The Secret to Productive Team Collaboration is Individuality

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In an article in The New York Times, Sunday Review, Susan Cain points out that the era of working in solitude is gone. Today is the era for cubicle-less office spaces, with the idea to foster collaboration and build transparency into the work-culture. True to its motives, this approach does help in achieving the goals of corporate work-culture.

Cain further highlights in her article that research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and no interruptions. Studies also suggest that some of the very creative people are introverted. They are extroverted to the extent that they can share ideas but at the core they are individualistic and independent in nature. They are not the herd followers.

Now these two facts are sort of contradictory to each other. Why would the corporates build cubicle-less office spaces or open-space layouts to encourage more discussions as a way to foster collaboration when the higher creativity is feasible by providing un-interrupted work environment? (Do you see a case building-up here? You will, shortly).

Through open layout work places, the top management of an organization does try to build team collaboration by easing the flow of communication and access to team mates. This also generates motivation among employees as people from all echelons are seated in similar set-up, spreading a feeling of being at-par.

But this approach creates an environment of excessiveness – too much of each other and too much of efforts for collaboration. The main aim of open-space layouts gets diluted and loses focus. Open-space layouts quite naturally bring out more socialising and take away the productive energy and concentration of employees from their actual task.

If studies and researches hold credibility, then such environments should actually reduce the employee productivity instead of increasing it as has been claimed by the proponents of open-space layouts. In fact, it has been proven that people make more mistakes in open-space layout and take almost twice as long to complete a task.

An effective collaboration must increase employee productivity and this will happen if the individuality of team members is maintained. Collaboration through open work spaces takes away the individuality factor and builds group thinking, where the alternate approaches to solutions are overlooked. To put it in Cain’s words, it brings in the new ‘groupthink’ and herd mentality which is detrimental to team work.

So, is productive team collaboration really possible? Yes, it is through collaborating online and building distributed teams with the help of online collaboration platforms – the case that I was talking about earlier!

Un-interrupted and isolated work environments are as important as group meetings and team discussions are, in order to develop productive collaboration. Here comes the glaring need for effective project managers. Project managers must ensure that every team member understands the project goals & purpose and how his/her part is going to contribute to the larger whole.  Once the purpose is clear, individual team members can complete certain tasks on their own. If a problem arises, they can co-ordinate and collaborate keeping focus on the purpose, while exploring various options for the ‘how’ part.

Many online collaboration (or project management) tools encourage organizations to follow distributed work culture for their teams. These collaborative platforms allow collaboration among team members by giving them distance, space and privacy, while permitting tracking independent tasks and overall progress of any project! Space and isolation gives them a chance to reflect upon many pros and cons of a solution before presenting it to the online forum or in an in-person meeting. The team can decide how often to meet and be well on their productive paths without wasting time.

The project manager gets to decide how to allocate tasks and generate tickets. He gets to understand where the project is heading through aggregated information on dashboards and accordingly decide which team members need to meet face-to-face. There is no need to distract everyone.

Needless to say that the online collaboration platforms also reduce the unnecessary travel stress for the employees and reduce capital expenses of the organization for maintaining a large office space.

Are you ready yet?

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