How Collaboration Impacts Productivity in Different Cultures


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Collaborative attitude vs. individual brilliance has always been a matter of debate. The subject elicits different responses depending on the socio-cultural context.

Countries like Japan,with team driven culture, have made remarkable progress in technology, thanks to their collaborative attitude. The American system and the European systems have been able to drive innovation with the help of their educational and legal frameworks that allow for collaboration between various people, encourage out of the box thinking and risk taking.

In the Indian society though individual brilliance is highly admired, but team working skills do not receive the desired consideration. That often impedes the output. The advent of electronic gadgets, internet (strangely yes!), increase in nuclear families and increased urbanization have further reduced the social interactions. Nowadays we are seeing that kids increasingly prefer to be confined to their homes playing with gadgets instead of going out to play. In the public transports, people remain glued to their phones, tablets, kindles, etc. rather than talk with their fellow travelers. The reduction in social interactions may further deteriorate the collaborative skills and team working abilities.

Additionally, the education system plays an important role in shaping up the skills and attitude. The Western education system and some other education systems like the Japanese system focus on building up specific skills and concept learning which fosters a culture of innovation and higher productivity while the education systems in India and in some Asian countries promote verbatim learning that does not leave much space or freedom for creativity.

The legal system too determines attitude towards work by providing mechanisms for protecting original pieces of work e.g. protection of patents, trademarks, strict laws against plagiarism etc.

If you look at the global business scenario, though some organizations are leaning towards providing work from home facility to their employees to  reduce their cost of operations, but most others believe that productivity increases in an ecosystem that encourages more social interactions between the people.

Apple and Microsoft are designing offices in which people bump into each other more and exchange ideas. Yahoo has banned employees from working from home so that employees work more effectively by having more face to face interactions rather than by using more efficient means like email, phones, etc. Jack Welch, as GE insiders say, would look at the body language and commitment exuded by the manager presenting new ideas rather than look only at the details of the plans.

One of my senior business acquaintances who hails from Korea told me that two things are very important to succeed and drive changes and innovation in an organization – team work and passion. While passion comes from within, people who can work and contribute to a group effort are very important to organizations which in turn have to build up ecosystems to nurture group efforts. He also mentioned that humans who can use their left and right brains equally well are more productive than single brained humans. The left side of the brain is used in structured and analytical work while the right side of the brain is used for instinctive work like arts, sports, etc.

The need for collaboration is further corroborated by an American research finding. In a Scientific American, article  ” The limits of intelligence” published in July 2011, Douglas Fox claims that the human brain has reached its limits of intelligence. Now, this sounds counter-intuitive because if the human brain can`t get any better, then how can human output increase in this age of “innovation”.

Fox says that one way is by better social interaction leading to a collective pooling of human brain and the second way is by use of technology (viz. internet).


Thus, social interactions facilitated by culture and technology can actually reduce the need for greater individual smart brains!


This information based on the research has very important ramifications for organizations, institutions, societies, etc. which are highly influenced by human behaviours.

  • One man army teams, teams with rock stars and high calibre people who can`t gel in a team will have limitations beyond a particular point. As the saying goes – “the whole is better than sum of the parts”.
  • Well rounded personalities would be preferred as compared to uni- dimensional personalities in managerial positions. In an organization a person with high IQ but average – low EQ would be a disaster. Highly left brained or right brained people would find it difficult to contribute to an overall cause beyond a limit.
  • To identify the correct people, organizations would need to have robust recruitment and training processes. People in managerial posts would need to have interests in varied activities like sports, arts, music, etc. to be effective managers.
  • The education system would need to be modified to stress not only on academics but also in extracurricular activities and sports. Rote based systems need certainly to undergo rigorous changes to suit the new challenges in a global system.
  • Women managers would need to be given more positions of responsibility as generally they are better off in team work and more well-rounded and balanced personalities as compared to men.

As my Korean friend said

“Team work” and “Passion” are some of the most important aspects in life.

How true!!

–       Contributed By Ram Narayanan, Sloan Fellow, London Business School

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