Insight is a new way of seeing a problem, a new awareness or understanding. It becomes possible when a problem is first recognized, then addressed and considered in different ways. Insight can lead to discovery and innovation and that is usually a good thing.
Writing teams are made up of people from various parts of an organization who all have different specialities. Members can offer multiple views of a problem. In theory, sharing these views sets the conditions for insight to occur. People working in teams or groups could gain insight from collaboration on one project, and what they learn could benefit another aspect of the organization’s business with process and product innovation.
Yet, in large teams, it is unlikely that collaboration will take place at all. This was the finding of research into team behaviour at 15 multinational organizations by Lynda Gratton and Tamara J. Erickson. It is described in “Eight Ways to Build Collaborative Teams,” in the Harvard Business Review of November 2007. In the absence of any other influences, members of large, complex teams are less likely
to share knowledge freely, to learn from one another, to shift workloads flexibly to break up unexpected bottlenecks, to help one another complete jobs and meet deadlines, and to share resources—in other words, to collaborate. They are less likely to say that they “sink or swim” together, want one another to succeed, or view their goals as compatible.
Let me know if collaboration at your large organization runs more smoothly. No organization I know of reaps the benefits of collaboration among staff without supporting it in meaningful ways. Gratton and Erickson describe eight ways to support collaboration, such as training, cultural shifts, leadership role models, building trust, and mentoring.
Their research shows that while there is an expectation in organizations that staff will work and write together, they are not actually doing much collaborating. Furthermore, if organizations are not supporting collaboration, they may not be prepared to manage and harness the energy it generates. It can be frustrating to gain insight and not be able to share it effectively. We may be involved in a team at any of five levels on the collaborative continuum:
- Networking is an exchange of information.
- Coordination is an informal sharing of information and activities for a common goal.
- Cooperation is a deeper integration of efforts and activities for a shared purpose.
- True collaboration is the fullest sharing of all project elements—aims, activities, risks, and rewards.
- Convergence is a mature collaboration, where the processes become routine and all elements are seamlessly integrated.
You can monitor what kind of teamwork is required of you based on the degree of sharing and activity integration you must provide. How fully do you need to share in the goal of the project? It has often been a surprise to me to find out that no one on a writing project has the same goals and target audience in mind as I do. I do some work to gain perspective on what others on the team understand is required of us: I ask others about the project’s aims; I may describe the aims the way I see things and listen to how others see things.
By asking about the expectations, we can learn a lot about what level is required and meet it accordingly. And if it is my role to manage the project, I check what kind of support there is for its aims. The support of the organization for a project and the collaborative effort to complete it creates the forum for sharing the insight gained during the process.
If the collaboration is not supported at other levels of the organization, the insight gained will not enrich the organization, its people, and its customers beyond the project itself. No one else learns, and that is not a winning proposition. An organization that supports collaboration ensures continuous learning for staff and its own survival.