Building High-Performance Teams—Part 1: Evangelize Collaboration

July 26, 2016
Dutch MacDonald
Digital Director

Organizations can no longer count on the product development processes that worked when all they needed to do was make things right. Today, companies need to figure out how to make the right things, and that demands a new approach to innovation built upon collaboration, not competition or separation of disciplines.

You Can’t Go it Alone

We often describe innovators as “curious,” “empathetic,” “imaginative,” “collaborative,” “fearless,” etc. Yet when faced with complex problems, they may still fail at finding and solving challenges in innovative ways. Here are some reasons why:

1. Every discipline has its own language, tools, and ways of solving problems. This often leads to poor communication and a tendency toward conflict and zero-sum thinking: “if it’s not my way, it must be the wrong way.”

2. It’s harder to navigate through uncertainty when you have to defer judgment, suspend disbelief, or take a leap of faith as part of an unspoken (and necessary) agreement to trust the validity of what your teammates have to say.

3. Space, time, and a different understanding of the problem tend to divide innovative people who should be working toward a common goal.

Despite the romantic notion of the independent rebel innovator, one smart problem solver can’t go it alone in a world of rampant technological complexity and “wicked problems.”

Our Easy Problems Have Been Solved

In the book Trillions: Thriving in the Emerging Information Ecology™, my colleagues at MAYA outline why innovation tomorrow will be different than today. There may be many reasons why this is so, but I’ll focus on one primary concern: complexity. For most of human history, the amount of technological complexity in the world was fairly low. Most people could go through their whole lives without coming face-to-face with technological complexity. If you were building the very first factory, or trying to connect the world with lines of communication, or building an airliner, or working on solving large-scale social problems, then you had to cope with complexity of one form or another. But the sum total of complexity in the world was small and localized. Today however, thanks to Moore’s Law and the rise of connectivity, we are facing an era of unbounded complexity.

As technology becomes more accessible, the amount of complexity and “wicked problems” in the world grow exponentially.

As early as 2007, the world produced more transistors—at a lower cost—than grains of rice1. By 2010, we produced more microprocessors than there were people on the planet (over 10,000,000,000 in 20102). If we stopped there, we’d still have a relatively manageable level of aggregate complexity in the world. But this supersaturated solution of computation has now been touched with the seed of connectivity. Those billions, soon trillions of devices are now getting connected, and those devices are sending billions of messages.

As MAYA cofounder Dr. Peter Lucas observed, “innovation causes things to happen that wouldn’t happen any other way.” However, the process of innovation doesn’t just happen on its own. Solving today’s problems requires overcoming office politics, turf wars , and human nature in order to turn innovative individuals into high-performance teams.

This is an excerpt from the whitepaper “Building High-Performance Teams for Collaborative Innovation.” Next Up: How to Increase and Accelerate Trust. Download the whitepaper now.

[1]Randal Goodall, “Long-Term Productivity Mechanisms of the Semiconductor Industry,” American Electrochemical Society Semiconductor Silicon 2002 Proceedings (May 2002), 125–144.
[2]M. Barr, “Real Men Program in C,” Embedded Systems Design TechInsights/United Business Media (2009/2010).

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