Ever own an ant farm growing up? If you did—or if you've seen just about any nature special on TV—you know that the dedicated specialization of an ant colony is a sight to behold. Our own evolutionary path would be very different without the power of collaboration that's found virtually everywhere in the natural world.
Your office, though, might be another story. While the vogue for collaborative tools and workspaces is still in full force, so is the chorus of detractors who argue that too much interconnectedness makes for more distraction than anything else. And when it comes to certain kinds of tasks, that's frequently true. But the outcomes of our work, more broadly speaking, more often benefit from team effort.
It doesn't matter how smart or savvy we are when it comes to technology, product development, or any single skill we possess. Nobody succeeds for long in a silo. Whatever our ventures—personal, professional, philanthropic, political, or private—we can't forget all the people who are involved in and essential to our success.
That's something that highly successful people know and internalize. We can simply learn more and apply new insights better when we put our proverbial heads together. According to a survey conducted by Piirus, a staggering 91% of academic researchers agreed that collaboration increases research impact, and 94% were interested in interdisciplinary collaboration. Those who succeed learn from their mistakes and from the people around them. What's more, they don't forget it's impossible to anticipate who they may inspire or influence, or who may wind up inspiring them—that today's stranger may be tomorrow's partner. Here are four reasons why the most successful people are top-notch collaborators.
When decision making and risk taking are shared among a group of people striving toward the same goal, it's typically easier to achieve the optimal outcome faster. When we share our efforts and knowledge with others, we create communities that can rally around a good idea and rush in to question a bad one before it goes awry.
Of course, as any anthropologist, sociologist, historian, or schoolteacher can tell you, groups sometimes make terrible decisions together. But as long as their cultures are strong and democratic in spirit, the interconnections among individuals generally help expose ideas to analysis and criticism. Perspectives we wouldn’t have encountered otherwise can emerge and cross-pollinate. Growth becomes collective rather than cloistered.
As the philosopher David Hume famously wrote, "Your corn is ripe today; mine will be so tomorrow. 'Tis profitable for us both, that I should labour with you today, and that you should aid me tomorrow."
Despite different circumstances, we can still find mutual alignment. In many collaborative situations, we tend to perform a specialized role for the good of the group—just think of that ant colony. The group thrives precisely because everyone isn't doing the exact same thing, not in spite of that. It simply organizes everyone's unique contribution, making sure that one person's effort complements another's.
Highly successful people understand the potential as well as the limits of becoming a specialist; they know that by engaging with each other—and trading specialized knowledge—we can become more than the sum of our parts.
As more people work remotely, and as external contractors drive the gig economy, important ideas are coming more and more from people who don't work in the same physical space as you do. That's making some of the more clearly defined hierarchies within companies a little bit fuzzier. And while it doesn't mean the end of the "org chart" entirely—or the waning days of leadership itself—it does mean that success will hinge on greater flexibility.
One way that successful people in the modern workplace can take advantage of these changes is by embracing collaboration, for instance through flexible talent clusters. It's simply no longer as common for decisions to be made through a clear-cut chain of command, and to thrive, we'll need to adapt to that.
To collaborate with others, we often need to inspire and influence them, not just share information back and forth. Motivational leaders know how to create a sense of self-worth in their teams by making them feel good about the work they're doing together. Those who mostly work independently don't have that burden, but they may not share in the same rewards as a result.
Knowing how to motivate others is the key to connecting with them. Without that connection, there's no working toward a common goal. People fall back into their silos, and specialized knowledge doesn't have anyplace to go—there's no broader objective to serve. The most successful collaborators understand how to communicate respectfully and accurately. Paying heed to emotions makes for better mutual understanding, especially when the people you're collaborating with don't directly report to you—which is arguably becoming more common.
It doesn't matter what we do, where we do it, or how well we can create a product or offer a service. In order to succeed, we need to effectively create partnerships with many others around us. That way, when we put our heads down and push through a solo task, we'll know exactly what it's for—and that we aren't really alone in our work at all.
Serial entrepreneur Faisal Hoque is the founder of Shadoka, which enables entrepreneurship, growth, and social impact. He is the author of Everything Connects: How to Transform and Lead in the Age of Creativity, Innovation, and Sustainability (McGraw-Hill) and other books. Use the Everything Connects leadership app for free.
Copyright (c) 2016 by Faisal Hoque. All rights reserved.