Conversation and Collaboration

The following post appeared initially in the Blog at our sister site, Career In Transition,


It seems that collaboration between like-minded people who may not work for the same organisation and indeed may follow different if linked professions is a Good Idea. So says Alan Baxter, owner of the eponymous engineering company based in Clerkenwell, as reported by the FT.


The idea is deceptively simple. Mr Baxter brings together not only the engineers that work for his own firm but others including landscape architects and designers who also work broadly in the built environment. Those who are not Baxter employees simply rent a desk or group of desks in his building.


A cynic might wonder if this was simply a good way to fill empty space profitably. However, Mr Baxter goes further, bringing together as many of his staff and the “add-ons” as possible for lunch several times a week and offering the use of both a rooftop bar in the evenings and a courtyard with tables for informal meetings during the day. He positively encourages dialogue and feels that the better the dialogue, the better the work output, as people tap into the wealth of collective knowledge.


And yet, as a classic introvert, I wonder how effective this approach really is in getting stuff done? Surely at one point, once the wealth of collective knowledge has been tapped and the good ideas gleaned, someone has to go about the tedious business of implementation; making things happen and doing so in a manner that delights clients and ensures timely delivery. Maybe this is all part of the conversation – but I’m not sure.


Somewhere, wound up in this concept, lies the idea of working groups and teams that form, storm, norm etc. to undertake a task. The collaborative conversation is part of the team / group creation process. They may remain together in order to undertake more tasks but that is relatively rare in my experience.


Teams that remain together for long periods (in excess of a year, say) typically have on-going relationships with clients, who value stability (an obvious example would be private wealth management). Alternatively, it may be in the interests of the team itself to remain together especially if the skills and attitudes of each member of the group are rare and the effectiveness of the whole is based on mutual trust: elite military units for example.


So, is the Baxter model one that is universally applicable? I think not. However, it is a useful recipe to encourage discussion of what may be possible and how to achieve it.


Stephen Newton