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Improving Collaboration: Start with Relationships

This is my second blog in a multi-part series.  In my first blog, I introduced insights from Cisco’s Collaboration Work Practice Study and how people value collaboration in the work environment.  In today’s blog, I discuss how building relationships helps foster collaboration.

At its very core, collaboration is about people. This isn’t a new concept. Humankind has been coming together for centuries to collaboratively solve problems, and in that respect, today is no different. What has changed are the ways in which people collaborate.

One of the things we discovered through the Cisco Collaborative Work Practice Study is that people desire relationships and strong partnerships with the people with whom they work. Building relationships and networks that lead to trust is a fundamental element of successful collaboration.  Nearly every participant in the study agreed, and many indicated these relationships as the most critical factor.

Creating trust and relationships goes beyond just putting people together in a work environment. While you can interact successfully by getting to know the work styles of colleagues, customers, and partners, your collaboration can reach a whole new level when people get to know each other on a personal level. This “human element” came across very strongly in the study and should be a key consideration for any company looking for ways to enhance collaboration.

Cisco Collaboration Work Practice Study Executive Summary

Executive Summary

“The essence of collaboration is working together with people, communicating openly, and not losing the human elements and interaction,” explained one participant. “Once you develop a personal relationship with somebody, your work becomes more collaborative.”

Changing Nature of Working Relationships

The number of people we interact with in our work lives has increased, along with the number of ways in which we interact. Now, instead of most people being in the same building or down the hall, they’re all over the world. Until recently, most business interactions probably centered around documents –such as email, reports, and spreadsheets – and work centered around our desks. These interactions work for serial back-and-forth communications, but in today’s hyper-connected world, that’s no longer realistic. Business moves too quickly, structures are less rigid, and the rapid growth of mobile devices in the workplace is resulting in people wanting the capability to use any device, anywhere, and any time they like.

Cisco Collaboration Work Practice Study Full Report

Full Report

When you strip away everything else and get to the core of collaboration, the real value is people interacting with information and each other – in real time. In our study, participants most often sought out face-to-face interaction. But in-person meetings aren’t always possible or cost effective. So, how do you make these connections when the dynamics of the workplace have completely changed?

“People don’t want computers. They want to relate, share, communicate, enjoy, learn, discover, analyze, and create,” according to Gartner. As the range of collaboration tools continues to broaden – phone, instant message, video, social media – we have more ways to interact, resulting in the trust and strong partnerships that lead people to achieve extraordinary things together.

As a result of building relationships and making connections through a wide diversity of interactions, you’re also able to grow your network of contacts. You can leverage this network as a critical resource to identify and connect with experts, socialize a new idea, or even explore career development opportunities. Our study participants identified their networks as valuable in successfully driving collaborative initiatives, especially when it required pulling together a team or solving an issue. A new connection in your network can also lead to future opportunities to collaborate and partner.

Building Relationships:  Best Practices

To foster relationships, build trust, and enhance collaborative interactions within your organization, consider the following best practices:

  • Keep sight of the “human element” when considering opportunities to enhance successful collaboration.
  • Invest time in building relationships and provide tools and technologies that help people both connect and learn more about each other.
  • Encourage employees to develop personal networks and to expand beyond their immediate circle of co-workers.
  • Use video technologies to emulate face-to-face interaction when in-person meetings aren’t possible, especially in the early stages of building relationships.
  • Bring the human element to the physical and virtual environment. Consider things that create a more comfortable, personal, and engaging environment for collaborators, such as video conference vs. just a phone conference and incorporating social activities when you do meet in person.

At Cisco, we know that building collaboration solutions is less about the technology itself and more about putting people at the center – focusing on what you need to do to achieve business goals. We see and value how collaboration technology helps build trust and partnerships among colleagues, customers, and partners, which in turn enables you to transform your business in ways you never thought possible.

What’s top of mind for you? How can improving collaboration help accelerate your business?


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