied to a specific geography, and constant travel and longer commutes can create grumpy and exhausted people.

But by approaching the issue in a different manner, it is possible to have your collaborative cake and to eat it.

It starts with a different approach to leadership and the ability to face up to a cold, hard truth: nowadays, leaders can't rely on strong ties in teams because most ties have, as a result of technology, become inherently weak.

Because of that inexorable fact, they need to realise that it is not possible to beat collaboration into their organisation.

Instead, they need to create, recognise and encourage collaborative behaviour and to understand the dynamics of their teams, while at the same time avoiding 'collaboration overload' among the top performers.

It sounds complicated but isn't, particularly if you use the dinner party analogy, where today's leaders are the hosts.

Like any great party, you need a reason to get people together, and a physical or virtual common ground that everyone can gather on.

You need to make sure you know a bit about everyone, so you can introduce people to each other and then they can start to talk and to create and build so-called 'fast trust'.

By taking that approach, you'll create connections, you'll allow networking and you'll provide an environment made up of differing personalities, which eradicates the echo chamber.

Leadership is now becoming less about 'command and control' and much more about connection and creating purpose for collaboration.

New leadership requires a much more inclusive, trust oriented, co-operative, participative and open approach - rather than a more passive 'I can see people at their desks, therefore they must be working' one.

And that is why the idea of a chief collaboration officer perhaps now doesn't seem as far-fetched as it may have done.

Obviously, collaboration is a team sport and needs buy-in from everyone throughout the company, but there's no doubt it is good not just for employees, but for the all-crucial bottom line.

And that, after all, is the ultimate goal.

For further information and to contact BT Business in Northern Ireland, please email

Belfast Telegraph