No matter what kind of work we do we are instinctively concerned with our sense of identity and individuality. Any attempt to create a system where our individuality is threatened is met with firm resistance. To some people, a collaborative way of working is one such threat.
Those who spent most of their education and work life learning how to execute tasks with little need to work in teams and share information with peers see collaboration as an attack on their individuality and sense of uniqueness. The increasing number of those who do collaborate see these attitudes as largely outdated. However, for many still employed in places where collaboration is simply a lightly used buzzword with little serious intent of it becoming an effective culture, the truth is that transition to a collaborative mode of working is perceived as risky.
To some extent this is in equal parts about established human norms that have dictated the way we work for a very long time, the inability of some industries to adapt to collaboration as a standard way of working, and the differences in value between different generations of workers. Young workers who are making their way into the workforce and slowly assuming leadership roles feel at home when collaborating and do not feel the loss of a sense of individuality the way older workers do. It’s still not unusual to come across an older worker who shuns social media as opposed to a millennial who feels comfortable sharing a lot of their life with large networks. While this should not be considered as a black and white case of right and wrong, it is inevitable that we must recognise major shifts in values between generations, which in turn unavoidably inform the way we work.
Largely speaking, until recently the default position for a ‘smart’ career move was to share less, or share ‘carefully’ your ideas, information, knowledge. That now seems jarring, even though it is far from unusual behaviour. Many still prescribe fanatically to the view that keeping ideas to themselves, not letting go of information, insights and knowledge gives them leverage. That would be ok if we worked in a world where disruption and innovation did not occur as rapidly as they do. When a piece of information one has is significant for an extended period of time, then it is understandable that they would hold on to it tightly. But when the lifespan of almost everything we know is much shorter – well that changes things.
Today, it is the ability to come up with new ideas, find new insights, create new knowledge on a regular and consistent basis that makes workers across hierarchy and industry more competitive. Sharing is a currency of relevance. This is where people can collaborate effectively; making their individual brand strong and competitive. Being respected and valued for an ability to create new value, share information and add to others’ capacity to do the same is very much part of one’s individuality and uniqueness that counter-balances any kind of loss when we work in group settings.