Collaboration and gender

Jun 01 2012 by Brian Amble Print This Article

There's no shortage of advice out there about how to improve collaboration and boost team-working. But until now, one factor has been largely overlooked: the influence of our hormones. Yet as new research has found, gender plays a major role in how and with whom we collaborate, and it also appears to account for some of the biggest obstacles in the way of more effective team-working in the workplace.

In February 2012, a paper published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society found that testosterone makes us less inclined to collaborate and more egocentric.

Too much testosterone simply blinds us to other people's views, opinions, views and ideas and encourages us to impose our own decisions and solutions to problems, the paper found.

Now, new research by Danish consultancy, Innovisor has examined how this process manifests itself in the workplace, revealing that we are far more inclined to cooperate with others of the same sex.

The study, based on a survey of some 1,000 people from more than 30 countries, found that irrespective of their cultural origin, women are keener than men to collaborate and express a clear desire to collaborate even more than they already do today Ė a desire that men don't appear to share.

"Until now gender has not been a factor, companies have taken into account when managing collaboration to increase productivity, It has been a dormant factor that has not been talked about." said Innovisor's Jeppe Vilstrup Hansgaard.

"However, it is important to uncover the barriers play in terms of collaboration, since this insight has potential to increase business value significantly."

What's more, when the distribution of gender in the companies surveyed was taken into account, the study found that both men and women are 40 per cent more likely than average to collaborate with others of their own gender.

"Gender clearly affects our judgement to collaborate objectively, and so we need to be more aware of the consequences of this to ensure the right match of skills and qualifications," Hansgaard added.

Exacerbating this trend is the fact that organisations typically find it hard to manage collaboration, because they tend to occur randomly. And according to Hansgaard , it is these informal relationships that determine whom we go to for advice or seek out when we need to solve problems related to our job.

We do this because we know and trust the people we turn to. But we risk predictable solutions and ideas, because we refrain from getting broader input or involving people with a different perspective.

"Managing collaboration is one of the most urgent management challenges at the moment," he said.

"In the aftermath of the global crisis most companies have a strong focus on reducing cost and make the most of their employees. Companies that get this right stand to benefit tremendously from enhanced efficiency and innovation, which ultimately makes them more competitive."

One way of overcoming barriers to successful collaboration is organisational network analysis to provide executives with a clearer idea of how collaboration works and how it can be improved in their organisations. Critically, this also identifies the most valuable people in terms of collaboration, which again means wiser decisions.

"Collaboration must be disciplined to ensure that the right people work together towards a common goal at the right time," Hansgaard continued. "It shouldn't always be the individual's choice, because it is often determined by who we feel comfortable around and have a desire to work with."

The challenge is that people in an organisation all have different perceptions of what constitutes good collaboration, putting the onus on managers to state clearly where they want collaboration to happen, and where they do not want it and what the specific goals are.

And as Hansgaard concludes, none of this means that women are necessarily better collaborators than men.

"The important learning is that gender should not determine collaborative relations, and that companies should recognize the challenge and focus on creating the right mix of skills and competencies."