Collaboration and teamwork are now hallmarks in most business settings as well as in the nonprofit sector. In her article in the NY Times on Sunday, Jan. 15, Susan Cain expresses her concern that so much collaboration and focus on teams in our workplaces, educational institutions and nonprofit settings may be negative for innovation and creativity. She worries about “groupthink” and points out the need for individuals to spend some time alone, engaging in creative thinking.
Our work over the last ten years posits a more positive view of collaboration and teamwork. We have worked with over sixty teams of highly skilled executives in a leadership development program and have seen creativity and innovation flourish. These teams are composed of 5-7 persons and have individuals from both the corporate and nonprofit sectors. The teams also are diverse by race, ethnicity and gender. The persons involved have never met until they become part of the leadership development program for emerging executives (average age 37).
They have come up with innovative and creative ideas on a variety of issues dealing with topics such as how to attract and retain young professionals in our region. Some of the work recommended innovative ways for strengthening corporate social responsibility as a retention device. Other work suggested innovative ways for using internships across sectors as an avenue to attract talented college graduates to remain in our region. Another project linked healthy lifestyles with sound financial strategies. Many of the ideas emanating from the teams have been adopted throughout the region.
What we have observed is that as diverse teams of people, who had never worked together, dealt with civic and economic issues of importance to the region, many new and creative ideas emerged. The individuals on the teams also form long lasting relationships across sectors, which has enormous benefits to our region. Several from the business sector have already joined prominent nonprofit boards and become involved in civic issues on a level not seen before.
Collaboration can have positive benefits to individuals in organizations and provide them with new ways to use their skills. So let’s not give up on collaboration so easily. Yes, avoid “groupthink” but collaboration and teamwork also can bring benefits in developing new strategies and tackling complex problems that should not be ignored.