Collaboration Is Key To The Future

15th October 2015

Posted In: The Topic
Eva McGuire

Running an organisation is a complicated business.  And it doesn’t seem to be getting any less so.

So say the latest thinkers in business in any case.

The Irish Management Institute (IMI) held their annual National Management Conference on the 8th of October at the IMI Campus in Sandyford. This year’s theme was ‘Reinventing Organisations – Rethinking Leadership’ and was sponsored by eir.

The conference is a big day in the IMI calendar, it allows us to check in with senior leaders and to collectively look at the key trends and challenges in business, and how we might address them.

Words: Eva Maguire, IMI

40% of the attendees and speaker line-up at this year’s event were women and many of them are involved in the 30% Club Mentorship Programme. To get a sense of how far we’ve come, we only have to go back to the 1990s, to a time when on average less than 5% of the conference attendees were female.

We have come a long way – and not just in terms of the gender balance. Gone are the days of the lone heroic CEO leading a hierarchical organisation with a single competitive advantage.

A key theme, led by the female speakers, at the conference was that of collaboration as key to leading the organisations of the future. Regardless of the challenge, be it engaging employees, increasing complexity, or problem solving; the solution involved a call for people to work more effectively, empathically and intelligently together.

So what were the key messages?



Our big brains mean we’re natural collaborators, as presented by Emma Birchall, Head of Research at the HotSpots movement’s Future of Work Consortium. However, we don’t always get it right in our organisations. Emma’s work involves looking at how organisations can future-proof their working practices. She noted that we have preferences in how we wish to cooperate with each other, we like small groups and people just like us. Modern organisations must learn how to facilitate and sometimes overcome these preferences. The IMI have been working with the HotSpots Future of Work Consortium, and with Emma, to look at how organisations in Ireland can practically deal with the key challenges faced by the changing nature of work.


Engage your core (principles)

Sue Cox, Leadership Consultant and Tango Dancer, drew a clear (and surprising) parallel between the world of tango dancing and the world of leadership.  She showed that leadership involves deftly sidestepping prescribed moves in favour of core principles that facilitate better overall performance.  These principles are fundamentally collaborative in nature; improvisation, partnership and signalling of intent. Sue brought this idea to life by inviting a volunteer onto the stage to demonstrate how these principles work in reality. She then invited the conference attendees to give it a try, encouraging people to explore the concept of leading, and then being led. The interactive nature of this exercise really brought the idea of engaging your core (principles) to life and resonated deeply with everybody in attendance.


Balance your digital life

A core theme of the day was the increasing impact of digitisation on our lives and businesses. We are all familiar with the paradox; technology that is intended to enhance and simplify our lives ends up competing for our attention, and in some cases threatens to overwhelm us.  Getting it right requires understanding and balance, as presented by Thimon de Jong.


Design for human beings

When confronted with a problem we tend to look to the rational and analytical for the “best” solution, as demonstrated in a vibrant funny presentation on behavioural economics by Rory Sutherland, Creative Director of Ogilvy One.  But this means we miss the fact that we are all motivated by subjective assessments of value – this doesn’t make us irrational – just human.


Keep it Simple

Often, our natural reaction to seeing complexity is to add complicatedness, said Yves Morieux, Director of the Institute for Organization for Boston Consulting Group. He called for a return to simple rules in management and cautioned against our tendency to build matrices upon matrices when we should be looking at the key question of “why?”. The key message – as a starting point, we make sure we understand what people do at work.

This seems natural really.  Our organisations are indeed made up of human beings, big brained, natural although somewhat tribal collaborators.  People like us.  And after all, collaboration is the first basic principle of an organisation…. otherwise we would all be going it alone!


Eva Maguire is the Head of Design & Innovation at the Irish Management Institute. Her work focuses on the design of transformational organisational development programmes and she is passionate about the power of design to improve organisational performance. You can find her at @evamag and