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The Evolution of Collaboration

The goal of improved collaboration is top of mind for many leaders today. In this article I want to set a historical context and show you how collaboration has evolved over the past several decades by looking at some of the more interesting and effective moments in shared team productivity. The second article in this short series will take a deep dive into how to select the right collaboration toolset.

Let’s start with an unlikely place: building a new car. Specifically, a major redesign to the Ford Mustang. As documented in the movie “A Faster Horse,” the 2015 team is shown how they did a major redesign on this classic American car. The initial drivetrain design was off by a single millimeter while the production line had to be stopped until they implemented the change. This could have doomed the entire redesign if it wasn’t fixed. What was their principal collaboration tool? The speakerphone. Another fix would have added $1.34 per car incremental cost, which doesn’t seem a lot until you multiply this by the millions of cars anticipated being sold.

Ford didn’t need anything fancier than the speakerphone, because it had teams that were used to working together on its cars. But you may not be as focused, particularly if you are starting on a new collaboration or your team is now scattered across the globe or working from home due to COVID. To be successful, you need to understand your corporate culture and bring people together in a way that makes the sum greater than its parts.

Ideally, the best collaborations combine people with complementary skills. A good example of this is the collaboration of the UK’s famous Bletchley Park World War II code-breaking group. The code breakers worked together without knowing what each other did. The group was selected by recruiting civilians through difficult crossword puzzles placed in daily newspapers. When I visited the museum that houses a rebuilt computer, I got to see a demonstration of how it worked for these decrypts. This involved many people playing very specific roles that had never been done before. Now we just take for granted that we can click on an app and it is ready for us to run, but back in the 1940s this took dozens of people working closely together.

Another more contemporary example are the thousands of teams competing for the FIRST robotics championships every year. When the world finals were held in St. Louis several years ago, I got to interview many of the participants. Each group has to assemble students with a wide mix of skills: in addition to the computer and robotics nerds, they need a logo and website designer, marketing and fundraising plans, and mechanics to fix broken machines on the fly. And they only have a few weeks to pull this all together. Certainly, the sense of urgency helped to bring people together: but if a bunch of school kids can figure this out, so can you.

David Strom

David Strom

David Strom is one of the leading experts on network and Internet technologies and has written and spoken extensively on topics such as IT security, VOIP, convergence, email, cloud computing, network management, Internet applications, wireless and Web services for more than 30 years. He has held several editorial management positions, including Editor-in-chief of Network Computing magazine, Digital Landing.com, and Tom's Hardware.com. He currently writes for IBM's SecurityIntelligence.com, HPE's Enterprise.Nxt, blogs for RSA and Kaspersky and CSOonline.com and has contributed opinion columns, reviews, feature stories and analyses to ITworld.com, TechTarget.com, Internet.com, Network World, Infoworld, Computerworld, Small Business Computing, c|net and news.com, eWeek, Baseline Magazine, PC Week, PC World, PC Magazine and more. David has created numerous print and web publications, built several hands-on IT test labs, curated various email newsletters, blogged extensively about a wide variety of IT business topics, spoken at IT business conferences, written thousands of magazine articles and published two books on computer networking. He is the author of two books: Internet Messaging, which he co-authored with Marshall T. Rose and Home Networking Survival Guide. David also publishes Web Informant and is the creator of an innovative series of video screencast product reviews of enterprise IT products that can be found on Webinformant.tv and syndicated to various other Web sites. He has also appeared on the Fox TV News Network, NPR's Science Friday radio program, ABC-TV's World News Tonight and CBS-TV's Up to the Minute news broadcasts.

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