Effective Collaboration Takes Practice

    Collaboration is hard, yet an increasingly valued skill in the workplace. In a recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management that my colleague Don Tennant wrote about, teamwork/collaboration ranked the fourth-most-common skill gap among high-tech job applicants.

    Meanwhile, employers recruiting on college campuses surveyed by the National Association of Colleges and Employers listed the ability to work with others as their most-sought-after skill.

    Yet, the inability — or unwillingness — to share information across the organization can be the biggest impediment to success with Big Data, David Foote, co-founder and CEO of market research firm Foote Partners told me recently. And though my colleague Loraine Lawson continues to sound warnings against building data silos, she tends to see the human nature in “protecting” what’s “yours” at a departmental level.

    A piece at Harvard Business Review, though, points to the training kids get in K-12 school as part of the problem (Isn’t everything blamed on that?). The author uses the alleged cheating by 125 Harvard students who collaborated on an exam last spring as an example. In my mind, the professor created a casual culture of sharing class notes — he told students he didn’t care if they missed lectures — and working together on the take-home exam — then came down hard on them later. Some students who have graduated and moved away to take jobs now are being told their degrees may be rescinded.

    The author quotes Morton Hansen, a professor at the University of California- Berkeley and INSEAD in France, and author of  “Collaboration,” as saying:

    Our education system is a key reason for our lack of skills in collaborating effectively. This is now out of sync with today’s world of work. We do not emphasize collaborative skills and teamwork much in education, from K-12 to high school to college. It is an afterthought, it seems. Learning how to work well with others should be as important as learning math or accounting.

    The article also points to Montessori education, a method dear to my heart, as turning out children better able to think critically, innovate and be creative. I remember the Montessori teacher when my son was in first grade talking telling me that one of the areas of focus with him was working with others. To put it mildly, he wasn’t good at it.

    But as the HBR article puts it:

    If working together can be considered a crime for the first 22 years of your life, perhaps it’s not unreasonable to assume that you won’t be very good at it when you graduate.

    Obviously, we all have a lot of work to do at all levels.

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