Photo by Perry Grone on Unsplash.
Collaboration is shaping up as one of those extremely vital skills of the future knowledge worker economy. Yet how many students are taught explicitly how to collaborate and work effectively as a team. What is your level of collaboration? Do you know? And if we need it, how do we improve it?
Collaboration: A Vital Skill for Future Success
The first questions we need to engage with here is:
- What will the future look like?
- How is the present changing?
- What do we need to be aware of going forward? For ourselves, for our children and for the generations of the future?
As a new parent and as a teacher, these are the questions I am constantly asking myself.
New World Economy
Over the last two decades, the world has changed so much. The economy and workforce of the now is so different to what it was like back in the industrial age, and going further on into the technological knowledge age, it will only continue to change.
As a result, the future, even the present, is an interesting thing to comprehend. And as a parent, a teacher, a human connected to the global and local communities, I feel it is a strong duty to start to conceive what we need to do.
So what does the future look like?
Basically, the future is technological, it is knowledgeable, it is fluid and it is more individual.
By which I mean, individuals will need to be more aware of their situation and responsible for themselves. It appears the days of the benevolent father government or company may be on the way out. No longer will workers be able to simply sign on to the company, do their 30-40 years service and retire blissfully ignorant. (I know that’s a gross over simplification, but it does highlight a trend.) Workers will now need to be more aware of their financial position now and in the future.
The other trends seem obvious. Technology will replace most manual and menial jobs, meaning a greater proportion of the human workforce will need to adapt to a higher level service and knowledge employment.
Other trends we see are the fluidity of employment. The idea of being blessed with a job for life is a thing of the past. Know we see employers being a lot more interested in having a more fluid and changeable workforce; trends like outsourcing and underemployment show a change in the nature of staff organization. But also for employees, who more and more see the lifelong job as more a prison and less a blessing.
(For a more detailed answer to this question check out my article: How to Prepare for the Future and Develop the Skills You Need.)
What these trends seem to indicate:
Younger generations will need to be more educated, literate, adaptable, self-reliant, responsible, and more resilient than ever before.
So what skills will these employees need for the future?
From my dive into this whole area of future gazing, there are many skills we need. But to keep things simple, to have a basic framework that we can build on, the 4 C’s appear to be the basic skills we need to adopt to succeed in the economy and work place of the future.
- Critical thinking
(For more on the 4C’s: Soft Skills Education: Education for Future Success)
In the modern economy, we will need to be well practiced at collaboration. As companies become more stream lined, and adopt more flat operations, our ability to slip in and collaborate with pre-established, or rapidly formed teams will be essential. Our ability to communicate with these teams, often very rapidly and across discourses or languages, will need to ensure we can convey meaning and understand information quickly and accurately. And given the nature of the modern knowledge/service economy, and the problems we will be faced with, critical thinking and creativity will absolutely be vital skills to navigate the world of the now and the not too distant future.
These are vital skills!
How do we develop them and how do we teach them?
This article will focus on collaboration as the first vital skill required in the modern economy. The other three will be examined in time.
We already teach collaboration. We already work in teams and we all have developed our own definitions and understanding of team work.
Some of us have thought about it more, and some consider it natural.
You may very well be an expert and have a much more advanced definition of what collaboration and team work means. But at its most basic level, collaboration means our ability to work with others to achieve a goal.
Now, sometimes we do this very well and sometimes we do this very poorly. And I think the problem, the reason why we don’t do it well all the time, is because team work is not something that is really done, or taught, explicitly. I would imagine a huge proportion of the population could graduate high school having never studied team work or leadership.
Schools obviously use teamwork. But more often than not we simply throw people together and see what happens. In the worst case scenario, no one knows what to do and nothing gets done. Or at another level, the ‘leaders’ ‘step-up’ and lead the job and the others follow along, or give up and let the leader do it all. And occasionally, a team will gel and things will go to a higher level.
So going forward, how do we make that final scenario, the highly effective team, more common and less of a happy accident?
Collaboration: How do we teach it as a skill?
Firstly, a team is made up of individuals. And a team must be made of committed individuals. Individuals need to be firstly responsible for bringing ideas to the group. So we need to begin with having capable, responsible and reliable individuals.
Next, these individuals need to understand how a team works effectively. They need to know how to join a team and how to establish roles and systems for good management. Quite often we just throw people together and things happen. And when a group magically develops synergy we are impressed, but we don’t actively look for the formula of how to repeat it.
I don’t have the answer, but he’s my initial formula I’m trying with my classes in order to come to some formula for building great collaborations in every situation.
Collaboration: Explicitly engaging with the idea of teamwork
The first and most important job is to start the discussion. Get your team to start asking those questions.
Like what makes a good team:
So even after very quick research, they should come up with ideas like the following:
“The five functions are trust, conflict management, commitment, accountability and focusing on results. To have a functioning team, one thing is a must and that is Trust. Trust is the foundation of a good team. Trust is about being vulnerable.”Caloteens
So we can see there are many things we need to establish to have a good team. First of all being trust. In the school setting we can work on all these things in a pastoral capacity, and we really must. But we will need to have these discussions about what helps to develop trust and commitment? And what is conflict management?
To read more about trust: Trust: The Secret Weapon to Power-up You Business.
Building on these ideas:
- We need to throw the individuals together and get them to very seriously and explicitly answer these questions.
- What makes a great team?
- What is the responsibility of individuals in a team?
- What should be the rules to encourage great teamwork?
- How do we solve conflicts?
- How do we decide on solutions?
- What are the roles in a good team?
There are a million different ways to build a good team, and as each team is unique, the way to develop good collaboration is for the team itself to establish its mode of operation.
By answering these questions, the individuals will start to define their organization and develop the procedures that will allow the team to build towards synergy and effective achievement of a goal.
Once the team has outlined the way they want to operate it is time to develop the mechanics of a good team.
Collaboration: Roles of a team
This will raise questions like: What is a leader? And how do we select a leader? What are the other roles? How do we encourage others to get involved? How do we build synergy by having clearly defined roles?
The roles of a good team:
“Researcher R. Meredith Belbin came up with nine team roles through a study conducted at Henley Management College. He identified the team roles after observing the behavioral tendencies of individuals within a group. The team roles consist of three categories: action-oriented roles, people-oriented roles and thought-oriented roles. Teams formed on the basis of Belbin’s categories are effective in achieving their objectives because there are no overlapping roles or missing qualities in the team.”smallbusiness.chron.com
“The nine Belbin team roles are: shaper, implementer, completer/finisher, coordinator, team worker, resource investigator, monitor-evaluator, specialist roles and plants role.”smallbusiness.chron.com
This may even work for a classroom team. However, I would simplify the roles.
Simplified roles of a Good Team:
The leader needs to know his/her job is not to own everything and do everything. The leader’s job is to create a good team. That means, more often than not, being decisive, finding the path that supports all members, taking responsibility and charge to keep the task moving forward and being a servant to the rest of the group.
To develop efficiency, efficacy and synergy, a team needs to be aware of strengths and weaknesses of its units. They also need to have a plan that directs the members of the team to work as a unified whole in auctioning and implementing a project. And so a coordinator is necessary to guide the actions of the team.
A team works best when everyone is engaged and supported. That does not always happen naturally. And so a great role to include is to have a team worker. Who is the one on your team who will actively get the quiet voices to contribute? Who will see the problems and act before there is problems and issues? Who cares enough to help out the weaker players who need assistance?
Research roles, behind the scenes roles, the details and small things roles. These are important. They don’t get all the credit. But if everyone in the group is working on research, the other big jobs get forgotten – like the execution and presentation elements. Everyone wants to dive into the research, lost in mountains of information. This should be specialized and the other jobs need to be focused on other areas, while relying on that specialist for that job.
Each job, or problem, or mission, will have special jobs that need to be done. Do we take the time for everyone in the group to up skill and learn those jobs, or do we delegate those special jobs and get people to focus all their attention on doing the, right, while freeing up the rest of the team to focus on the other jobs that they can strive to do better and better. Obviously, I believe in specialization, though I am aware others could argue it differently.
- Always be aware that there is overlap.
- Key roles include the leader – not to do everything, but to build a team.
- The team worker – to get everyone involved and make everyone accountable.
- The coordinator – to plan and execute the mission of the team and to continually evaluate
- One of the key jobs is evaluation – continual and summative
- The goal is effective achievement of a goal and development of synergy.
- Next step – repeat until random groups can achieve synergy, efficiency and efficacy with ease.
So as you can see, there is research, and perhaps getting the team to actively research the roles and come up with their own team list, roles, positions, may be an excellent way to begin.
Collaboration: How do we evaluate our team and how do we get better?
And once we have our teams conceptualized and organized, the next job is to do the job, work towards the goal, and work on evaluation.
- What are our systems and procedures? As we work
and after we have completed the job.
- Do we have a checklist? What should be on our checklist?
As you can see, there are so many thought processes that go into collaboration. And if we want to do it right, we can’t just throw people together and hope for the best.
Collaboration is a vital soft skill for the future economy.
More and more, we will need to be able to form productive and efficient working organizations in the new work forces of the future. Those who are unable to work effectively as part of a team may very well struggle to maintain a spot. And so for the future success of the younger generations, it’s extremely important that we make collaboration a key part of the curriculum.
It needs to become an explicit element of education.
Mission to Success
The mission for success is to take our life to the level of awesome. We are actively learning the lessons that will bring us more success, that will improve the future for our children and will help make the world a better place.
If that’s something you want for your life, feel free to come join the mission for success by clicking here: Mission for Success!
All the best, and remember to keep striving for success.