How simple is collaboration?

Door Ilse Hoenderdos,
op 15 januari 2015

I recently experienced a renovation up close for the first time. My apartment in Amsterdam was thoroughly overhauled. I made arrangements with the contractor and asked someone to help me in guiding the construction. Well organized you might say, although the rebuilding was not so complicated. But that was not quite the reality…

The conclusion afterwards: everything went ‘fine’, but I still wanted to think through the lessons I’ve learned. How was it that the most basic things could go wrong?

Sometimes there was no thinking together. For example, a lamp is neatly hung in my storage room, but it was forgotten that a lamp also needs a power outlet in order to emit light. My front door was moved, but was screwed into the frame without the new locks. It was only when I forgot my front door key (a screwdriver in this case) and inquired about the finishing of the door I was told: “Not finished? The front door’s been moved, right?”

In other cases one party would think, but in a way that another party did not understand. The contractor advised me, of his own initiative, to install an electrical outlet in the bathroom. I had never thought about that. Then the tiler coolly closed the socket. “An outlet in the bathroom, who comes up with that?” He probably doesn’t have a girlfriend. Or beard growth. Or a heated mirror.

What did I learn from this? Collaboration starts with joint reflection on the desired final result. If everyone optimizes their own part of the solution, you get a damn nice outlet, but with a tile over it.

The best example of this is my attempt to install an internet connection. Tele2 sent me a package within a week. “Congratulations, surf the internet and watch television within 15 minutes.” But I seemed to have no telephone connection. The KPN engineer said that they could arrange this easily, but only for their customers. And I was a customer of Tele2 and had a subscription with UPC. Within a week I got sent the installation package at home. But then there appeared to be a fault on the line. Long story short: there have been a total of five engineers who all have done something, have transmitted the results to headquarters but have not solved the problem. The engineers are divided into time slots and sent at minimum cost. The result is an engineer who leaves a job without having to solve it, so he’s certainly not held accountable for his personal targets. The next engineer does not have the same knowledge as those who had handled the fault before. The result is more wasted time and higher costs for both UPC and the customer.

The moral of this story: the simplest form of cooperation can have an enormous effect on the quality of a final product. And cost control rarely leads to the lowest cost, whether it is an Amsterdam renovation or a complex sustainability challenge. In addition, ownership of a shared outcome is an important condition for a cooperation. Without an incentive for thinking about the solution, people tend to think about their own little part. Ideally, this stimulus would be translated into financial incentives, because that is a deciding factor for many people. So: cooperation is the basis for quality. And if you organize it in a smart way, higher quality is not more expensive.

And is cooperation more difficult? I don’t really think so. But you do have to think about it ☺ If everybody was to do that, I would already have internet. And an outlet in my bathroom.

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