Workplace collaboration is a popular buzzword these days. And, of course, collaboration is critical to innovation, problem-solving, creativity, dispute resolution, and a myriad intellectual pursuits necessary to the workplace. That said … have you ever stopped to think about how so many attempts to increase collaboration actually have the opposite effect? 

Take the open office workspace. The open office design was promoted as the most innovative way to increase teamwork and cross functional collaboration. If you work in an open office space, you know firsthand how ineffective it truly is. Cost effective? Yes. Designed with aesthetic beauty and modernity in mind? Probably. But research shows that the open office design actually reduces collaboration — significantly.  In fact, a new study shows that: 

  • 73 percent of research participants spent less time in face-to-face interactions
  • 67 percent spent more time on email
  • 75 percent spent more time on instant messenger

If you are reading this from your spot in an open office workspace, you may be nodding your head in agreement. 

Technology offers numerous hopes and promises for collaboration. And while technology is essential to the modern workplace — no one could deny that — it offers a means of knowledge sharing and project management more so than true collaboration. 

Open workspaces and many technology platforms keep us in our silos and discourage human-to-human engagement. An unintended consequence of this is that our ability to foster and cultivate trust with one another suffers. And it is the ability to trust one another that is foundational to true collaboration. 

So, what is the solution. We need to learn to truly talk with one another: to connect as humans, rather than as colleagues; to engage in meaningful conversations that shine a light on our shared desires for trust, belonging, and connection.

Enhance Workplace Collaboration Through Dialogue

The peacemaking circle is one of the most effective and transformative ways to foster trust and to experience belonging and connection. I have used this dialogue process in corporations, in educational settings, in community dialogues, with first responders after Hurricane Harvey, and even in prison settings, and without fail participants experience a deepening of their understanding of themselves, each other, and the particular issue that brought them together. They deepen their trust in one another and that trust continues to grow as they engage with each other outside of the circle, which allows for enhanced collaboration, teamwork, and joint problem-solving.

There are numerous reasons why peacemaking circles are such an effective method of enhancing collaboration. The shape of the circle eliminates power structure and hierarchy, and, when facilitated properly, the peacemaking circle eliminates the power differences associated with roles and positions. Circles rely on the inherent wisdom and collective knowledge embedded in the experiences and stories of all circle participants. Peacemaking circles activate our listening skills, and therefore, create opportunities for increased curiosity, compassion, and collaboration. 

Learn more about peacemaking circles here.

An international speaker, peace-building trainer and mediator with expertise in restorative justice and transformative mediation models, Robyn Short works with individuals, corporations, and nonprofit organizations in discovering the root causes of their conflicts, so they may transform their relationships and create new and productive paths forward individually and as teams. In addition to her mediation and conflict training practice, Robyn is an adjunct professor at Southern Methodist University in the Master of Conflict Management and Dispute Resolution program, the Master of Leadership and Negotiation at Bay Path University, and El Centro Conflict Management program. She has guest lectured at Pepperdine University and Creighton University. Robyn has authored three books on peace building and currently serves on the board of Peacemakers, Inc.