July 29, 2019 // Written by Scottie Knollin, with contribution by Kristen Hackmann

“A lot of collaboration shouldn’t exist in the first place.” - Adam Grant

Spend a day within the walls of CoreLink Administrative Solutions and you’ll see and hear efficient examples of collaboration. In light of the company’s current journey, the expectations placed on each team member have required an extra level of responsibility, accountability, and loyalty. For some companies, the need for willingness could come at the cost of an individual’s happiness. At CoreLink, however, team members arrive each day, anticipating an array of opportunities that will challenge them in a positive way.

On a recent episode (listen below) of his weekly podcast, Making Sense, celebrated author Sam Harris interviewed organizational psychologist Adam Grant about workplace psychology. Grant, who also serves as a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, shared some interesting hypotheses about the problem with the modern workplace. The common thread of the entire conversation was the misunderstanding of the human connection to work. At the core, collaboration and the desire to infuse teamwork into each day has inadvertently sucked passionate work dry from most office spaces.

Grant highlights that true work loyalty starts from the moment an employee is considering their next career move. Many people choose their jobs based solely on their skills, the pay, and very little more, opting to just accept other elements as collateral damage. “I think there’s a big misfactor (sic) there, which is culture…The culture of the organization that you join has as much impact on your happiness, your success, and even your career trajectory. as the actual work itself.” The entirety of your work experience, or at least in terms of how you digest your day-to-day experience, is in your hands. It’s what you make of it. If you’ve allowed yourself to be part of an organization that doesn’t foster your desire to contribute and, in turns, invests in you, a change may be required.

If you find yourself in the situation where you’re needing a new start, interview the company first. Walk into your first meetings with your potential boss or teammates with confidence, owning your talents and skills, and understanding your cultural and social requirements. As Grant points out, “Once they give you the job, you have to think, ‘Is this a place where I can be successful and I can flourish?’” To get a full picture of a company’s culture, a picture beyond the sales pitches and buzzwords, Grant suggests asking someone who currently works there to tell you a story about something that’s happened in their workplace that wouldn’t happen anywhere else. You can quickly dissect just how unique, open-minded, and people-focused a company is once people are asked to share outside of the typical talking points.

Culture at the workplace comes in many different forms and meets the needs of many different types of workers. If you can think of a scenario where someone may flourish better than others, there’s a workplace out there that looks like that. Because of the difference in culture, community within the company can look and feel different. A company completely made up of telecommuters or distributed teams will house a different kind of culture than an office with all of its twenty employees dispersed in a single room of cubicles. Interactions are different. How a company connects its people will look different. At the end of the day, despite the multitude of ways a company may treat its workday and its people, it’s the employees who have the final say in the success of the company’s culture. After all, people want to feel like they’re making a bigger contribution than just day-to-day work.

Kristen Hackmann  |    Senior Business Systems Analyst, CoreLink

Kristen Hackmann | Senior Business Systems Analyst, CoreLink

At one point in the interview, Grant shares how collaboration is the easy answer to finding a successful culture. If you’ve mastered a collaborative environment, every team member should feel proud of their contribution, right? Not so fast. Even successful collaboration requires finesse. To find how it works in your workplace, you’ve got to figure out this equation: “How do we get people on the same page in what their missions and values are, the ways they work together? And, hopefully, we can do that in such a way that when we work together, we can accomplish things we couldn’t do solo.”

For CoreLink, the road to collaboration was a constant ebb and flow of incorporating new business practices and allowing its team members to set the pace for how work was completed. In fact, one of the foundations of CoreLink’s existence was the need for efficiency in collaboration. CoreLink Senior Business Systems Analyst, Kristen Hackmann, recently offered a look at the company’s founding, including how collaboration played a key role. “Go back a few years. Go back many years. Like to the mid- to late-1980s. (One of CoreLink’s parent companies) began an initiative to enhance their membership and claims processing systems. Several options were offered to automate more of the processes. That process was not a small feat. It took years to create these systems. There is ongoing work; enhancements to create more efficiencies. There are changes that are required due to new rules, new codes, other new processes. This legacy system is constantly being enhanced to improve efficiencies.”

That jargon provides some insight into the busyness of the teams who worked each day in providing optimal customer service and top-level skill. As the company’s systems continued to be updated and automated, the need for a separate venture to handle that technological work ushered in a new domain for those skilled workers: CoreLink Administrative Solutions. As an independent company, CoreLink operated to enhance the membership and claims processes, while mastering other initiatives and projects in the decade since the doors first opened. The success of CoreLink relied solely on the collaboration with its owners. But, that’s not the only collaboration that was taking place.

Hackmann continued: “Collaboration was also happening between CoreLink and various teams from (within the departments of its owners). In each of these efforts, we found ways to work together, to compromise, and to come to consensus for the best outcome for our customers. Sometimes, the most cost-effective solutions were chosen; other times, more efficiencies were identified. In an ideal world, the efficiencies and cost-effectiveness would always be the same solution.”

The ability to choose between multiple solutions is a great example of the trust CoreLink’s leadership team has in its employees. Trust allows for ownership by each individual contributor. And, trust means flexibility. If you ask any member of Team CoreLink, past or present, they will all mention flexibility as a key factor in the company’s legacy in their own lives. A flexible work schedule means they can handle the ‘real life’ things in the world without the worry of an overbearing work schedule or manager. A flexible atmosphere in the workplace means a healthy acceptance of creative ideas and thoughtful conversations. Flexibility in meetings means each person gets to hold the reigns of their contribution to a project. And, a healthy team that respects flexibility is one who embraces collaboration as a whole.

Grant, when discussing how collaboration must look different for each person, explained, “A lot of collaboration shouldn’t exist in the first place.” Forced teamwork very rarely leads to the most efficient result. For CoreLink, a company built on the idea of efficiency, forced anything is the opposite of its people-focused culture. Each employee is challenged to lead from their seat, whatever that looks like from their perspective. In CoreLink’s current journey, employees are challenged even further in terms of their own futures and careers.

“Teams fail when you give them tasks that are better done by individuals,” Grant later states. Pointless meetings or conversations that could happen via a quick email are detriments to efficiency in a project. Forced teamwork on a task that could be quickly and triumphantly completed by one person is a waste of many people’s time. To avoid falling into the unnecessary teamwork trap, Grant suggests asking these questions before bringing a project to a team:

  • Is this a task that really requires interdependent collaboration?

  • Or, is it a task that’s better done by individual people working separately?

Remember, people want to feel like they’re making a bigger contribution than just day-to-day work. Ownership in a project could be individual work or championed group efforts. Either way, ultimate success lies in the most efficient process. The most efficient collaboration. The most efficient teamwork. Hackmann has noticed the CoreLink way of encouraging each team member to bring their best stuff to the table, in whichever way that looks, has allowed every person to own their personal success. “The culture and mindset have grown (over the years) to a ‘let’s work on this together’ mentality. The shift to explaining the ‘why’ has encouraged more collaboration and sharing. When the goal is understood, the employees are more invested in the outcome. This empowers us, not only to think outside the box, but to share our ideas.”

More from Hackmann: “Throughout CoreLink’s journey, there have been countless opportunities for collaboration. The types of projects and system enhancements are too numerous to mention. Each of these occasions has provided experience for staff to hone their business, technical, and social skills. CoreLink has been a place to learn and grow…As we continue to move forward toward the closure of CoreLink’s doors, the staff will continue to move forward as well. The growth mindset, teamwork, spirit of adventure, and collaboration skills will be taken with each of us.”

If you feel like your team needs more prodding to work on projects together, consider each person’s strengths, what they can provide for the intended goal, and how you can all reach that goal together. It may look like a football team, running a play in sync. Or, it may look like a relay race, where each person on the team is responsible for completing their tasks in order to get to the next step on the way to the finish line. Both are acceptable, and aren’t the only options.

Click below to hear the entire conversation between Sam Harris and Adam Grant: