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What dolphins can teach us about collaboration (It’s not as fishy as it sounds)

You might think that there’s not much to learn about collaboration from dolphins, but you would be wrong.

 

Collaboration, is more than just as buzzword – it is a fundamental shift in the way we work, affecting teams and entire enterprises.

This was underlined at UC Expo 2016, held at  London’s Olympia from 19-20 April, where one of the key messages was that top-down, hierarchical business structures are on the way out. Millennials are becoming an increasingly large part of the workforce and will be the majority by 2020. For this generation collaboration is natural and your business needs to enable this collaboration in-order to survive. After all, if your company is not willing to meet the needs of the workforce there are plenty of others that are.

But collaboration is about more than installing new technology or creating a group for your company on Whatsapp, it is about a realigning your entire company culture and work ethos.

In-order to do this it is worth looking around for inspiration, and where better to look than to the natural world where animals have been collaborating for their very survival for 100’s of years. Perhaps one of the best examples of collaboration in nature, according to the findings of a new report, are Dolphins.  

The report, written up in the New Scientist, tested the ability of Bottlenose dolphins to open a canister of food, a canister could only be opened by simultaneously pulling a rope and either end. The report turned up some surprising conclusions, not least that the dolphins that were most successful at opening the canister were communicating and collaborating with each other in order to discuss the best way to open the canister.

So, what can dolphins teach us about collaboration?

Everything starts with clear communication

Successful collaboration, working together to achieve a desired result, has to begin with clear communication. As with the Bottlenose dolphins, communicating clearly our objectives, processes and methods enables everyone to pull together in the same direction. Without clear communication, collaboration is just reduced to several people working on different aspects, or perhaps even unknowingly the same aspects, of a project without a holistic understanding.

The lesson: Clearly outline objectives, processes and responsibilities before starting any project.

Communication needs to be focused

As the scientists found, the Bottlenose dolphins made increased, and different, vocalisations when trying to open the canister compared to the vocalisations they made in other social-interactions. This should be reflected across your team. Find out how they prefer communicating and collaborating. While some may prefer a weekly face-to-face this obviously isn’t suitable for those working remotely, likewise some members of the team maybe more comfortable about joining a video call than others who may wish to stick to audio.

The lesson: Find out how your team members prefer to communicate and implement a solution to suit everyone.  

Work together to solve problems

When it comes to Bottlenose dolphins scientists found that they were  most successful at opening the canister when they worked together. While dolphins were able to open the canister on their own, they were able to do so much more quickly when working together. While it might sound obvious, this is the very essence of collaboration. Putting people in teams does not automatically mean that they are working together or truly collaborating. Instead the team may revert to a hierarchy organised around the strongest personality, so think carefully when putting your people in teams and consider how the different personalities will work together.

The lesson:  Choose teams that are a mixture of different skills to ensure that everyone brings an equal amount to the table.

Don’t limit opportunities for collaboration

The BBC captured the phenomenon of dolphins in Laguna, Brazil. Here, fishermen and dolphins work together for a common result. The dolphins drive the fish towards the fishermen and even signal when to cast their nets. Then, as the fishermen cast their nets and begin hauling in their catch the fish panic and break formation – making them easier to pick off. Two different species working together for a common goal.

What can we learn here? Collaboration needn’t be limited to teams composed of people from the same department in the same office but, with the right tools in place collaboration can be limitless. Think, how could John in New York or Amanda in Sao Paulo benefit your project? Imagine the benefits of bringing together your people from around the world to all work together.

The lesson:  With the right tools collaboration can involve anyone, anywhere.

Takeaways:

  • Clearly outline objectives, processes and responsibilities before starting any project.
  • Find out how your team members prefer to communicate and implement a solution to suit everyone.
  • Choose teams that are a mixture of different skills to ensure that everyone brings an equal amount to the table.
  • With the right tools collaboration can involve anyone, anywhere.

Start bringing your people together, download The connected business: Generating a collaborative culture, how to build innovation in your enterprise now

The-connected-business-Generating-a-collaborative-culture

About the author

Annemarie, leads and implements the HR strategy across northern Europe at Arkadin Collaboration Services. She is passionate about the role of unified communication in company communications and employee recruitment and retention.

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