Collaboration: The expert view

In a rapidly changing world, our established systems and methods are increasingly outdated. Everything from education to the legal system, and methods of government, are becoming outmoded at an accelerating rate.

Management has changed too. A typical story might go: "When I started in industry, I would take a problem to my manager and he would help me solve the problem. He could do that, because he had done my job, he had experience and wisdom.

"Today if I approach my manager with a problem, he just asks me to write a report. He came into the business as a professional manager, and has no relevant experience of my role."

Our only solution is to share knowledge: we have to collaborate because we have no choice! The best method depends on the company, but it's always about being fleet of foot. It's important that employees know where to find information, and people with wisdom, by any mechanism available, within or without the company.

The keys to the kingdom are openness, access and sharing, and this goes hand in hand with freedom and autonomy. It's essential to reduce the amount of direct management and increase freedoms. Young companies tend to start this way, but established companies mostly come with legacy systems and mindsets, and it's very difficult for them to change en masse.

In my experience, the change to collaborative platforms is best done a department at a time. Getting the right people in place is vital, so heads may have to roll. Managers must lead by example: a working exemplar is hard to argue against, and even more difficult to stop. If others can see a working system, it makes all the difference.

There's no need to do all the work in-house. Services and systems can be bought in at a lower cost, and choices should be judged by global return. Nothing is independent it's all linked and related.

Finally, it's important to realise that we're not just trying to cope with the demands of today: we're trying to adapt on a continual basis. What works today may well fail tomorrow. This is all about flexibility and adaptability as a continuum.

When it does work, collaboration is non-linear. It's a case of 1+1=3. Two or three people sharing knowledge and experience are far more effective than the sum of the parts. In this century, the need to share trumps the need to know.

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