What the World Needs Now is Smarter Collaboration

Posted on

30 Mar

2023

Dittmar & Indrenius > Insight > What the World Needs Now is Smarter Collaboration

Everyone talks about it, many companies have it proclaimed in their strategy and think they are already doing it, but do we really know how to make collaboration happen?

We invited Dr. Heidi K.Gardner, a Distinguished Fellow at Harvard Law School and a former professor at Harvard Business School, to share fresh insights and research from her latest book “Smarter Collaboration – A New Approach to Breaking Down Barriers and Transforming Work” at our Afterwork event on 6 February 2023.

Gardner first presented herself as the nerdy Harvard professor who has data behind every hypothesis. “Collaboration”, she said, “is not a soft topic for two reasons. First, collaboration is hard. Second, there is hard evidence and data behind it.”

Gardner challenged the audience to think about today’s trends: market volatility, hybrid working, fast-developing technology. At the same time, she noted, there is a strong trend for professional specialisation. We have more and more experts with narrow, deep expertise, whereas the problems we face are anything except narrow and clearly defined. Tackling problems that are VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous – or just plain “messy”), Gardner said, require crossing silos and building teams of experts with complementary expertise. Almost any problem that requires our brains, she explained, has many angles to it.

“We need people who think differently than us and who know something different than we do.”

Many interesting real-life examples from her research were touched on, but her central theme was how to create a team for smart collaboration. According to Gardner, the first thing for us to do is to start with the end in mind to clarify the context of the problem. Next, in determining who would be the right people to reach that end, we need to expand beyond the boundaries of the “usual suspects”. Maybe it’s a futurist, maybe it’s an HR professional or maybe an economist, whose expertise and life experience would help us understand the issue and innovate better. “We need people who think differently than us and who know something different than we do”, Gardner pointed out. Finally, we need to truly engage them, not only have them appear on the team.

Gardner reminded us that conflict is almost unavoidable when working with someone with a different background – whether this is their expertise, culture, upbringing, or way of thinking. She challenged us as leaders and professionals to welcome a bit of conflict, tension and friction over harmony to get the most out of collaboration. This isn’t necessarily easy: embedding a truly collaborative corporate culture that achieves strategic outcomes depends on leadership focus and strategic oversight.

Stay tuned for our next Afterwork event with another inspiring guest speaker and peer discussions!

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