I stumbled across an old HBR article the other day called Introducing the Collaboration Curve. Despite the World of Warcraft analogies, it raised a few very interesting points that not only relate to video conferencing but to the value of collaboration itself.

The first point the authors discuss is the “network effect” which states the value of a node in a network rises exponentially as more nodes are added to it. Essentially, “the more participants –and interactions between those participants – you add to a carefully designed and nurtured environment, the more the rate of performance improvement goes up.”

This makes sense for video conferencing solutions. What value does video really have if you can’t connect to anyone of relevance? Twenty years ago only executives of large corporations had video conferencing solutions and the technology was generally only used for high-level strategy meetings. Even if a business partner had video, differences in platforms, firewalls and network exchanges most likely prevented a successful connection.

However, new trends in interoperability and cloud video services are allowing participants to connect via video anytime, anywhere, on any device. As a result, more and more organizations are adopting video solutions and the value of video communications has been increasing exponentially. Almost every call I have with a colleague or partner is over video nowadays, granted I work at a video company, but it’s just as easy, if not easier than picking up the telephone. All I have to do is type in a name and click a button; there’s no hassle of looking up and then dialing a phone number.

But how does the network effect relate to collaboration?

This is the true insight of the article. The collaboration curve, or the network effect on collaboration, holds “the potential to mobilize larger and more diverse groups of participants to innovate and create new value.”

But what exactly does that mean?

If an organization gives one person the opportunity and tools to collaborate, the likelihood of a breakthrough idea is minimal because this person doesn’t have anyone else to connect to. However, give two people the opportunity and tools to collaborate; they can connect with each other, brainstorm, and the likelihood of a breakthrough idea increases. As more and more people within an organization are given the opportunity and tools to collaborate, a larger and more diverse group of participants is created and the likelihood of a breakthrough idea has increased exponentially.

This is social collaboration at its core – casual interactions among colleagues, business partners and even customers that enable creativity and drive innovation. Unified communications and video conferencing solutions connect geographically disperse employees; expanding the reach of collaboration beyond a single location.

The perpetual wondering of what your colleague looks like no longer crosses your mind because you are able to see them over video. A relationship develops from the casual face-to-face chat at the beginning of a meeting because it’s kind of hard to hide behind the mute button and finish up an email while waiting for everyone to join the call.

The value of the collaboration curve lies here; when colleagues and business partners with different backgrounds or areas of expertise are connected effortlessly. Ideas are bounced back and forth for a second opinion from an impartial third-party and value is created through new products or processes that can revolutionize a company or even develop a new market.

We’ve all heard the famous story of Mike Smith and Dick Rowe who turned down the Beatles because “four-piece groups with guitars are finished.” This was probably one of the worst business decisions in history and today’s executives are doing everything in their power to avoid the same demise. There are several secrets to successful decisions but teamwork and collaboration seem to be the most talked about.  

But does teamwork guarantee success? Of course not, it can simply improve the chances for success if done properly.  So what makes a good team? 

Member Diversity: It wouldn’t have mattered if Smith and Rowe had three other people in the room with them; if they all had the same background and opinions the outcome would have been the same, except there would be four people to blame instead of two. An optimal team has members with a wide range of specialties and no two members having the same specialty. This ensures varying opinions from different perspectives and can minimize the chances missing something important. 

Open Communication: What good are several different opinions if they are never shared? If only two team members contribute while everyone else agrees because they are afraid to voice their concerns important aspects can be missed leading to a poor business decision. Interaction and involvement of all members is imperative and group leaders should encourage everyone to contribute their ideas. 

Strong & Clear Leadership: At any given time in a group there must be a strong leader; however, leadership should shift between members. Every team member should have an understanding of their individual leadership skills and be willing and able to function as a leader when needed. Strong and flexible leadership helps ensure high participation as team members utilize their strengths appropriately.

Mutual Trust: Trust is a key component in any team; members must be able to trust the integrity and positive intentions of the others on the team. There must also be mutual respect for the different approaches to work and conflict resolution among team members. This helps the team members form a cohesive unit based on integrity which is highly conducive to open communication. 

Conflict Resolution: Conflicts are guaranteed in any high performing team, as there will always be a couple varying opinions. Therefore, constructive conflict resolution is an integral process for teams to master. The process should revolve around identifying, defining and then resolving the problem with team members actively listening to each other. The focus should be on working toward a solution rather than assigning blame to team members. 

Great teams can produce impressive results; from new product ideas to strategic decision making. However, simply gathering a group of people together does not make a great team. It takes thought to select a diverse but passionate group of people who can work together in an efficient and effective manner for optimal results.