Simon Terry

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Hidden collaboration

We barely notice as collaboration improves our organisations.

A young and curious mind asked me today why we fall into step when we walk. My unscientific answer was that is what humans do because it makes it easier to walk together. Falling into step is one of those hidden moments of effective collaboration that we rarely notice.

Our organisations are full of hidden moments of human collaboration when we following good intentions, habit or unconscious behaviours to make things easier or better The Social Life of Information points out one example. Meetings & conversations work because of the silent collaborative language of waiting turns, signalling a desire to speak and calling for contributions. People offer help, take turns and otherwise collaborate because of the value of relationships and because it makes working together easier.

We are not the hyper rational goal driven actors of economics (& most performance management schemes) because human relationships require us to consider the value of a wider range of factors. Maintaining and strengthen the social fabric is important. The expected behaviours in any group become its culture and determine the value of that social fabric to any individual.

The pull of social relationships is far more powerful than edicts and posters calling for collaboration. Too many of these top-down collaboration strategies fail to account for human needs and the hidden collaboration already in place. Employees are right to ask: ‘why are you asking us to change the way we work when those behaviours are not required, not effective or not supported by other systems?’

Across your organisation now people are collaborating in these hidden human ways. There is far more collaboration than you can see or your organisation would not work. Enhancing the productivity and connection in the organisation is about celebrating the effective moments, encouraging more and removing the assumptions and systemic barriers that prevent the effective moments from spreading.


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