Data Use, Technology, and Educational Leadership

How NOT to support good collaboration: The lesson from Yahoo

Yahoo has decided that communication and collaboration are important; hence, they have hit “undo” on their work from home policies. This NYTimes blog post frames the problems with this policy change in terms of work-family balance. But it’s more than that. I’m willing to risk that this is going to backfire, with negative consequences for work and productivity. I’m also pretty confident that although the example is about Yahoo, it offers lessons for educational leaders.

Flickr: Digitalnative

Flickr: Digitalnative

Upon reading the story, I was a little torn at first, because I’m an advocate for the power of formal collaboration and of “water cooler” conversations in improving practice. This is stuff that leaders in business and in schools ought to support. But having been a teacher and school administrator, I’m also incredibly conscious of the privilege I currently have of workplace flexibility.

The reason I think Yahoo’s policy is going to backfire, however, is because rich collaboration and innovation isn’t simply about showing up. Educators show up for after school meetings and PD days all the time. That’s no guarantee that the outcomes will be powerful or inspiring. Forcing people to show up only ensures a building full of people; taking away professional judgement about how best to work, however, only ensures that the building is full of disgruntled people.  Plus, lost abilities to take care of family and life stuff only adds to stress, hindering the original goal of fostering creativity.

The lesson for school leaders is an old one. Why not focus on the stuff that gets people to want to go to work and to be creative together? People need to feel valued. We get the most creative, committed work outcomes when people feel that they are doing important stuff. The work becomes “more than just job.” It taps into who we are and where we want to be. This is about shifting workplace culture and beliefs about work. Yahoo’s policy change has logic, but it sounds like a logic based on only the technical side of things. Fostering rich collaboration and productivity is going to also take some attention to the people side of things. 

Bonus – here’s the report cited in the NYTimes blog that was written here at Boston College’s Center for Work and Family. It sheds light on the new conflicts that dads now face in being committed to both work and family.


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This entry was posted on February 26, 2013 by and tagged .