Collaboration à la Coffee Shop

Guest contribution by | 22.11.2018

Last time you were in a coffee shop, did you take a good look? Five people meet for coffee, but each one drinks something different. Decaf caramel latte? Sure. Triple shot flat white? Sure. Non-Fat Chai Latte? I’ll have one. The variations seem endless. And yet, at the end of it all, everyone’s having coffee together. Or at least some kind of hot beverage. Whereas we used to sit down at a table with a pot of filter coffee, it is now normal even at home to be able to prepare the right hot drink for almost any taste. Mass individualisation has become the quasi-standard in recent years and is expected by more and more people in other areas as well. Now it has to find its way into the working world, namely where it is not so simple: in cooperation.

Nothing is as constant as change

People are individual. It is a gift of the Zeitgeist that we want to perceive them more and more in this way. We design workplaces according to demand, make working hours and phases more flexible, experiment with content and methods, in short: we shake up our modern working world. This has a lot of good things in it, because at last we can see how much dust has already accumulated on some of the status quo. At the same time, however, we are now facing new challenges – because individuality can also separate. However, if we focus on the opportunities that come with it and see diversity as added value and even as a prerequisite for future success, then the path in this direction is worthwhile.

Out of sight, out of mind

Many years ago, when home office work was hyped, there was also a flip side: if you’re not there, you’re not working. If you don’t work through piles of files and papers on your desk, you haven’t done anything either. And of course, the ongoing digitalisation also pays off in these work fairy tales. Employees are insecure, colleagues are irritated. Meanwhile the way we work is getting massively shaken. Up to now, work has been clearly visible, was perceived “in passing” and often appreciated. But our fields of activity are increasingly shifting. A new understanding of productivity and value creation is spreading. Fortunately, the tiresome presenteeism is also dying out more and more. Nevertheless, a rough wind is blowing in this change, but we are increasingly able to seek and adopt other perspectives.

One of the cornerstones of digitalised cooperation is transparency. Who is working on what? When will what be finished? What have we already achieved? The openness of office doors, instant messengers and collaboration portals must be followed above all by those in the mind. Today we speak of “mindset” and mean our attitude, e.g. towards changes, others and also ourselves. Even today there is still a need to catch up, because too often we are still stuck in outdated structures and working methods that prevent us from doing meaningful, value-adding work. Equally challenging is the balancing act between individual freedom and the connection – or even solidarity – with the organisation. Finding the lowest common denominator and building on it is an art that needs to be practiced.

The journey is the destination

What remains in the end, if everything changes? Right, our attitude towards it, our way of dealing with it. Especially the change from passive execution to active design puts us in a self-determined position and enables us to achieve a new quality of self-efficiency. This is of course accompanied by responsibility – for our satisfaction, for our success, for innovation and progress. A responsibility that we must first learn to bear, especially when it has been so emphatically taken away from us in recent decades.

Among other things, agile and sociocratic approaches help us to experiment, to make mistakes and to engage more confidently in the unknown. In this way we increase our effectiveness, reflect on common values and act according to meaningful principles.

Expectation management is another key to success. If we no longer assume that things are made for eternity, that they have to be perfect and unshakable, then we have the freedom and scope to create what we really need in the respective environment and context. And then we can actually respond flexibly to changing needs and conditions, because they no longer overwhelm us, but we are already looking for them and making use of them.

You, me, us – that’s three pairs of shoes

Even if we are heading towards the same goal, this does not automatically mean that we are necessarily in the same boat. How we achieve this goal can be very different from person to person. That is why it is so essential for individualised cooperation that we really understand each other – empathy is a key competence for this. Why do you use this tool? What advantages does this method offer you? What makes your approach so successful for you? If we understand the reasons, the ideas and expectations that others associate with their ways of working, then we can get closer and find our intersections and interfaces in order to achieve a meaningful, useful result together despite different approaches. This naturally presupposes that we ourselves know how we can and, above all, want to work best. This usually requires a little experience, some experiments and some course correction. And even then there is nothing for eternity – here too our preferences change for a variety of reasons. Of course, this also has its justification, because whenever we suspect that something no longer quite fits, it is the most natural thing in the world to question the status quo.

The first step is the most difficult

Fortunately, there are small, quickly implementable adjustments that can contribute to a fundamental change. Not all of them always fit, and they do not always succeed, because – you may guess – people and situations are individual. But if you are still at the beginning of this journey, the following suggestions can help you get started:

  • Review the existing regulations and working methods and say goodbye to anything that stands or could stand in your way.
  • Together, create clear, binding foundations and thus provide a meaningful framework.
  • Increase the scope for action above this – also at the various organisational levels.
  • Act in a value-creation-oriented manner and focus on output, not input.
  • Enable experiments, learning loops and adjustments. Encourage each other and trust in the valuable experiences of the joint journey.
  • Welcome diversity, because it is a prerequisite for new ideas, innovations and your future.



To quote Heinrich von Kleist: “Everyone has his own way of being happy, and no one may demand that one should be happy in his own.” If we do this and follow this path, in a structured way, then we can only win – we as a company, we as part of the whole, we as customers and suppliers. At the very least, individualised cooperation can play a large part in making us more effective. And that is worth experimenting with. What do you think? Maybe you’ll think about it on your next Americano. Or your Pumpkin Spice Latte. Or whatever you like.



Christina de Vries has published another post in the t2informatik Blog:

t2informatik Blog: Get out of the lab - into real life!

Get out of the lab – into real life!

Christina de Vries
Christina de Vries

Christina de Vries inspires people and organisations for modern collaboration. After 9 years at itacs GmbH and 1.5 years at Microsoft, she joined Adobe in 2022 as Senior Customer Success Manager.