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Tips for Creating Collaboration that Fosters Innovation

May 12, 2010

You could really help yourself today at work if you changed the way
you think about collaboration.  Think of it as a teeter-totter that you
can shift to either a low or high value side.  How do you make the shift?
That’s what this blog is about… keep reading.

Collaboration is a common word today.  It gets tagged with a  broad
range of meanings and usages.  Perhaps you think of it as meaning
simply working together, or attending a common meeting, viewing
a common pc screen, etc.

But as a process, it functions like a teeter-totter, and I’d like to cover
just a few idea to help you push the teeter-totter to the powerful vs.
non-powerful side of collaboration.

When collaboration is tilted over to what I would like to call the
sharing information side, it loses power.  This is the format for most
meetings we attend.   It has some uses, usually isn’t terribly efficient,
but does keep people in the loop and provide a basis for keeping the
work process and decisions coordinated, and avoiding making mistakes.

But there’s another side of collaboration.  When it tilts to this more
powerful/creates high value side, it actually drives and supports
innovation.  So let’s talk about how to tilt it towards innovation.

Think small, complimentary and adding value.

It turns out that the larger a group gets, the more group dynamics
thwart collaboration’s ability to drive innovation.

Think about it, the larger the group gets, who tends to talk?

The larger a group gets, the more the process tends to be the same,
e.g. rules, conventions, expectations, roles… all get reinforced.
Extroverts or those in power dominate, introverts listen.  None of
this sound like innovation.

Basically collaboration drives innovation most when those present
represent and articulate the best of difference points of view,
different levels of expertise, different experiences, access to
different information.

But differences don’t necessarily generate innovation.  Often they
generate conflict or a slow down or obstacles.  So when does difference
link to innovation?

Here’s the big secret.  It all has to do with the ability to add value.


If  a 2nd person repeats what the first person said in a group, other than
building concensus or making people feel comfortable how much valuable
innovation does repetition build?  Not much.

If someone only speaks up to challenge or raise issues in a discussion,
how much does that promote innovation?  Again, not much.

The ability to add value is the key determiner of whether differences
support or thwart innovation.  This should resonate with your experience.

Leo Denise summarized it well with the statement, “Innovation is about
divergent thinking and the creation of something new, and collaboration
is an essential tool for achieving it
.” Right, but only if the divergence is
used to create value, or as he describes it, “create something new.”

In fact a  research study on collaboration at Cornell pointed out that
if participants don’t add value, other members stop collaborating with them,
or at least avoid it if it is within their control.

This offers at least one cogent explanation for why calls don’t get returned.
Reseach suggests that the other person doesn’t view you as adding value to
their process, to their ability to be innovate and be more successful today
than they were tomorrow… so they don’t choose to collaborate via  a call.

Bottom Line:

Collaboration is like a teeter-totter.  Sharing information is on one side,
innovation is on the other.  You tip it one side or the other based upon
three key variables: size, management of differences and the ability to
add value.  Let me know if this works for you.

Redefining Collaboration – Beyond Information Sharing
Google and the Wisdom of Crowds

2 Comments. Leave new

I don’t have a place to apply this just now, but these are great concepts. I really like the visual of the Teeter Totter. Thanks for sharing.


It gets tagged with a broad range of meanings and usages. Perhaps you think of it as meaning simply working together, or attending a common meeting, viewing a common pc screen, etc.
New Technology


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