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The Importance of Collaboration

Image: Howard ThomasHoward Thomas

Howard Thomas is LKCSB Distinguished Term Professor of Strategic Management and Management Education.

He has over 51 years' experience in academia, where he has researched, written and taught on the subject of management.


Articles by Howard Thomas

Business Schools and Management Research: a UK Perspective

An Analysis of the Environment and Competitive Dynamics of Management Education

From the Journal of Management Development

View the Journal of Management Development Table of Contents.

See more titles like this one in our HR, Learning & Organization Studies eJournals collection.


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Collaboration is essentially the practice of sharing knowledge and ideas to achieve a common goal. From childhood, we areencouraged to work as a team whilst also retaining independent thought and the skills to work alone. In addition, team sports e.g. rugby, football, netball etc. foster a spirit of collaboration and collective identity.

In today’s fast-paced world, we need beneficial partnerships to encourage creativity, leverage experience and maximize resources that can help to solve at a business solution as quickly as possible. By also looking for partnerships and collaborating externally, organizations are able to innovate much more quickly and even create solutions to problems that may not yet be prevalent or salient issues.

For some, this is called the “wisdom of crowds” or “nurturing a beginner’s mind”, both of which describe the process of bringing together people who wouldn’t necessarily have a strong or well-voiced opinion on something to solve a problem or create a new idea. Organizations are doing this by taking people (from all levels of expertise and seniority) from different departments to interact and meet in facilitated sessions to help solve business problems in truly imaginative and productive ways. The theory is that professional experience mixed with inexperience will allow people to think outside of everyday confines whilst also giving the idea a practical application to the business.

The benefits to businesses are obvious: a productive and collaborative environment will often lead to a stronger ROI at every level whilst addressing key issues. By encouraging employees to solve business problems, they will – in turn – be stimulated into being more engaged employees. So through the partnership of effective collaboration, an organization can establish a solid ROI with employee support and then proceed to reach those landmark corporate goals.

Just as in business, collaboration is important for many other areas, such as the research process. To give you a personal example, my wife’s training in sociology and psychotherapy allows her to think about human and contextual experience; whilst my background as a mathematician and statistician gives me the framework of analytical intelligence. Through our academic partnership, we can complement each other’s work and evolve ideas much further than on one’s own.

Often, researchers are reluctant to collaborate, or do collaborate but for the wrong reasons. Instead of challenging ideas, researchers need to think of collaboration of as a way of enhancing ideas and increasing creativity. Maybe next time we need to pick a person to collaborate with, we should choose someone with an entirely different world view to our own. It would be interesting to see what this melting pot of ideas would produce…