‘Collaboration’: Effective as ever

Team Teamwork Collaboration

Today, lone thinkers are no longer in demand. Businesses advocate knowledge sharing tools, exchanges and interactive working across departments. Success and achievement of targets increasingly depend on the quality of internal and external communication strategies. ”Knowledge is power” has made room for a new premise called ”Knowledge sharing is power”.

Friday, 5 to 8 a.m. As usual on Fridays, practically all staff members have arrived. A quick hello, a brief joke and some small talk five minutes before the meeting starts. The Managing Director enters the hall and mingles with the crowd. Time for Hewlett-Packard’s Friday Morning Speech - now a ritual and world-wide tradition among all affiliates of the international IT group. Time to break some news, present projects, explain goals, provide answers, push motivation – Management to staff, and staff to staff.

Professional communication tools

"Collaboration" is one of the big new "old" topics in business theory – more important and more diverse than ever. The globalisation of companies, the physical separation of departments, linguistic and cultural differences among teams, fast-paced markets and short product cycles all call for quality of interaction – wherever it may take place.

In seeking to achieve optimal performance, repetitive sectors advocate clear structures, supported by relevant technologies such as document and process management tools. On the other hand, companies with development-based products are currently facing an enormous challenge as far as capacity of innovation is concerned.

"Collaboration" - meanwhile a standard expression in the context of cooperation - assumes an existential meaning in the truest sense of the word. How to interact within the company and in its relations with the outside world – so that the "right" staff members get complete information on time; that creative processes are coordinated rather than dissipating without direction; that creative potential is put to its most effective use; and that new developments get on the ground, with concrete suggestions for their realisation and in due time? How are suppliers, investors, sub-contractors, and customers integrated into this process?

Depending on the situation, the communication flows required to channel these requirements are complex and extremely divergent; ideally they are tailored to the actual task in question. It becomes evident in the process that the conventional "work situation" is increasingly losing ground. Collaboration and exchange now happen away from the actual workplace. Meetings, encounters, communication take place in new, open or informal contexts. It is not a coincidence that the conventional cellular office makes room for transparent spaces that open up to the outside – the very precondition for an environment of cooperation, speedy communication and creative freedom to thrive.

The variety of methods applied relies on numerous designs and tools like "open space" (collecting and creating inputs on specific subjects in truly large groups), "communities of practice" (cross-cutting, innovation-led project teams attempting to solve problems in working towards a common goal, often drawing on intranet-based forums), or conventional team work in small structured groups. Over the past few years, all of this has increasingly become standard practice, with a clear goal in mind.

The spiral of knowledge

Japanese communication theorists Nonaka and Takeuchi have designed a spiral of knowledge to demonstrate the interaction of information and communication, of implicit and explicit knowledge (see chart):

- The immediate process of communication takes place in the Originating Ba (Ba = space) – face to face, between one person and another, or tacit to tacit. The environments where this communication takes place are usually distinct from the classical office setting – whereas lounges, general waiting areas or Coffice are gaining ground: No problem to find a place for two.

- In the Interacting Ba situation, interaction covers a wider scope. Communication and transfer of knowledge occur within a group. Tacit knowledge becomes explicit knowledge; knowledge is externalised.

- The following step leads us beyond that. Communication groups are united in the Cyber Ba. Explicit knowledge is taken a step further and made available for the public at large. The goal is for the parts to make up a whole.

- The fourth step comes as a surprise: a return to the individual person. In a final step, explicit knowledge which had become part of the public at large earlier on must again be internalised by the individual. The new knowledge is eventually internalised on an individual level in the Exercising Ba, again to return to a status of tacit knowledge. The communication process has returned from a final point to its very beginning…