7 Different Paths to Corporate Collaboration & Innovation

With spending on collaborative software at a YOY increase of 42.4% headed towards the Y2016 Market Size of $4.5B, it is safe to conclude that collaboration in the work environment is becoming more and more and more of a priority. It's an indication that improved collaboration in the corporate environment reveals stronger bottom lines.

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With spending on collaborative software at a YOY increase of 42.4% headed towards the Y2016 Market Size of $4.5B, it is safe to conclude that collaboration in the work environment is becoming more and more and more of a priority. It's an indication that improved collaboration in the corporate environment reveals stronger bottom lines. Why is this thought pervasive? It's because we live in an idea economy, and ideas are birthed out of diversity- diversity in background, channels, experience, language, etc. Getting diversity to work together is difficult, but not impossible. There are many theoretical/psychological methods of accomplishing it (common ground, managerial training, but there are also some tangible methods that your company can start doing today.


1. Move All the Tables and Chairs

Proximity is an important proponent of collaboration. Being social creatures, while not an automatic habit, proximity forces individuals to seek clarity.  

Mr. Waber says a worker's immediate neighbors account for 40% to 60% of every interaction that worker has during the workday, from face-to-face chats to email messages. There is only a 5% to 10% chance employees are interacting with someone two rows away, according to his data, which is culled from companies in the retail, pharmaceutical and finance industries, among others. - Wall Street Journal

Removing physical barriers to collaboration can almost instantly force communication. Having too much open space however can hinder effective collaboration however. Balance is important because formulating ideas requires focus and alone time, while developing ideas is improved with group influence.

85% of workers seek space without distraction while 52% say they don't have it. - Harvard Business Review


By providing open space with movable tables and chairs, and simple unassigned workrooms that can fit one or two people, you can strike that balance. Some companies attempt to provide a variation of office styles that incorporate the objectives of the space: productivity, ideation & innovation, etc.

The open space should not be far from the workrooms. Adding resources to it can serve as a way to draw individuals out of their workrooms. Resources can include:

Issues may still arise however. Handling noise volume, group think because of strong personalities, and cross-departmental communication will still be considerations for improvement.

2. One Stop Shop Intranet

Spending increases shows that this is already seen as an investment for the corporate world.

“The more information you have on it [the Intranet] the more inclined they [people] would be to contact more people. It wakens up interest and makes you aware of things.” - Random corporate employee

Having a portal that combines e-mail, social media, customer engagement, human resources, department decisions, corporate goals & activities, employee resource portals, and corporate performance is essential. This type of infrastructure can assist with rapid deployment. Many times it takes multiple levels of approval to get one thing out, and an intranet can help ease the burden of making multiple presentations on the same thing. 

As with any software, there are multiple providers. They key is to avoid some of these issues:

Intranets can be a great solution however, issues that will still arise will include a lack of utility, frustration with usability, lack of sincerity around its value, replacement of face to face with face to screen. 

3. A Safe Get Away Space

Clear out a closet. Add some pillows, a speaker dock,  a timer, and a small dim light. Allow people to sign-up to use the space at specific times, and let the list renew everyday. Allowing your employees to de-fragment, realign, or just rest will go a long way for productivity. By empowering your employees to de-stress in the way that matters to them, they will be more prepared to engage with other employees.

An issue may be that this won't directly translate into collaboration as it lacks the direct engagement of employees with other employees.

4. Company Hackathon

It's the modern-day brainstorming session - a collaborative event filled with high energy, rewards, and free stuff. You can either present problems to employees to fix or let them identify their own and develop solutions. Individuals break into teams, and teams compete for prizes. The company hackathon delivers high autonomy, high impact & comprehensive results, tangible outcomes, new ideas, rapid deployment, brand fortification, friendly competition, and forced collaboration. 

Hackathons thus far have amounted to over $1B increase in revenues, multiple new products, with one company topping at 45 new products, and average a 50% idea adoption rate.

There can be a decent amount of pitfalls if not treated seriously during planning,but all in all, a hackathon can be jolt of energy that allows a company to leap into a collaborative mindset. Pitfalls can include:

5. A Thinking Room

I was once told, "We don't pay people here to just sit around and think."

My reaction was, "why not?" Companies should spend a little more time doing some thinking than just immediately acting- at least my mother always told me to "Think before you speak".

Due to the highly competitive environment that a company must function within, they tend to become overly occupied with quotas, metrics, performance, etcetera, even to their detriment. These incentive based quotas many times result in skewed earnings indicators, unexpected activities, and poor client management.The issues that result are rarely trickled down to the employee level except as a mandate to "do more activities". 

In this chaos, however, there is an opportunity for innovation. Employees are hands-on with their jobs and roles, and can actually develop resolutions for issues that occur in the day to day or even create long-term fixes that change entire corporate processes, but these ideas don't often make it out to the open. Any good idea takes time and reform and iteration, but that kind of thought doesn't take place under pressure. It occurs in dark rooms, after power naps, or once the mind is cleared from other pressing issues. Focusing too much on immediate outcomes can stifle creativity, because many of these metrics are short-term based. Whereas, risk/innovation requires long-term outlook.

Creating a safe retreat space where someone can "think" and get paid for it, will help foster a collaborative environment that is more effective than under traditional circumstances. Employees should be able to question the action/direction of a company because they may very well be able to provide insight in an area where little has been provided.

While a thinking room can be very much like a meditation room, the difference here is that the room comes equipped with brainstorming tools. Having these rooms available will foster your employees' ability to make plans around their ideas.

Side Note: Employees may choose to work on non-company oriented activities, but this can be construed in both a positive an a negative light. Allowing your employees space to problem solve improves their ability to do so regardless of the context and by working on their own problems, it can increase their overall happiness which is linked to productivity (by about 31%-37%).

An issue may be that this won't directly translate into collaboration as it lacks the direct engagement of employees with other employees.

6. Employee-Driven Brainstorming Sessions

Innovation should not be reserved for one person, or one team. Innovation should be a part of an employee's corporate identity. Offer incentives for employees holding brainstorm meetings that yield tangible outcomes. Incentive programs can be carried out through: 

Do not simply reward people on the number of meetings, but on the quality of those meetings.

7. Highlight the Teams

Many times we send out messages highlighting an employee. Their idea, their community service, their corporate achievements, employee of the month, highest sales, etc. If you want to see more collaboration, your company has to express it's value in groups- how certain teams worked together, how departments collaborated, or how well a team performed. The trends state:

By highlighting teams as much as individuals, it sends a message that the company understands no activity is done in a vacuum -that it took many people to get something to happen, and all should be given accolades for it. This only works if teams are fluid (changing due to the demands of the challenge). Also, at the end of the day, the company is a team. So even when a team "wins", there are other teams that "the win" now involves (implementation, follow up, improvement), and this concept is not foreign to the work environment. By offering prizes, awards, or mentions to teams, you begin cultivating a sense of community and team effort through highlighting teamwork.

Granted, this concept is far from tested in the corporate environment, but from personal experience, I've been a part of many competitions throughout my life. Many of them stressed teamwork so highly, that the awards given for the teams were valued more highly by the recipients than those given to the individuals. It represented a concerted effort, and these lessons became habits that I apply every chance I get. This mentality plays out in sports as well. Could it work in the corporate world? -  I think it's fair enough to plant to the seeds.

Of course there are more...

So, there are many more paths to collaboration in the corporate world, but these are my top 7. If you have more, feel free to share them in the comments section.

About Jerica Richardson:

Jerica Richardson is the author of LP25: Influence- a book about directing influence on yourself and your surroundings. She is also the co-founder of PEAR'd, with products specifically catered to increasing the effectiveness of collaboration. Her role includes tech development, marketing, and business strategy. She is also the founder of her consulting firm, Friendly Advice. She is a graduate from Georgia Institute of Technology with a degree in Biomedical Engineering.

Connect with me @JMtheAdvocate