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We’ve got a problem. Old-world business models are forsaking new-world potential. People continue working in silos, while businesses continue supporting workplace cultures that follow such outdated paradigms. Radically new ways of connecting are possible, yet corporations have yet to fully embrace the potential of our hyper-connected age.

Consider this: In the minute it takes to read these 539 words, Twitter users have sent nearly 350,000 tweets, Instagram users have liked 1.73 million posts, and Facebook users have sent 3.25 million messages. Behind each of these digital events is a single person, business, or organization that is reaching audiences with an immediacy and intimacy never before possible in history. That’s hyper-connectivity. I’m talking about channeling this same potential into everyday workplace connections. Are there 20 people on your marketing staff? By empowering them with the tools and strategies to collaborate outside of previous boundaries, you’ll exponentially increase the expertise that goes into any solution. You’ll allow them to transform what is possible by opening themselves up to new people, ideas, and resources. All this, without increasing staffing costs. It’s possible — and the benefits are enormous.

But nothing will happen without change. And without change, business can stagnate. What’s needed is to create processes that incentivize collaboration and help employees reach across silos to access new ideas and expertise. Processes to help them work together better and to work better together.

Implementing a culture of connectional intelligence

It’s an approach that’s behind an ambitious project being carried out by Case Western Reserve University, which is currently building a facility the size of 8.5 football fields on the campus of the Cleveland Clinic. When the facility is ready in 2019, it will house Case Western’s medical, nursing, and dental schools. The goal of educating these groups under the same (very large) roof is to improve collaboration skills. Recognizing that teams are essential to healthcare in the 21st century, Case Western already hosts regular brainstorming sessions in which students from each school debate a diagnosis and treatment plan for fictional patients. “The root of many of our errors had to do with the fact that our professionals were not working effectively together for patient care,” said Case Western’s vice dean of education, Dr. Patricia Thomas.

How do you design a culture of connectional intelligence? I propose a three-step solution.

When facing a problem, think about who else cares. Look beyond your regular circle. Case Western recognized that each of the healthcare professions were seriously invested in patients’ well-being — but their expertise needed to be consolidated. “Healthcare is no longer a gladiatorial sport, where you [have] the one healthcare provider — you know, mano a mano, one on one — battling a disease,” Dr. James Young, a cardiologist who heads the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine, told NPR.

Engage the help of this cohort. Think about designing initiatives to inspire this community. Like the student debates about patient care plans — bringing together disparate groups with a shared goal will help everyone get used to the idea of collaboration. And show them just how much is to be learned from the expertise of others.

Design a way to sustain this community. For Case Western, it was a $500 million facility. You can probably do it for less.


This article by Erica Dhawan is part of a publication with thought leadership pieces by 11 other authors from the CrossKnolwedge Faculty.