It's all about collaboration

Being able to collaborate better than the competition is gold in today’s globally competitive market: the most valuable differentiator; the greatest competitive advantage a firm can have; hard to copy or replicate. But such collaboration is pretty well impossible for conventional firms to achieve because the essential behaviours and attitudes are culturally alien; beyond the experience of people in most modern workplaces; contrary to the assumptions and practices of management.

To achieve collaboration requires the end of Management and the key to that is in transforming the way that people communicate at work. As change leader for university business students and SME owners and managers I realised that deep learning and change was continually derailed by deep seated tacit assumptions about knowledge and how to behave in organisations; how to behave at work; how to organise work.

I realised that I and my students, colleagues and clients are deeply imbued with a picture or organisation that is imprinted, learned and reinforced through industrial-age, synchronised education where experts have authority over “children”, requiring compliance in prescribed, synchronised, trivial ‘work’.

In the academic world, Business Schools have long been criticised for perpetuating outmoded, ineffective organisational behaviours, assumptions and practices. It’s only recently however, most noticeably post 2008 crash, that the more popular literature, The Wall Street Journal for example, has pronounced the “End of Management” and begun to seriously criticise and question the underpinning assumptions and the revered Harvard MBA model of business education has come in for public scrutiny and even some scorn.

Communication educators, this is your opportunity. Your mission, should you accept it, is to focus on enabling people to experience collaboration through changing the detail of their communication behaviour; changing the way they communicate with each other; the way that they generate shared meaning; the way they produce and implement organisational knowledge. The aim is to change radically the learning context, which is the organisational experience, from individualistic to collaborative.

Remember that student’s individualistic and content-based assumptions about achievement and learning will be deeply engrained and largely unconscious. They will find the transformation process deeply disturbing, at least initially. Expect them to project their anxiety, confusion, anger, and blame on to you. This anxiety and confusion is a necessary precursor to the transformation you aim to achieve.

Because students (and employees) typically adopt a highly instrumental approach to their work (that’s the way they’ve been trained) you must radically redesign the tasks and measures to specifically reward collaborative behaviour (as mutually assessed by team members). The effect of this is to motivate teams to move beyond the usual fake-team division of tasks. I predict that you will find, as I did, that students (and employees, and you) will be amazed at the quality they (and you) can achieve together and that they become natural collaborators without realising how different they are from conventional graduates. Issues such as racial bigotry, dependence of trivialised information (PowerPoint), passive/aggressive behaviour, withdrawal, boredom, laziness and shallow instrumentality, melt away and behaviour actually changes (real, deep learning). Students achieve real insight.

You will find that when your graduates enter employment their employers credit them with exceptional “intuition”, marvel at how rapidly they become project leaders and how engaged their project teams are. They seem to adapt to and flourish in their workplaces three times faster that A grade honours graduates in their fields: in 6-8 months they are achieving what conventionally taught graduates take two years to achieve. When they enter a new situation they don’t look to the boss for a clear set of instructions. They assume that they’re to figure that out through collaboration.

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