National Bank of Canada

Promoting collaboration to foster innovation.

National Bank of Canada
September 2017 to January 2018
Digital Transformation Department

“We wanted our teams to collaborate more”

Canada’s National Bank of Canada (NBC) employs more than 30,000 people across the country. How do you get everyone moving in the same direction when there are so many of us across such a vast territory? How do you inject new collaborative ways of working into a conventional industry?

Denis Rousseau, Senior Director of Digital Transformation:

“Meaning is a subject that everyone is talking about today but it was very new at the time of our mission. Our work objective was to find an analytical framework to explore the subject of collaboration in our own way. We did not want to be given a ready-made strategic action plan. We wanted to understand a complex subject to explain it and then measure it.

Why, despite a supportive work environment, aren’t employees collaborating more?

NBC started a program to change the work experience profoundly. Reorganization of the physical workspaces in flex-office (remote and in-person work) and fully online work has been carefully implemented to encourage meetings between employees within the workspace. A corporate social network, along with an instant messaging system, was created to broaden the possibilities of collaboration for employees whose offices can be several thousand kilometers apart. The primary objective of this project was to put material conditions conducive to collaboration in place. Although the equipment is perfect and the employees are satisfied, after six months of deployment, NBC did not notice more collaboration within its teams.

Identify the Brakes and Accelerators in Establishing a Collaborative Work Culture

A case like that of NBC reveals a fundamental problem: how each person defines collaborative work culture means the objectives vary for each person. For there to be effective collaboration in the teams, they must agree on what they mean by ‘collaboration’ and adhere to this new work culture. This was the main problem NBC faced in this project.

My intervention with the Research-Action approach went like this:

Exploring together:
A state-of-play was established based on interviews with a sample of project employees and managers. This survey determined that the notion of collaboration and the work behaviors that flowed from it were not understood consistently within the organization.

Shedding light on science:
A literature review shed light on the concept of collaboration and the concrete acts of work that flow from it. Identifying the obstacles to employee buy-in to digital transformations of workspaces and how to avoid them followed

Co-construct with Initiators, Actors and Users:
A working group was formed and using the elements of the literature review, a repository of work actions expected in a collaborative culture was created. A defined action plan to deploy was established.

Measure the Impact and Efficiency of the Project:
To ensure the effectiveness of our action plan, a tool was created to measure the level of collaboration and to check at different times during the project whether the acts of collaboration were rooted in work practices.


Denis Rousseau, Senior Director of Digital Transformation:

” With Elodie, we deconstructed many of our myths about collaboration and work organization, and observed how there are different types of collaboration and levels of collaboration. That there is a difference between collaboration and cooperation too. That extreme collaboration leads to social innovation, etc. It was not easy to go operational with a very cultural subject. This stage of work guided us on the actions that would bear more fruit than others. This allowed us to advance less blindly. We have implemented marketing actions and made changes to the methods of collaboration.”

Why Expertise in Consulting Research was Relevant for this Mission

By definition, there is no established method for setting up innovative projects, especially when it comes to changing human behavior with technology. For this mission, Research-Action and a collection of field data and research on the subject proved essential to highlight the brakes and accelerators in establishing a culture of collaboration.

This mission has led to several publications:

Le rôle clé du manager dans la transformation culturelle accompagnant la digitalisation des entreprises : réflexion à partir d’une recherche-action menée au sein d’un établissement bancaire canadien.
Chevallier, E. et Coallier, J-C. (2022).
In Raveleau, B., & Aquilina-Livia, T. M. A. M. (Dir). Manager en responsabilité à l’heure du digital. Laval : Presses Universitaires de Laval.

De la transformation digitale de l’outil de travail à la transformation des pratiques de travail.
Chevallier, E. et Coallier, J.-C. (2021).
In C. E. Gamassouet et Mias. A (dir). (Dé) libérer le travail. Paris : Téséo presse.

Nouveaux modes d’organisation: freins et facilitateurs dans l’implantation d’une culture de coopération.
Chevallier, E. et Coallier, J.-C. (2020).
In A. Battistell, C. Lagabrielle et D. Steiner (dir). Management, innovation et bien-être. Paris : L’Harmattan.

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