In our organizations, people are working virtually more and more often. Despite distances, team members need to work together effectively and productively, sharing and combining their insights and knowledge. Everyone needs to be clear about who knows what so they can rely on each other and work together effectively. Sharing and integrating knowledge is essential for creating innovative products and services. To be effective, teams need to use collaborative technology AND they need to communicate clearly and often, interacting in ways that develop relationships and attain results.
At the intersection of technology and teamwork, people come together and, as they generate and share knowledge, their dynamic interactions become a creative force. As teams develop strong relationships, collective energies are put into action. Technology focuses and streamlines how work is accomplished, ensures accountability for actions and results, and provides systems that can help teams continually improve. Good conversations align actions and develop relationships that move the work forward smoothly.
IT systems and collaboration technologies provide the framework for knowledge generation and sharing. Real gains in productivity are realized when collaborative technology plus effective team communications are interwoven, open, and responsive.
Globally-dispersed teams struggle to work together well and accomplish their goals. Risks can develop when teams have conflicts or misunderstandings that inhibit collaboration. Lack of collaboration delays products and services from getting to market on time and on budget and makes development more confusing, complicated, and costly.
Collective practices for learning, knowledge creation, and knowledge sharing can under-gird team processes, enabling effectiveness whenever cultural, geographic, or generational differences exist.
Here are four ways knowledge workers can improve how their collaboration:
- Externalize and share knowledge. Individuals need to express what they know and share it rather than hoard or own it, distributing their knowledge among dispersed team members in conversations and through collaboration technologies.
- Interpret and analyze information. Team members take in new knowledge and information from each other and associate it with what they already know, linking what they are learning to their cognitive maps and frameworks. This is both an individual and collective effort. When teams gain the capacity to think together, they develop shared understanding, which enables them to create and align more effective actions.
- Negotiate and revise collective understandings. In this step, team members bounce ideas around, question each other’s assumptions, and search for shared meaning. Through this process they redefine what they know, create innovative solutions, and collaborate to implement their solutions.
- Combine and create new knowledge. Team members create new neural connections and cognitive maps as they spark each other’s thinking. This is a generative space of co-creation that is a collective process of combining and integrating knowledge. This space generates innovation. When teams are able to synthesize and integrate knowledge, their collective capacity to think together begins to hum with excitement and potentiality.
All of these steps are dependent on productive and skillful team communications. Team members need to listen well to actively advocate and support their ideas, stating their perspectives and making a case for them. Teams need to learn how to inquire, seeking understanding and knowledge by asking questions and pursuing a dialogue. They also need to practice reflecting together, carefully considering where they are, what is happening, or what has occurred during the conversation.
As teams practice and learn how to think together, they increase their innovative potential. By using technology to track agreements and decisions, action items and accomplishments, and to host and share written documents, teams are able to increase their collaboration. When teams use technology well and are able to think together, they are able to continually improve relationships and results.
Helping diverse and dispersed teams to be successful is important and challenging work. Effective team communications and collaborative technology create a potent field of innovation as teams and technology interweave and connect dispersed team members.