global-gameIn the last post, I wrote about how a company’s space design promotes collaboration.  Companies must also design the abstract framework for collaboration.  Prior to the 2000’s collaborative teams usually topped out at 20.  But, the complexity of collaborative tasks today can require teams of 100 or more members. While much of the advice about collaboration written prior to 2010 is still relevant today, the varying technologies, geographical locations, and multidisciplinary expertise of today’s collaborative teams necessitate a re-thinking of building architecture for collaboration.  Lynda Gratton of London Business School and Tamara Erickson, president of Concours Institute, outlined their architecture for collaboration in a Harvard Business Review article entitled “Eight Ways to Build Collaborative Teams”.  They investigated large multinational corporations such as Marriott, Nokia, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, BBC and Reuters, 15 international companies in all, to understand how large, multi-location, multidisciplinary, and multi-technology teams make collaboration work. From their research, they found four keys areas which have incredible influence on the productivity and creativity of large collaborative teams.

Executives, as leaders of the company are models for interaction for all members of a company. If they invest in building social relationships throughout the entire company, the company responds by employees reaching outside of their department to build social relationships. Standard Charter Bank reminds its employees that relationships exist beyond department and even national boundaries by placing pictures of executives working with functional leaders and workers in other locations in prominent locations in the building.  Erickson and Gratton also found that this encourages the perceived behavior of collaborative interaction.  Also crucial is one-on-one face time with employees through mentoring because this shows company support for personal development.

Another key factor in the collaborative architecture is building on heritage relationships.  Gratton and Erickson found that if 20% to 40% of the team is composed of individuals who already have a social relationship with each other, then the group is already ripe for productive collaboration. If too many in the group know each other, then sub-groups tend to form.  If few know each other, then wrangling over task division occurs.  When forming large collaborative groups, Nokia uses “team pods” in which its members have a long history of working together.  For example, the consumer statistics team will move together into a large collaborative project in which customer statistics is part of the information needed.

Human resources is a third cornerstone of collaboration architecture.  Out of the human resources teams studied, Erickson and Gratton found two areas in which HR teams had made significant investment and received significant return.  First, HR trained employees in the skills crucial to collaboration: appreciating others, engaging in purposeful conversations, productively and creatively resolving conflicts and program management.  Secondly, HR teams which cultivate community spirit through informal communities, such as cooking weekends, baseball teams and mother’s networks, increase heritage relationships, described in the previous paragraph.

Finally, the last point they note is the team leaders who will navigate through the collaborative architecture.  The team leaders must be skilled in both task-orientation and relationship-orientation.  At the beginning of the project, the leaders used task-orientation, but during the project they became relationship-orientated when the tensions surrounding knowledge began to emerge.

Collaboration takes intent from the top down and support from the bottom up, a reliable invisible architecture for today’s companies.