I recently read Need to Solve a Problem? Take a Break from Collaborating by Carmen Nobel published in Harvard Working Knowledge. There is substantial research that indicates collaboration can improve problem solving performance due to sharing of data and coordination. There is also substantial research that collaboration can undermine problem solving performance.
The researchers designed and carried out an experiment "to figure out how collaborating could both help and hurt the problem-solving process."
The "aha" moments discovered:
The "highly collaborative teams" gathered about 5% more information because they did not waste time duplicating efforts.
The "least collaborative teams" came up with about 17% more theories and potential solutions versus the "highly collaborative teams."
The conclusion of the researchers was that collaboration appeared to have opposite effects for the stage of searching for information and the stage of searching for solutions.
The implications for the workplace environment or anyplace where problem solving is critical:
Collaboration and connectivity tools are great for information gathering, but may lead to premature consensus when attempting to turn information into knowledge. In the age of big data and data mining, this is a cautionary note. It is not easy to turn data into actionable knowledge under the best of circumstances.
It is important to recognize when you are in information gathering mode and solution generating mode. The needs are different. This can be complicated on large projects where you are iterating between the two modes.
There are implications for physical space. The physical environment needs to be able to accommodate coordination/ collaboration as well as privacy for think time to generate a broader range of potential solutions.
There are also implications for the digital environment. Tools and operating procedures need to allow for both options and to be used appropriately based on the stage of the project. A challenge here is that many businesses today function almost exclusively in a virtual/ digital environment. Understanding how to implement this in both physical and virtual environments to benefit from the advantages and minimize the disadvantages may cause the organization to think very differently.
For small business and individual entrepreneurs, the challenge may be to create a collaborative environment for information gathering before going into solution generating mode.
If you feel that you are not making sufficient progress, check whether you are gathering information or generating solutions. Are you implementing the most effective "collaboration" mindset to achieve your goals?