We’ve been thinking hard recently about what collaboration means to the companies we work with. Collaboration is one of those terms, like innovation or execution, that sometimes seems to lose its meaning because we use it so indiscriminately. Of course we all need to collaborate better (how to do that is a topic we’ll be covering in this blog over the coming months). Yet it’s also one of those functions that many companies hope will just … happen. Let’s put a bunch of good, motivated people together and there will be collaboration, right? It’s not that easy; companies must create conditions in which collaboration isn’t just possible but inevitable.

For many years, the mobile handset maker Nokia fostered collaboration as soon as they hired someone. As Lynda Gratton and Tamara J. Erickson report in the HBR article Eight Ways to Build Collaborative Teams:

”At Nokia, informal mentoring begins as soon as someone steps into a new job. Typically, within a few days, the employee’s manager will sit down and list all the people in the organization, no matter in what location, it would be useful for the employee to meet. This is a deeply ingrained cultural norm, which probably originated when Nokia was a smaller and simpler organization. The manager sits with the newcomer, just as her manager sat with her when she joined, and reviews what topics the newcomer should discuss with each person on the list and why establishing a relationship with him or her is important. It is then standard for the newcomer to actively set up meetings with the people on the list, even when it means traveling to other locations. The gift of time — in the form of hours spent on coaching and building networks — is seen as crucial to the collaborative culture at Nokia.”

This isn’t foolproof; anyone following Nokia knows that it ain’t what it used to be. But the lesson is still an important one. Many companies embark on the mundane but necessary task of formally introducing new employees to their colleagues, but few do it with the purpose Nokia shows in that example. It’s tactically brilliant (the new person has to be introduced to these old-timers anyway) and it’s strategically savvy (leaders seed the initial, necessary conversation). It gets people together as soon as possible and sets them up for collaborative success.