Magazine article Communication World

Unleashing the Power of Creative Collaboration: A Look at Three Real-World Stories about Human Potential

Magazine article Communication World

Unleashing the Power of Creative Collaboration: A Look at Three Real-World Stories about Human Potential

Article excerpt

When thinking about factors that distinguish top performing companies from the also-rans, the root of their success often can be traced to the human equation. How many of today's companies are able to tap more than a fraction of their workforce potential? How many are able to take advantage of latent talents, ideas and contributive strengths waiting to be switched on? The companies that do best are the ones that find the means to use a larger fraction of their human resources than their competitors do, That is their edge in the global economy.

And they hone that edge by taking action based on two fundamental principles:

1. Rely on human potential as central to corporate strategy.

2. Liberate that potential through creative collaboration.

A company's competitiveness factor is a combination of the potential of its people, the quality of information those people possess and a willingness to share knowledge with others in the organization. The leadership challenge is to link these components as tightly as possible, Rest assured that there is a lot of untapped potential in all organizations waiting to be liberated and knowledge waiting to be shared, As proof, let's look at three success stories of companies that are using creative collaboration to tap into that potential. We'll then look at the moral of these stories--at what they can teach us about the value of optimizing human potential.


How Caterpillar created an environment in which employees from many different backgrounds and cultures came together. At Caterpillar's European headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, employees represent a mixture of nationalities. Although essential for a successful global operation, this diversity complicates communication: not only are employees dealing with multiple languages and backgrounds, they're also interacting with people from different communication cultures. The challenge was how to make members of this diverse population begin to think of themselves as a team.

Employee Communication Manager Gottardo Bontagnali kept thinking about the role played by the central market square--"piazza" in Italian--in virtually all European villages. In addition to going to the piazza for necessities of daily life, villagers went there to exchange news, pick up gossip, pass on information and socialize. It was, and still is in many places, the village's most efficient communication tool.

So Bontagnali decided to create a "piazza" at Caterpillar's Geneva headquarters. Local artists were brought in to paint the walls of the top-floor cafeteria with large village scenes, dotted with bright yellow Cat machines, of course, as well as sights from multiple Cat locations. The "villagers" portrayed in the panoramas were actual Cat employees. With a little imagination, employees could actually picture themselves in a European market square surrounded by familiar faces and sights.

Employees were encouraged to use the piazza for informal meetings and discussions. "Let's discuss it over a cup of coffee in the piazza" has become part of Caterpillar's culture in Geneva. And because so many people use the piazza for regular exchanges, it's become an important means of sharing information on an impromptu basis as well. But the most impressive result is how workplace design helped build workforce camaraderie and a common sense of purpose.


How Bob Buckman reinforced a knowledge-sharing culture based on trust. Buckman Laboratories has been in the specialty chemical business since 1945. Under the leadership of Robert H. (Bob) Buckman, it also has become a world-class, knowledge-sharing organization. Buckman would tell you that converting a command-and-control organization into a networked one was not without its challenges and setbacks. Still, by 1994, Buckman Labs had jumped into full-bore knowledge sharing: new software and connectivity had been installed, most of the associates were equipped with laptops and online forums were up and running. …

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