Insights into collaboration in the workplace

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“Ultimately collaboration is about different people, practices and perspectives coming together,” says Lisa Grocott, a design researcher working on the future of work and learning as a professor in the Emerging Technologies Research Lab at Monash University.

Grocott says evidence-based research around collaboration, innovation and success can be hard to translate into action for organisations as it depends on the unique context of each organisation, team and culture.

“But what research can tell us is that cognitive diversity matters when it comes to complex problem solving and innovation.”

The challenge? “How might we create workplaces as places of learning where peoples’ diverse lived experiences, mental models, and cultural values expand our collective thinking?”

Grocott says the value of collaboration comes from “the new ways of seeing that emerge from a kaleidoscope of perspectives”.

But she cautions that simply focusing on diversity is not enough.

“With greater diversity, there is more to bump up against. Just as the difference of perspectives can seed innovation, they also can lead to tensions and distrust,” she says.

“Collaboration won’t lead to innovation unless we create workplaces as learning environments where differences can be discussed, respected and accommodated.”

Truly collaborative workplaces are a driver of employee satisfaction, but Grocott warns that directives to collaborate can be counter-productive.

“I would trace the connection between employee satisfaction and intrinsic motivation. Dan Pink’s book Drive draws on the research into what motivates people, reminding us that autonomy, mastery and purpose are key,” she says.

“Directives to collaborate will become transactional and fail if we cannot work out how to align the organisational goals with employees’ individual aspirations.”

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