My boss recently shared a story from his days as a product marketing manager on the Xerox Solid Ink program team.
As the story goes, every day while in that role my manager would wind his way through the labyrinth of cubicles that comprise much of our Xerox campus and stroll to the Solid Ink engineering team’s section of the building. He did so with nothing on his agenda other than to walk among the engineers and make himself available for impromptu discussions about the product the team was delivering.
To his delight, during each and every visit at least one and usually several engineers would engage him in conversations not about engineering, but about marketing. Those who bent his ear were genuinely excited to share their thoughts about a discipline with which they had, at least on paper, little or no experience.
What my manager discovered then, and what he impressed upon my current team, is that people are innately creative and often eager to brainstorm ideas and solutions outside the confines of their job-description expertise.
It’s an anecdote that ties-in perfectly with my recent thoughts about the link between collaboration and innovation, and the obstacles—both physical and systemic—that prevent so many product delivery teams from performing optimally.
The physical barriers that hinder fruitful collaboration are being removed, as evidenced by so many of today’s workplaces evolving in-step with the expectations of the highly sought talent for which growing companies fiercely compete.
And the professionals who possess the skills those employers must have to continue their upward trajectory are largely eschewing traditional office layouts as well as the rigid, defined-role approach to teamwork such cubicle-centric floor plans so often breed and perpetuate.
But these progressive-minded workers aren’t spoiled or entitled; they’re simply better attuned to the types of office environments that are more conducive to vigorous collaboration, and where exciting, innovative work happens as a result.
And while most physical hindrances are easily removed, many of the systemic impediments are more difficult to overcome, such as the time-zone differences and language barriers inherent in globally dispersed workteams, which are quickly becoming the norm—especially among technology companies.
But regardless of geographic location or native tongue, humans are humans, and we all strive to play integral roles on teams that foster a strong sense of collective process ownership.
Whether it’s an engineer sharing marketing ideas, a supply-chain manager offering pricing suggestions, or a marketing professional proposing usability enhancements, product delivery teams comprised of smart people with winning attitudes understand the benefits of all-in collaboration.
And when a company creates the right environment—either physical, virtual, or both—team members with healthy egos will almost always receive constructive input without feeling territorial.
Some of this touches on the debate among technology professionals regarding product delivery methodologies, such as the common waterfall model vs. agile development argument.
But with this piece I’m more interested in discussing the human condition as it pertains to collaboration, and the ways in which businesses can transform their work environments and methods to more effectively promote collaborative processes that result in truly innovative products.
For more thoughts on some of the topics raised here, I encourage you to read my earlier posts regarding innovation and how businesses can learn valuable lessons from the agile software development methodology.
Thanks for visiting, and please share your thoughts about product-delivery-team dynamics, particularly within the small-business segment, as well as any noteworthy examples of your collaborative-process experiences, and what made them fulfilling or disappointing.