All Together Now...Sometimes

The idea of the collaborative, interconnected workspace has been enormously popular for some time. Walls have been torn down to create vast open domains, fostering easier interaction, with fewer horizontal -- and even vertical -- barriers to contact and communication. The mantra that the more meetings, messaging, simultaneous document editing, cloud-availability of all materials the better, has transformed not just the physical space but every aspect of how people work together. There are myriad studies, books and scholarly papers supporting collaboration as the best possible way to achieve results.

A recent study has taken a slightly different view. Researchers from Boston, Harvard and Northeastern Universities have concluded that while collaboration has its undeniable benefits, it shouldn’t necessarily be the only workplace modus operandi. Their study divided the process of striving toward a goal into two spheres: the acquisition of information on the one hand, the synthesis of information into solutions on the other. Interpretation of the data seems to indicate that while the search for information is unquestionably aided by teamwork, solutions are often better discovered when individuals are allowed to contemplate, scribble and experiment on their own. At some point, the team should -- of course -- reassemble to compare, contrast and combine solutions that have been skulled out in that relative solitude.

This is only one study and though it swims against the current, this doesn’t mean a revolution is at hand. But it’s interesting to consider that, just possibly, time should be structured into the creative process for individuals to sift group-acquired information, then ponder novel solutions individually, without the subtle peer pressures and rule-by-majority tendencies that can creep into group discussions. This probably happens a lot, anyway, without studies or scholarly papers to suggest it: people will think on their own, you can’t stop that. But making it a formal part of the work-flow (Day Six: everyone go to their corner and THINK!) may have benefits that the ultra-collaborative workspace is letting fall by the wayside.

Collaboration, then, is an important tool -- perhaps the most important tool -- in the box.  But it isn’t the only one. The same can be said of WriteyBoard: when it’s time to work together, to prioritize information, to test the viability of each moving part in a system as well as the marriage of those parts into a whole that includes everyone’s contributions, there is no better tool than one of our “thinking walls.”

To read more about the study referenced above: http://www.bu.edu/research/articles/business-team-collaboration/ 

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