We have already arrived there. Long lost are the days where achievement, wealth, and position relied solely on an individual, or entity’s, capacity to rival against another to obtain the optimum available resources for themselves. Such an orientation primarily defined material success in the industrial and post-industrial eras and had its remnants extended into the beginning of the 21st century. It served its purpose in the frame of reference of the predominant capitalist’s value-system that prevailed in societies. But as we already entered the knowledge economy, recognized by its rapid technological advances, globalization, and extended communications networking and infrastructure, we cannot help to become increasingly aware of rapidly changing trends that kick dust in the eyes of the rat-race that once was.
Information and knowledge management are vital in the ever-changing day and age.
Our world is entering an evolutionary and colorful phase, crazed with variety and novelties, where times are more uncertain than ever and business leaders have the ongoing challenge to test and retest initiatives to remain on top of their game in their respective industries, both knowledge and performance wise. The effective management of information and knowledge in the form of sharing and collaboration becomes crucial to the sustainability of modern day enterprises and because organizational needs are constantly changing, they also cannot promise commitment to their employees in the form of providing security anymore.
This, in turn, leads to employability and multi-skilling, as opposed to promotion and prestige, to be the new channel towards career success. In the light of that, competition for scarce talent is heated and it goes beyond simply finding talent, but also retaining them. It is therefore that employment relations are increasingly shifting its focus on the affectionate, people-centered and humane parts of the deal, and less on the transactional part thereof (Coetzee, Schreuder, 2010).
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Organizations know that if they want to retain high performers, they would have to perform for the individual, by not only accommodating their lifestyles but also by prioritizing their career development through leveraging the employee’s capacities relating to expertise in their field and/or leadership and innovation. Development of employees and organizational learning became, in recent years, the biggest retention factor of them all as protean careers become more prevalent. One can understand the perspective of the employee, simply adjusting and surviving as an individual and a “commodity” to organizations after all. Experience through job hopping has already become a trendy focus of many highly skilled individuals as a means to learn and thrive in their pursuit of expertise. And loyalty…well, that’s for dogs.
Collaborative learning offers a win-win situation and offers a competitive advantage.
The smartest organizations and employees will quickly learn to participate in collaborative learning, as they know that they cannot know everything through own experience and that a lot is to be discovered to sustain and grow oneself in order to obtain and maintain a competitive advantage in an ever-changing era - and that all, for free! This, and the fact that sharing of their knowledge – inter- and intra-organizationally - are inevitable if they want reciprocity. A commonly known arrangement of this type is between mentor and mentee, where the mentor exposes and supports the mentee in the decision-making of a higher order and the type of problems to be solved. The mentee then, in turn, takes from the plate of the mentor certain tasks that he proved to be efficient in accomplishing so that the mentor can focus on more advanced matters.
Successful collaborative learning has usually more to do with team-engagement and coordination among people of more-or-less equal expertise. Different talents, experiences, cognitive styles and over-all ways of thinking and learning, enhances each others’ deficiencies with insights and perspectives that would otherwise have been overlooked (Markova, McArthur, 2015). Blind spots in peoples’ thinking rarely have the chance to get light shed on when people have the habit to relate more productively with others that think like them when it comes to collaborative team-work and learning. It is, therefore, our comfort zones that should be challenged, and not our patience, if we want to explore this new approach to learning.
The emerging concept of diversity intelligence, which values the differences in employees, without attempting to make everyone alike, will increasingly have to become the soft-skill of the century if one wants to reap the benefits of collaborating with people of different backgrounds, age-groups, etc. The importance of integrating the concept of diversity intelligence into career-, organizational- and leadership-development, alongside intellectual, cultural and emotional intelligence, will become the cornerstone for the establishment of what is known as a Learning Organization – a much sought-after status for an enterprise to have and an image that can be useful in reaping scares talents that on their turn contribute valuable knowledge to the organization. See the karmic dynamics here?!
Organizational leaders will need to apply their own diversity intelligence to better interact with the changing demographics in a society and the global economy, by embracing differences as strengths, rather than weaknesses, and simultaneously inspire their team-members’ attitude towards this direction of tolerance, empathy, and valuation for each other’s input. Without a clear understanding of diversity, leaders are not fully equipped to realize organizational goals through all employees. It is therefore also important that in order to fully motivate diverse individuals towards realizing their own potential, leaders must first be able to recognize differences between themselves and others, without it being an obstacle to the performance of the team (Hughes, 2016). After all, as stated in this blog and in our article on the future of leadership, there had actually never existed any generally accepted universal leadership characteristics that serve as sure-fire criteria for what constitutes a leader, in spite of earlier assumptions.
Competition does not have to mean collaboration is off the table.
When it comes to inter-organizational collaborative learning, this does in no way mean that competition among organizations should be affected in service of collaborative acts of knowledge sharing and support. No way! Are competition and excellence not what defines winners? Certainly, and it always will be. Organizations just have to determine which information are sharable in the knowledge trade economy among professionals in related industries, and which of that are the confidential and secret ingredients for the organization’s success (Duncan, 2013). There need to be strict organizational policies in place for this, to ensure that employees understand the conditions that apply.
Some organizations will, just to avoid the risk of leakage, rigidly prohibit the concept of inter-organizational learning when suggestions on such policies are made, but actually, ignore the reality of this already taking place. Social media has become the most popular platform for collaborative learning and support by professionals, to professionals, on topics and problems that are common for people in similar fields to deal with. LinkedIn, just to name one site and one famous example of a collaborative learning platform has a wealth of groups that members can join to ask questions and receive prompt answers from a variety of other members. Interesting times...!
References and further reading
Schreuder, D., & Coetzee, M. (2010). An overview of industrial and organizational psychology research in South Africa: A preliminary study. SA Journal of Industrial Psychology.
Hughes, Claretha (2016): Diversity Intelligence: Integrating Diversity Intelligence alongside Intellectual, Emotional, and Cultural Intelligence for Leadership and Career Development.
Markova, Dawna; McArthur, Angie (2015): Collaborative Intelligence: Thinking with People Who Think Differently.
Duncan, Robert D. (2013): Collaborative Intelligence: How to liberate minds and transform enterprises through social networks.