Corporate Collaboration Costs

There was a time when it was enough to have good collaboration within an individual company, so long as coworkers were able to successfully share files and information that might help in achieving the goals of the business. In an increasingly global marketplace however, the value of collaborating (or “working with”) reaches beyond the walls of each business and across oceans, time zones, and cultures. So how do we prepare our employees to respond to this expanded view of “collaboration?” International Business Machines (IBM) is one of the world’s most global companies with offices in the US, Japan, India, China, Israel, and Switzerland. On average, IBM spends $600 million each year on worker education programs |Lohr, 2007|. To put that in perspective: if everyone in America worked for IBM, the company would be paying almost $2 per person per year just on training.

"Learning leaders must think differently about corporate training and focus on those informal and collaborative strategies that will save money."

- John Bersin

John Bersin, President of Bersin & Associates (a research and advisory firm whose work focuses on enterprise learning and talent management) points out that current economic stresses had an impact on corporate spending on training their employees: “In the last few years, corporations have moved to coaching and informal learning methods, focusing on collaborative activities and other less costly training schemes. From 2007 to 2008, total spending on corporate training programs dropped from $58.5 billion to $56.2 billion, an average change from $1202 per employee to $1075.” He believes this money-saving trend will continue even as companies begin to recover from the economic downturn. Bersin states that “Today’s business world demands a combination of formal and informal learning with an emphasis on collaboration, knowledge sharing, social networking, coaching, and mentoring...Business, HR, and learning leaders must think differently about corporate training and focus on those informal and collaborative strategies that will save money” |Breitbart, 2009|. This leads us to the question: for what purpose do companies spend money on training? The simplest answer is to increase employee productivity (i.e. their problem-solving skills). In his book titled Design Thinking, Peter Rowe breaks down problem-solving behavior into three subclasses of activity:

“The first, the representation of the problem through structuring and restructuring the problem space, is known as the ‘problem representation problem’. The second, the generation of solutions, is termed the ‘solution generation problem’. The third, the evaluation of candidate solutions, is known as the ‘solution evaluation problem’. Those who study problem-solving behavior generally make comparisons among problem solvers according to differences in their methods of problem representation, solution generation, and solution evaluation. Clearly these three subclasses of activity are interdependent. The choice of solution generation strategy may markedly affect the manner in which a problem is represented and the manner in which solutions are evaluated. It is generally in terms of solution generation strategy that problem-solving procedures are described” |Rowe, 1987|.

To summarize, to remain competitive at the ever-increasing global scale of business, corporations continually expend large sums of money on employee training. The modes by which employees are trained are becoming much more informal, often focusing on collaboration techniques, but the goal of that training is still to increase employee productivity (problem-solving skills). Drawing (visual thinking and conversation) has a direct application to the first two stages of the problem-solving process as described by Rowe (problem representation and solution generation). Drawing as a means of solution generation is most heavily employed in design-related disciplines, so where can designers most readily share their techniques with other disciplines? Corporate collaboration typically follows the multi-disciplinary model; each profession has its own job to do, so long as the assembly line keeps moving. It is because of this drive for efficiency that the corporate world leaves little room for shifting to a less clearly defined method of problem-solving — the numbers can’t instantly prove that such a shift would equal success. Academia, on the other hand, offers an environment of inquisition and experimentation and serves as the testbed for potential success-building strategies that can be carried into the corporate world by new generations of employees.