Fearless Teams Collaborate

At Transcend, we believe that collaboration is fundamental to driving business performance and is a hallmark of the fearless organization.  We also believe that collaboration is a key indicator of a high-functioning leadership culture.  Here’s our view on what makes collaboration so important, what it means for an organization, and how you can work to increase or support collaboration in your teams.

Why is Collaboration Important?
Leadership is fundamentally about change – instigating it, managing it, making it successful. Think about it. If a leader isn’t there to change the outcome from what it would have naturally been without that leader, then why do we need a leader at all?  For that matter, this applies to any individual on any team, but particularly to leaders as they often have more influence on the team and its outcomes.

So if positive change is the result of great leadership, it helps to consider that effective change must be supported by many individuals – especially those directly involved in or responsible for that change or its outcome. The individuals working together to create change – growth, new products, new partnerships, new strategies, are most effective when they work together toward a shared vision of what they are trying to create.  This is what collaboration is based on.  The most effective change starts with collaboration on the desired outcomes and strategies to achieve them.

While old-style organizations could succeed with silos and business functions and units that worked independently of one another and often felt like separate companies, there are serious pitfalls to working in that manner in a rapidly changing environment, and today, who isn’t working in a rapidly changing environment?  Time, resources and skills are all in short supply, and collaboration is the key to leveraging the limited resources we have, so  collaboration is critical to embracing change and uncertainty and creating from it opportunity and growth.

What is Collaboration?

Collaboration is working together for a common purpose that harnesses the best of the individuals involved, multiplying their impact on business results. It’s built on trust and mutual respect and shared purpose.  (See last month’s article on Trust).

When we do not collaborate we end up with unproductive or even competing work “silos” that duplicate services or effort or even siphon off resources to “kill” a competitive silo/division/product.  Think about the Microsoft tablet developed 5 years ahead of the iPad, killed by competitive groups at Microsoft.  While competition was seen as healthy, it limited the ability to introduce new products and services that may have been a threat to existing products.  Apple seems to have embraced cannibalizing it’s own product lines (iPhone replacing iPods, for example) and a collaborative environment would better assess the relative merits of new products, even when they cannibalize old product lines.

What Do Leaders Do to Build Collaboration?

As a leader, your responsibility is to establish standards of behavior, attitude and process that enable collaboration, and hold your team accountable for them. Collaboration is a leadership issue, just as trust and values and vision are driven primarily by leadership.

So how can you build or support a more collaborative organization?  There are 3 big keys:

  1. Create a shared purpose across all groups
  2. Recognize and reward behaviors and attitudes of collaboration and contribution to the whole
  3. Use flexible processes that deliver defined results

1.  Create a shared purpose across all groups.  What really matters then, is to quickly gain alignment around a share vision or purpose.  What is the one thing that you are all aiming to do?  What is the one problem we are trying to solve?  What makes that important?  If you don’t have agreement on the problem you are trying to address, you will have great difficulty in agreeing on a solution.  Like math and physics homework, start by defining the problem.  This makes it much easier to determine who needs to be involved, how they will work together, and what the goal of collaborative work might be.  If this is new to your organization, pick one project and work from a definition of the problem and see how that changes the nature of the solution.

2. Recognize and reward behaviors and attitudes of collaboration and contribution to the whole.  A slogan on the wall or an admonishment from management is not nearly as powerful as systematic recognition and reward for the behaviors you want to encourage.  If your best sales person is hard to work with and secretive, and you reward him, you are sending a message that this kind of behavior is not only fine, but to be emulated.  Be careful how you decide to reward those who are actively working against collaborative efforts.  Look at how your reward systems identify collaborative behavior and efforts that benefit more groups and consider how to improve this.  Even simple recognition in company meetings of collaborative efforts and team results rather than individual contributions can start to shift attitudes and behaviors.

3. Use flexible processes that deliver defined results.  Collaboration is not a “soft” skill, but rather a defined set of behaviors and a process that supports those behaviors.  Look carefully at how projects are defined, who is involved and how accountability is shared across groups.  For the best results, start with a shared definition of the problem, a team that includes all stakeholders, a jointly-developed collaborative team and process and clear deliverable results.  Collaboration doesn’t just happen because you ask for it – it needs structure and process that demands it.

Collaboration is often used as a buzzword in modern organizations, but without commitment and effort, it remains just another management fad and fails to deliver its real promise of extraordinary results.  To be a truly fearless organization, boldly finding opportunities in every twist and turn of the market, technology and broader environment, collaboration is vital and requires action and commitment.  What can you do today to build collaboration and fully leverage every member of your team? How will you know you are succeeding?