Across the country, and across Indiana, collaborative co-working spaces have been opening their doors to entrepreneurs. Some of these spaces have started privately, and others have launched with local government funding. The goal for these new spaces is to provide working space for entrepreneurs to start and build companies across a broad range of categories including technology, health information, life sciences, biotech, consumer products, application development and other high-potential enterprises.
Many city governments (and Bloomington is no exception) have acknowledged the importance of incubators and co-working spaces for longterm economic development. They can help establish a vibrant local eco-system of entrepreneurs, and provide an incentive for our most talented and creative young people to stay local. But it takes more than a shared space to foster a thriving entrepreneurial eco-system.
Building a Collaborative Culture Is Key
During a recent tour of the Launch Fishers facility in Fishers, Indiana by local Bloomington officials and business people, co-founder John Wechsler explained the most important opportunity in a co-working space:
“Launch Fishers offers members the opportunity to connect and collaborate with like-minded individuals, which can be the difference between growth and failure.”
Connecting and collaborating is often easier said than done in a work-space shared by individuals with so many varied projects, skills, commitments and personalities. Nurturing collaboration requires more than simply providing a set of guidelines for civil discourse or the sharing of ideas.
As the Bloomington Tech Park sprouts its wings, and more co-working spaces open across Indiana, understanding effective collaboration protocols (and sharing those methods with new members) will be the key for any successful co-working space. The development of a deliberate culture of collaboration can only be strengthened by the understanding of these methods.
Building the right culture was so important to the Speak Easy in Indianapolis, that co-founder Jeb Banner and his associates created an application process for all new members—and not everyone is accepted. “The Speak Easy is not the right fit for everyone,” Banner clarified. While a good part of the Speak Easy culture was developed organically, Banner acknowledged that much of it was also done “deliberately.”
But what do you do if you have a co-working space with an open membership policy that welcomes all comers like most locally government-funded spaces? The chance for even more dissonance among members increases exponentially. “Not everyone knows how to work effectively with others. That’s a ‘fail and learn’ process,” explained one member of an Indiana-based co-work space who asked not to be identified. But does it have to be?
Effective collaboration can yield successful and creative results on an ongoing basis. And while some of this will happen organically in a shared space, having a formal system in place that facilitates collaboration will encourage even more of it. Not every entrepreneur necessarily knows how a good collaborative process works. But most entrepreneurs have at some point experienced the failed partnerships, poor communications, hurt feelings, and unresolved conflicts that result from unsuccessful collaborations.
As these new co-working spaces develop, it will be essential to provide more than written guidelines and suggestions for partnerships and collaboration. New co-working spaces should be prepared to provide collaboration training to all new members. Mentoring is a good start, and rules of conduct are a necessity in a shared space, but these alone will not necessarily foster effective collaboration, a creative eco-system, or successful partnerships.
“The theoretical advantages of working together are often canceled out entirely by the complexities of conflicting egos, personalities, communication styles, and all of the other things that make humans wonderfully unique. These differences can be used to the groups advantage, but most of the time they aren’t handled well and just end up being terribly frustrating and irritating to each other,” explains Coltrain Group CEO, Michele Mattoon.
“Too often collaboration isn’t recognized as something you need formal training to really be good at. The reality is, there are hundreds of ways to make working together a success and a pleasure, but most people just haven’t been shown how to do that.”
Collaborating effectively is not as simple as it sounds. Many very talented and intelligent people struggle with collaboration and team-based creativity. I believe that having a systematic plan for collaboration, and providing collaboration training for new members, are essential elements in helping the entrepreneurs and new companies in incubator and co-working spaces live up to their full potential.