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Executive interview: Why the times are a changin’ in collaboration

Companies are aware that the next wave of talent wants to work collaboratively, but how do you collaborate and what policies discourage collaboration?

G Suite is positioned by Google as the office productivity suite that aims to complement other cultural changes in an organisation.

Diane Chaleff is G Suite lead in the office of the CTO at Google Cloud. Her role involves spending time with C-level executives and IT decision-makers to talk about productivity and collaboration tools, deploying these tools, and why they are needed.

Chaleff believes traditional office productivity tools limit creativity and ideation because they “enforce a pattern of behaviour”.

Often, ideas are not shared until after a polished presentation or document has been created, which means feedback received on the idea can sometimes be irrelevant, according to Chaleff.

“You’ve wasted time creating the perfect presentation,” she says, pointing out that colleagues see something that looks polished and complete, so their initial reaction is that it has already been approved. At this point, Chaleff warns, people may not feel it is appropriate to give feedback on the core idea. Since the presentation or document is so complete, colleagues only challenge the periphery.

“The company moves forward with a bad idea,” she adds. “There are times when we waste time creating formal documents before getting feedback. My concern is that people do not actually receive the feedback they need to hear.”

Software limits creativity

For Chaleff, the tools people use dictate the workflow of ideation.

“If there are tools that dictate that you can only send a document if it is formally complete, then this tool is preventing you from getting feedback,” she says. “A company can have a policy to share frequently and be open and collaborative, but it is the technology that pressures users to make things formal before documents can be shared.”

Chaleff believes this behaviour in business curbs the spirit of creativity and undermines executive-led initiatives to encourage greater levels of collaboration. 

At Google, she says, people lean towards a more informal style of sharing ideas, but this can still be done in a professional manner. “We focus our time on the crux of the idea because it is the ideas that are important,” she adds.

“If you want people to work differently, but you give them the same tools, that’s like a definition of insanity”
Diane Chaleff, Google Cloud

According to Chaleff, process for the sake of process does not really exist at the most senior level in business. But some processes are ingrained in organisational culture. These take time to change.

“C-level executives want to do more than stand on stage and say ‘We are going to be a more collab company’. If you want people to work differently, but you give them the same tools, that’s like a definition of insanity,” she says.  

Break with tradition

Chaleff claims that a new toolset can be used to stimulate a mindset shift across an organisation, where people are somehow inspired to use the new tools to try new approaches to their work. 

G Suite offers similar functionality to Microsoft Office 365, and both provide plenty of collaboration features, such as video, chat and ways for employees to discuss ideas in a less formal way. But in this context, Microsoft is the incumbent. G Suite is associated with Google’s approach to work, which every CEO would dearly love to emulate.

“Collaboration is at the heart of G Suite. Being open, collaborative and asking questions is the Google way,” Chaleff adds, claiming that working with Google can change the way people work.

With G Suite, Chaleff says Google is offering organisations a way to break free from tradition. She says Google has worked hard to remain as compatible as possible with Microsoft Office. G Suite retains the original Microsoft Office file format, enabling users to share word processor documents, spreadsheets and presentation decks in native Microsoft Office formats.

But G Suite is not about meeting technical specifications – Chaleff claims the suite can shift people’s perception, encouraging them to work differently.

Read more about collaboration

  • Handwritten notes jotted down on paper are not often shared, but capturing these digitally can encourage a creative approach to collaboration.
  • Productivity can improve when organisations adopt team collaboration platforms. Learn the benefits and challenges of adopting a team collaboration platform.

Read more on Collaboration software and productivity software

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