Serendipitous Collaboration

As we discuss the future of work, of how we do in-person, remote and hybrid it is critical to think about how modern knowledge work is highly networked and collaborative and benefits from social serendipity through social networks and access to people with complementary expertise. Value is often created in an ecosystemic way and through social networks, and as we determine new ways of working it is important to consider how we will allow social serendipity while at the same time creating flexibility.

Frequent, informal, spontaneous interactions in collocated work environments enable cohesive relationships and increases social awareness. There are four major types of collaboration that stem from social serendipity:

Collaboration-asDefinitionExamples
Intellectual generositySharing ideas freely with others for the advancement of the organizationFree exchange of ideas
MentorshipWorking with less experienced colleagues to encourage and support developmentGiving feedback
CommunicationDisseminating knowledge and visionPresenting results
PerformativityWorking with others to solve problems and improve performanceProblem-solving teams

As we evaluate our organizations, build and sustain teams, we should be looking for ways to enhance the ability to have social serendipity, enshrining this as part of our team norms.

Changes stems from learning from mistakes

As we build quality culture we need to question our basic assumptions and build new principles of every day interactions. At the heart of this sits a culture where change is viewed as a good thing.

Willingness to change

To what extent are employees willing to continuously review and adapt their own behavior in response to a changing environment? The ideal scenario is for the entire workforce to be willing to change. This willingness to change should not be confined to situations where changes are already being implemented. It means that people should look at environment with open eyes, recognize when there is an opportunity or a need for change and initiate the relevant actions themselves. Willingness to change should be the first principle of culture and is a key enabler of the popular concept often called agility.

Learning Culture

To what extent do employees think that their actions should be guided by data- and fact-based knowledge? The term “knowledge” encompasses any knowledge acquired through targeted observation, by chance, through data-based analysis or from practical experience.

Willingness to make mistakes

Learning cultures attach great importance to mistakes. These organizations have understood that learning and change processes can only be triggered by mistakes. Mistakes provide an opportunity to gain a better understanding of the company’s processes and uncover previously unknown cause-and-effect relationships.

The way an organization deals with mistakes is therefore a key aspect of its culture. Two fundamentally different approaches to mistakes exist.

  • A negative attitude towards mistakes is reflected in a strategy based on the systematic avoidance of errors, strict penalties for making mistakes and the correction of errors as rapidly and unobtrusively as possible. Employees of companies where this culture prevails are not usually willing to disclose mistakes. This attitude inhibits their willingness to change.
  • On the other hand, a culture that recognizes the value of mistakes is characterized by open discussion of mistakes when they occur, systematic error documentation and a determination to find both the causes of the mistakes and their solutions. When investigating mistakes, it is critical to focus on understanding the causes rather than on finding out who is to blame.

Openness to Innovation

Openness to innovation and new ways of doing things is an important capability that is required in order to initiate change and adopt the right measures, even if they may sometimes be rather unconventional.

Social Collaboration

An environment characterized by trust and social relationships provides the basis for open, uninhibited knowledge sharing between employees. Social collaboration, helps to accelerate knowledge sharing within the organization. Good strong social networks build resilience and enable the ability to change.

Open Communication

In order for companies to respond rapidly and to be able to effectively change, employees need to have access to the necessary explicit and implicit knowledge. While explicit knowledge can be provided through the appropriate communication technology, the sharing of implicit knowledge calls for direct communication between the people who possess the knowledge and the people seeking it.

An effective organization needs to abandon the “us and them” mentality. Employees have acquired the capability of open communication if, having taken on board the fact that openly sharing knowledge and working together to achieve a vision increases the total sum of knowledge, they then also act
accordingly. Once the organization’s entire workforce is willing to share knowledge with everyone, it becomes possible to significantly accelerate learning processes within the company.

What Does This Look Like?

Social collaboration exists between employees and with customers and partners. Confidence in systems and processes results in high process stability. People are willing to document their acquired knowledge and share it with others. The democratic leadership style values people for the contribution they make and there is a culture of open communication. The workforce is both receptive and willing to change. They learn systematically from the captured data, are open to innovative approaches and participate in shaping change processes. Employees are also conscious of the need to continuously develop their skills and competencies. While mistakes are still made, people recognize that they are valuable because they have the potential to trigger improvements.

Where we need to be