Collaboration – the lost superpower

Zusammenarbeit – die verlorene Superkraft
22. April 2024
Zusammenarbeit – die verlorene Superkraft
22. April 2024

When we come tog­e­ther in groups or com­pa­nies, we do so becau­se we would not be able to sol­ve the tasks we tack­le the­re on our own, or only much less eco­no­mic­al­ly. In prac­ti­ce, the­se are situa­tions in which we are sim­ply depen­dent on each other. To mana­ge a relo­ca­ti­on, put out a fire, build a club­house or per­haps even a car.

If we look around the world of work today, the awa­re­ness of this inter­de­pen­dence is prac­ti­cal­ly non-existent. In rea­li­ty, bos­ses domi­na­te, always assig­ning simi­lar tasks to their indi­vi­du­al employees, who then car­ry out the­se tasks lar­ge­ly accor­ding to their per­so­nal stan­dards. This also appli­es to lar­ger tasks, which are split up and whe­re ever­yo­ne retre­ats with their sli­ce of the over­all task in order to „digest“ it alone.

Almost ever­yo­ne acts as if they were com­ple­te­ly inde­pen­dent of each other. This under­stan­ding is sup­port­ed by the archi­tec­tu­re of ERP sys­tems, which are struc­tu­red in such a way that each employee finds and com­ple­tes their per­so­nal tasks in lists, after which the data is trans­fer­red to the next employee’s list.

In such an envi­ron­ment, lea­der­ship is unders­tood as an act of work dis­tri­bu­ti­on with indi­vi­du­al per­for­mance moni­to­ring and annu­al tar­gets are for­mu­la­ted and indi­vi­du­al­ly reward­ed for each employee.

Deve­lo­p­ments in pri­va­te life are rein­for­cing this indi­vi­dua­liza­ti­on of col­la­bo­ra­ti­on: the fami­ly as a natu­ral ser­vice alli­ance has beco­me less important and, thanks to pro­fes­sio­nal ser­vice pro­vi­ders, plat­forms and apps, we are less and less depen­dent on the infor­ma­ti­on, skills or sup­port of tho­se clo­se to us to mana­ge our lives successfully.

As a result, most peo­p­le today no lon­ger have any idea what col­la­bo­ra­ti­on is or how it even works. The rela­ti­onship with work col­le­agues is limi­t­ed to exchan­ging infor­ma­ti­on and results at the cof­fee machi­ne in a distant but fri­end­ly man­ner. Some­ti­mes col­le­agues tell each other about their weekend acti­vi­ties, but that’s about it.

So it’s no won­der that working from home is seen as an equal­ly valid opti­on for col­la­bo­ra­ti­on. After all, nowa­days you only come tog­e­ther when some­thing is dif­fe­rent than it should be to dis­cuss with all seven to ten depart­ments invol­ved how to sol­ve the indi­vi­du­al case. The various sys­tem opti­ons for the solu­ti­on are then weig­hed up and the next steps are determined.

True col­la­bo­ra­ti­on is so much more and so much more effec­ti­ve. It starts with ever­yo­ne kno­wing and having a com­mon goal in mind and being awa­re that they can only achie­ve it tog­e­ther with the others, with each indi­vi­du­al try­ing to make the best pos­si­ble con­tri­bu­ti­on with their per­so­nal skills.

Awa­re­ness of the depen­den­cy on the man­power and skills of others results in mutu­al reco­gni­ti­on and app­re­cia­ti­on, which can lead to open, con­s­truc­ti­ve and trust-building inter­ac­tion and indi­rect­ly to a sen­se of “we”.

When­ever peo­p­le com­plain about their col­le­agues, when they ask why they have to do some­thing at all, or what they per­so­nal­ly gain from it, they are still a long way from this working mode. When­ever a group is in a posi­ti­on to coor­di­na­te lar­ge­ly inde­pendent­ly, to pro­vi­de each other with trans­pa­ren­cy about pro­gress, to think with com­mit­ment about whe­ther the approach still fits the goal, to ask the others for help, but also to offer them help and to step in for them in an emer­gen­cy, the more effi­ci­ent the team alre­a­dy is. In the sen­se of 1+1 equ­als 3, 4 or even 5.

A group that works tog­e­ther in this way, auto­ma­ti­cal­ly has strong per­so­nal rela­ti­onships that deve­lop as a side effect of mutu­al app­re­cia­ti­on, sup­port, open com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on and a shared sen­se of achie­ve­ment. On this basis, the group can also find spon­ta­neous and fle­xi­ble solu­ti­ons to sur­pri­ses and cri­ses and even learn from failures.

Lea­der­ship in this form of effec­ti­ve col­la­bo­ra­ti­on is a kind of meta-management that is limi­t­ed to ensu­ring the func­tio­ning of the group as a who­le and impro­ving its per­for­mance. By brin­ging in infor­ma­ti­on and resour­ces from out­side, naming and explai­ning goals, pro­mo­ting the respec­ti­ve skills and try­ing to resol­ve con­flicts and sur­pri­ses quickly.

If you find yours­elf – unex­pec­ted­ly or unin­ten­tio­nal­ly – in a frag­men­ted zom­bie col­la­bo­ra­ti­on, it’s best to always talk to ever­yo­ne about the com­mon goal, encou­ra­ge your col­le­agues to sol­ve tasks tog­e­ther, offer them help and ask them for sup­port when dif­fi­cul­ties ari­se. As soon as this under­stan­ding sets an exam­p­le, chan­ge and the tran­si­ti­on to real col­la­bo­ra­ti­on beco­mes possible.


Image: / Josh Calabrese

Ger­man version