My Future of Work Research Consortium (FoW) recently held a focus group call to gain an in-depth understanding of the challenges faced by Consortium companies when building a collaborative architecture. What struck me was that that in most organisations the architecture (that is, the people practices and organisational culture) seems to be set up to leverage employees’ self-interested nature. However, recent research in evolutionary biology, psychology, and economics suggests that people behave far more cooperatively than we have assumed for decades. Neuroscientists have even found neural evidence of a human predisposition to cooperate. The fact that most people are ‘wired to cooperate’ can also be seen through the emerging trend of collaborative consumption: people are now sharing and exchanging all kinds of assets, from money to cars to skills, in ways and on a scale never possible before, for example through Wikipedia and Airbnb. In an article published in 2013 called Human Cooperation, David Rand and Martin Nowak used a series of experiments to determine whether or not people are innately cooperative. Their results indicated that when making decisions rapidly, people are more likely to be cooperative than selfish – the intuitive decision is almost always cooperation. Most of the FoW members who joined our focus group call agreed with this view and felt that the breakdown of collaboration in companies was due to the organisational architecture.
The architecture of most organisations today is based on individual accountability despite the fact that most work is collaborative and that people are innately cooperative. For example, work flows and decision processes in organisations are not typically designed to reflect the collaborative nature of work and innovation. Similarly, talent management practices tend to focus on individual competencies and experiences, while overlooking the critical importance of an employee’s networks and collaborative achievements. The challenge for organisations today is to build new architectures that help employees embrace their collaborative sentiments for the benefit of the business.
From the discussions on the call and my own research in this area, it seems there are several questions that organisations need to consider when building a collaborative architecture:
Does the structure of the organisation support knowledge creation, transfer and sharing? How does the organisation build valuable networks and communities across the various departments and functions?
The Culture and Values
Is the culture of the organisation based on empathy, solidarity, transparency and fairness? Is the culture of the organisation predicated less on rules and more on social norms?
The People Practices and Processes
What are the variables for which performance is appraised and rewarded? How does the organisation engage global and diverse talent?
How does the organisation train employees to work collaboratively? What are the tools that support collaborative working? How does the organisation create interesting work that has meaning both in terms of personal development and values?
The Leaders and Top Team
What are the experiences, characteristics, aspirations and visions of the top team? How diverse is the leadership? How has the leadership contributed to the success of the organisation’s collaborative architecture?
There is undoubtedly much more that could be said about building a collaborative architecture, and our next Future of Work Masterclass – taking place on 3rd February 2015 – will focus on The Collaborative Imperative. We will broaden the conversation and, together with expert guest speakers and panellists, will design the way forward for building successful collaborative architectures.