Working with active businesses, to investigate real business needs, serves as distinctive encouragement for students, ensuring that research is made stronger, stays relevant and benefits from frontline expertise. Equally, businesses benefit from the impartial expertise and academic thinking from an external, trusted source.

This article will outline the factors that made this particular collaboration so successful.

More students and businesses should seek creative collaboration. Both sides benefit when they bring their different perspectives together and share expertise  it may be uncharted territory, but a worthwhile venture.

During my time studying Industrial Organisational & Business Psychology at UCL, I soon realised that there was a gap between what research shows is good practice and what organisations actually do. Ultimately, what is research and my profession good for, if nobody, or only a select number of stakeholders, in the business world pay attention to them? What are the potential barriers that would prevent organisations from adopting practices that were empirically established, rather than underpinned by years of convention or mere, untested experience?

As an organisational Psychologist and professional actor, my interest was sparked by how these barriers could potentially be addressed and reduced through creative and innovative interventions. I wanted to make an impact by collaborating with an organisation which would not only be open to integrating empirical work into their business, but also in which my creative background  could be brought to the fore.

As PRO uses Actors as a fundamental of their offering, our collaboration was aided by my background in Acting combined with my expertise in Psychology and interdisciplinary research. It didn’t take long to develop an experimental rationale and to creatively develop an underlying personal connection.

We were driven by the same goal; to make a difference in L&D.

What made this collaboration even more unique (and ultimately valuable for the business) was our desire to carry out a business-based experiment, rather than a review of existing data, or a research questionnaire. In choosing to do this, we were actually seeking to prove a hypothesis through our experimental design and in doing so, there was risk for the business that we would not achieve the outcome that the business was hoping for.

Collaborations between businesses and academia are far from taken for granted; an organisation with established work practices needs to be prepared for unforeseen outcomes. We were clear from the beginning, that it was my intention to review the effectiveness of some of the work practices involved from an independent and neutral point of view. It is this ‘vulnerability’ from an organisational perspective, which made this collaboration so worthwhile for both parties involved.

I was professionally well supported through my close involvement in the business. Moreover, I received the opportunity to translate the often highly contextualised theory from my degree into practice. From an academic as well as business perspective, this was an integrative ‘win-win’ situation for both parties involved.

My advice to both business and academia when investigating opportunities for collaboration would be:

Speak about mutual expectations from the beginning. Although these may change throughout the process, the ‘bare bones’ should be mutually agreed to prevent unforeseen surprises along the way! Research has to be orientated upon facts and not upon results that an organisation might hope for. An organisation must be prepared to accept results, even though they might come as unexpected or even disadvantageous to how the company is currently operating. Ultimately, only the acknowledgement of a certain result can lead to the assumption that a hypothesis about the researched theme is accurate. Recognise the value of experimentation over survey. Only and experiment can give you a causal link, surveys show correlation, but not causation. Integrating the researcher closely into the work process, possibly combining it with an internship.

Benedict Laumann, M.Sc