All 4 entries tagged Collaboration

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December 20, 2017

An army of ants move as one and feel as one – collective intelligence in action

Are ants intelligent? Yes, say many academic researchers. An individual ant may not be that intelligent but a colony of ants is. A typical ant colony might consist of millions of army ants and together they become an intelligent super-organism. Among others, ants know when to keep their nests warm and do coordinated foraging for food with no single ant being a leader among them.

It seems their intelligence is a property of collective intelligence. It is a known fact that intelligence involves the rational processing and perception of symbolic information. The human consciousness itself has an extraordinary processing power and our intelligence stems from the truth of how we are able to access internal and external information from this processing power.

Ants seem to have accessed this enormous external information and they pass this information from one individual ant to another ant by reading and writing those symbolic information. They do this by leaving trails of pheromones, which act as stimuli to motivate other ants to make actions and make remarkable changes in the way they behave. This corroborates to say “ants have feelings”. For example, through the pheromone trail, ants get clues on whether they should go out for foraging or not.

Ants have two commendable properties. One is time keeping and the other is navigation. Ants maintain precise times and this shows up in their nomadic phase and stationary phase. The ants maintain a strict 15 days nomadic phase during which their larvae are growing. This is followed by a stationary phase of 20 days for the pupae to develop.

We are talking about Army ants here, which live in the amazon rain forests. There are about 200 species of army ants and they are known for their aggressive foraging behavior known as raids. How the army ants navigate into the South American rain forests is a mystery. To explain in a simple way, they all act as one and move as one. An interesting article on this behavior is on Scientific American. You can read the article here. You can also read another article on swarming ants here

During the stationary phase, they orient themselves and when they go out on raids, they separate each raid area by an average of 123 degrees. This separation of raid area allows new prey to enter their domain of previously raided areas. Interesting!

Compounding to this mystery is their eyesight. Their eyesight is not so powerful as the other species of insects who have multi-faceted compound eyes. The ants only have a single facet giving them a very normal eyesight. Now with this they are able to navigate into the dense forests, unhindered.

The answer could be in the fact that a swarm of army ants could be contributing to this remarkable navigation. Together the ants have thousands of compound eyes and they all act as one and move as one accessing and processing information together as one.


October 09, 2017

Social collaboration best practices in workplaces – Part 1

It has always been an established fact that companies have depended on the merits of employee social collaboration for the generation of new ideas and for innovation. Management needs to accept the chaos during the initial stages before they venture out to making detail product development plans. We can learn a lot from other companies on ‘how to foster social collaboration’ who have been trailblazers in this field.

Please find below some of the best practices, which we can adopt to make social collaboration successful in organizations.

Having a curated and facilitated collaborative environment

Often a regular feedback is that employees get overwhelmed and often get distracted with collaboration overload. Ton Davenport, the distinguished professor in Information technology, analytics, and knowledge management at Babson College in his interview for MIT Technology Review says that for collaboration to succeed, organizations need to have a limited use of it. This means, employees need to collaborate for a limited period to avoid getting overwhelmed. Social collaboration at work does not mean that everybody in the organization needs to collaborate. Sometimes, it would do more good if we limit it to people who are naturally keen and have intrinsic ability to collaborate.

We would see more and more organizations favoring curated and facilitated collaborative environments. In a recent research study, conducted at IBM, they found that the employees source of inspirational ideas were within the organization rather than outside. Employers insist that managers and their direct reports spend enough time to scan their own business function to assess and identify the business needs and gaps for collaboration before they venture out with their colleagues from other business units.

Organizations are keen on responsible action from their employees on collaboration activity. With a return to curated and facilitated collaborative environment, organizations can ensure that their senior employee’s time is prioritized and they can spend time on sharing their inputs and expertise in internal meetings rather than spending much of their time on external social networking.

This article piece first appeared in SAP by the same author.


August 01, 2017

Social collaboration for internal and external networking in workplaces

Writing about web page

A new research study published in the Harvard Business Review talks about how ideas can be generated inside and outside the organization. Please find the link above. Most of the organizations allow employees to network outside the company walls for knowledge sharing and gain intelligence. Unfortunately, such exercises take up a lot of time from a senior employee’s day schedule. Networking externally is an art and requires lot of time to gain trust and credibility.

On the contrary, the senior employee's time and expertise is also required inside the organization for his inputs in meetings and other proceedings. There is opportunity cost lost when he or she is not able to balance the needs.

Need for balancing internal and external social collaboration

Further, the argument is that, such employees need to spend enough time inside the organization, the study and assess the innovation needs of the organization. This is far more important in the first place. They need to scan the internal environment before they venture out to meet their business partners and vendors.

Further, the argument is that, employees who spend time within the organizations are not devoid of ideas either. Valuable insight is gained only when they move out of their desks and meet colleagues of other business units, collaborate with them and have meaningful conversations. One cannot underestimate the need for effective internal conversations. One fails to recognize that good ideas are always across the desk.

The authors suggest social collaboration can occur for generating new ideas through internal and external social networking in workplaces. There needs to be a balance in how we approach the problems of opportunity cost lost when senior employees do not devote time internally within the organizations.

The authors point to some solutions as below.

1. Scan the internal environment:

Managers of employee teams need to assess their own organizational needs for innovation and its urgency. Not all the employees need to network externally. Only the employees who have the required skills can do that. The employees need to take up personal responsibility before they venture out for external social collaboration.

2. Conduct external networking meaningfully:

The employees need to understand that time is paramount. They need to strike a balance between internal and external opportunities and network accordingly. It is not necessary that they network externally all the time. They need to network for the sake of networking and take be responsible and accountable for their actions. The managers also need to understand that it is time taking to network externally.

3.Spread the learning within the organization:

Employees after they come from external networking need to spread the information and lessons learned to the rest of the organization. One good way to do this is through pairing an internally focused employee with an external networking employee. Together they present their findings to the rest of the organization. This way both will be able to learn from each other, which benefits the organization as well.


Internal and external networking for social collaboration among employees is mutually beneficial for both the organization as well as the individuals who are involved. As presented in the article, it is important for us to find the balance between them and realize the best of both worlds.

If you are still reading this post, I guessed you liked it. If you wish, you can share it. Thanks and cheers.

June 17, 2017

Criticism on Collaboration at work

In the recent years and months, there were a lot of criticism about collaboration at work. The most noted and the one that drew my attention was from a couple of articles from the Economist titled “The collaboration curse” and another one from Harvard Business Review titled “Collaborative overload”. The central theme in both of them was the same. Employees waste their time on non-value adding activities through collaborative exchanges through emails, meetings and on the company intranet. Value added collaboration come from only about 3-5% of the employees. Further, isolated and focused work gets hampered through collaboration activities.

Having spent my time working in the HR function in large organizations managing HR projects, the above arguments and contentions from the authors might be true. But we also need to understand that collaboration is a synergy and it is best represented by the statement from Aristotle “The whole is greater than the sum of parts”. We find meaning, new ideas and serendipitous discoveries in those gibberish non-value activities. Nothing wasteful is spent for a discerning and astute listener. Collaboration within large organizations is akin to how marriages happen. Just like how we plant seeds of love, trust, understanding, and cooperation in marriage, the same is with the social exchanges in collaboration.

One such medium which can make collaboration a symphony of sorts is the effective use of social media within large organizations. Just like the statement from Aristotle, no one person need have all the knowledge and expertise to solve the problems. More specifically, my research focus would be on how social media usage can foster strong bonds of social capital among employees for collaboration and those innovative ideas for problem-solving can spontaneously emerge from the bottom up.

Cheers, Ramkumar

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Coffee mug conversations and listening – about social media, networks, collaboration and crowds.

Human beings are social animals. We have evolved to this date and time, because of our social nature. We love groups and we love to share.

I write about re-inventing ourselves and our work through Social media, Social networks, Work Collaboration, Innovation and lastly Work life balance.

I completed my Masters in IT for manufacture, WMG, University of Warwick. I graduated in the year 2004.

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