From the first moon landing (which proved out-of-this-world ambitions can make the impossible possible) to the creation of the World Wide Web (transforming the way we connect and communicate), collaboration has always been the most effective way to achieve the big, the bold, and the beautiful — empowering those involved to deliver genuinely impactful solutions.
While cohesive technical expertise and project management practices play vital roles, the most critical factor in the successful delivery of such world-changing initiatives has always been a team’s ability to listen, communicate, empathize, and to make the best use of everyone’s knowledge and talents, across the entire project or initiative journey.
After conducting a series of research projects in the late 2000s — aimed at understanding why the September 11 attacks failed to be intercepted by the intelligence community — the CIA discovered that a team or group’s success is dependent on its ability to communicate effectively before moving forward. These studies ultimately led the CIA to rethink how the ‘intelligence’ of a group is measured.
The CIA proposed that the highest performing teams possess a collective intelligence, built and strengthened by effective communication and social dynamics between its members. Instead of simply averaging each team member’s individual skills and intelligence levels, the CIA recognized that the socialization of knowledge and information within and across the team led to far higher degrees of performance.
This concept of collective intelligence is simple, suggesting that groups of people, in whatever form, possess a level of intelligence and awareness, which is greater than the sum of each member’s individual attributes. The stronger the layers of social connectivity between the members, the greater the strength of the collective intelligence.
As teams the world over are realizing that their collective intelligence transcends countries, cultures, and climates, the potential for human connectivity is at an all-time high — supercharged by the birth and growth of social networks; mass globalization of our economies and supply chains; and a new willingness to work from anywhere.
The Need for Connectivity
Historically, small teams have been able to achieve success co-ordinating co-located within a single office, or a department in a larger organization. A slower pace of technological advancement and competitive disruption meant teams could generally focus on their core operation, product, or service without needing to reach far outside their bubble unless there was a major issue or crisis situation.
Change was slower, and teams could get by knowing what they knew. When multiple teams or functions had to work together, slow stage-gated ‘waterfall’ processes were used, where a project or initiative would be passed between departments, getting the appropriate feedback and approval at each point. Due to lower competitive pressures, organizations had the luxury of processing things in a more deliberate and focused manner, even if it meant taking more time.
In the face of growing global competitiveness, and the need to rapidly respond to new information and changing circumstances, organizations have embraced more agile approaches to work. These approaches encourage teams to think on their feet, constantly question their assumptions, and re-prioritize their efforts accordingly.
The number of people that workers connect and interact with has expanded beyond their immediate colleagues and local network. Knowledge workers may now need to communicate with clients, suppliers, and colleagues located in different parts of the world, as well as collaborate with increasingly remote team members.
According to a study by McKinsey Global Institute, the average knowledge worker spends around 28% of their workweek managing emails, and another 20% searching for information or tracking down colleagues to help with specific tasks. Workers are communicating with a larger number of people than in the past, and that communication has become a much more significant part of their job.
These increased ‘network effects’ are providing a wide array of advantages to businesses aiming to compete in this new world:
Better understanding of customer needs: By connecting with a wider range of stakeholders, businesses can gain a better understanding of customer needs and preferences. This can help them develop solutions that are more tailored to customer requirements, leading to increased satisfaction and loyalty.
More diverse perspectives: Engaging with stakeholders from different backgrounds and industries can bring a wider range of perspectives to the table, leading to more innovative and creative solutions. By including a variety of viewpoints, businesses can challenge assumptions and identify new opportunities.
Improved problem-solving: By connecting with stakeholders across networks, businesses can access a wider range of expertise and resources. This can help them to solve complex problems more efficiently and effectively, as they can draw on the skills and knowledge of a broader group of people in time and cost-effective ways.
Greater collaboration: Connecting with stakeholders across networks can facilitate greater collaboration and knowledge sharing between businesses and their partners. This can lead to more effective solutions, as different stakeholders can bring complementary skills and resources to the table.
Better decision-making: By engaging with a wider range of stakeholders, businesses can make more informed decisions based on a broader set of data, insights, and trends. This can help them to identify and address potential risks and opportunities more effectively.
Overall, connecting with more stakeholders across networks can help businesses to develop more effective and innovative solutions that are better aligned with customer needs and preferences. By leveraging the knowledge and expertise of a broader group of stakeholders, businesses can drive better results and achieve greater success in today’s rapidly changing business environment.
However, separating the signal from the noise is easier said than done. The diagram above represents how by increasing the number of people in a network from 3 to only 14, the communicative complexity becomes exponentially harder to deal with.
Challenge for Organizations
Many organizations are struggling due to the increasing complexity of their technological infrastructure and general resistance to change. As more tools, data sources, and touchpoints are introduced, it becomes harder to manage and coordinate communication and collaboration across different departments, teams, and locations.
One major contributing factor to this issue is the proliferation of different communication and management tools. In a survey of 1,000 employees conducted by Wrike, a project management software company, 39% of respondents said that their company used four or more “collaboration” tools on a regular basis. This can create confusion and fragmentation, as different teams may be using different tools and platforms to communicate and coordinate.
Another factor is the increasing amount of data that organizations have to manage. According to a survey by IDC, the amount of data created and replicated is expected to reach 180 zettabytes by 2025. This data is often scattered across different systems and platforms, making it difficult to access and share. This can make it challenging for teams to work together effectively, as they may not have access to the information they need to make informed decisions.
Information asynchronicity (situations where different individuals or teams have access to different information, or where information is not shared in a timely or coordinated manner) in meetings, throughout processes, or as part of decision-making means misaligned goals and priorities, reduced trust, and more mistakes and rework.
Finally, the growing number of touchpoints that organizations have to manage can also create communication and collaboration challenges. With the rise of remote work, teams may be spread across different locations and time zones, making it difficult to coordinate schedules and collaborate in real time. Additionally, with the growth of social media and other digital channels, organizations may need to monitor and respond to a wider range of customer inquiries and feedback.
With expectations increasing at a lightning pace, collaboration has never been so important. Organizations need fluid lines of network-driven communication and context between appropriate stakeholders and data points, at the right points — based on a single source of truth.
The New Organizational DNA – Network Relationship Management
With the world at our fingertips, the game has changed. Traditional hierarchical methods of managing teams and functions are being replaced by the ability to effectively ‘wrangle your network’. As organizations recognize the importance of real (cross-organization, cross-ecosystem) collaboration and interconnectedness, ‘network relationship management’ and ‘network value management’ are cementing themselves as viable approaches to taking full advantage of an organization’s collective intelligence.
The shift towards network-driven approaches over hierarchical management is a complex phenomenon with multiple factors involved, but several proof points are emerging to help evidence the transition:
To meet the growing demand for network-based business operating systems, we have developed the ‘Pathfinder Protocol’ (abstract publishing May 2023), a first-in-class ‘collective sense-making and co-ordination protocol’ that enables distributed sets of individuals to make sense of their network or ecosystem, prioritize efforts, and effectively collaborate towards targeted outcomes.
The protocol also examines how people (in particular large groups of people) and computers interconnect — to develop collaborative systems that allow both sides of this equation (humans and machines) to operate better than either could do alone — allowing for exponentially more powerful, augmented methods of working — individually, in groups, or across entire organizations and ecosystems. Collective Intelligence meets Artificial Intelligence!
Aside from the technical aspects, a network-driven organization should adopt the following behavioral aspects to take full advantage of these new ways of working:
For organizations not quite ready to adopt a fully network-driven approach, John Kotter (a renowned management consultant), suggests combining both hierarchical and network-based structures in a way that allows organizations to be more responsive, innovative, and agile while maintaining their existing operational structures. This “dual operating system” which has a traditional hierarchy for managing day-to-day operations, and a network for driving innovation and strategic initiatives, can also be deployed using the Pathfinder protocol, and other existing management techniques, in parallel.
To help companies implement this protocol, we’ve developed an easy-to-use collaboration platform, Waypoint, which launches this summer! Please get in touch (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you’re thinking about adopting a network-driven approach to your organization!