The Answer to the UK Productivity Crisis? Working Better Together

11/06/2015 10:48 BST | Updated 10/06/2016 10:59 BST

This year marks the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 13 US lunar mission. The story of the crew coming together to overcome catastrophic adversity in outer space really captures the power of individuals working together as one team to achieve a shared goal.

Back on home Earth, however, few of us think about the positive impact collaboration can have. Helping others is not necessarily the first thing an employee will consider when sitting down in front of an overload of emails and conflicting deadlines. Yet helping colleagues, working with and through others more effectively, should be on the agenda for each and every one of us. It's the key to achieving better results at work in less time, and ultimately, helping address the UK's productivity crisis which is limiting growth in pay and living standards.

Too often poor productivity is ascribed to a lack of investment in technology or the problems poor infrastructure imposes on business. However, the reality is that productivity is about people, every bit as much as it's about machines. It comes down to the performance of individuals and teams; people drive business success, productivity and stronger growth.

And there is much scope for improving employee performance, even if it might not be so easy for those who feel like they're giving 110 percent with nothing left at the end of the day.

Strikingly, business leaders say that they need a 27 percent improvement in employee performance in order to achieve corporate goals. This may look difficult, especially when so many people are already doing more with less - but there is one powerful and oft-overlooked lever - collaboration.

Our recent research demonstrates that annual revenue per employee can increase by £10,500 when the workforce is collaborative. The great performance and productivity breakthroughs of today are created not by automating and streamlining - the main things that could be automated already are - but by harnessing the power of multiple minds rather than relying on one single person.

We can go so far as to say the era of the "lone wolf" individual contributor is now over. Compared to only three years ago, today's work environment is more interdependent and connected. As a result, the impact of any one individual is masked and even limited by the effectiveness of the wider group or organisation. By contrast, those who work with and through others effectively are able to achieve far better results than those who work hard in isolation.

The problem is that our working environment is still set up to focus on the individual. Performance reviews capture the individual contribution of each employee, and many feel their involvement and impact in bigger group projects goes unrecognised. Bonuses and plaudits are awarded to individual stars more often than the people who invest time in helping out their peers or the larger organisation.

Our research highlights that if businesses focus on increasing individual employee performance in their specific tasks, they can only achieve between 3-5 percent improvement. However, enabling effective collaboration can boost profit growth by 11 percent for every employee who does it well.

The Apollo 13 crew and NASA flight controllers are the perfect example of people pulling together, as Gene Kranz, the lead flight director explained: "we knew that success would only come as a team, so we became one." And in business, we need to find ways to instil this mind-set and approach across the workforce.

Boosting the UK's productivity levels depends not only on bettering the work of individuals but now more than ever, on our collective ability to work better together. Leveraging the power of productive formal and informal networks unleashes stranded potential in our economy overall.