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Is collaboration useful?

At a conference recently I was asked to pose the question “Is collaboration useful in your business?”

My instinctive response and I think one that many others have, is that of course it is. And then as I began to think some more I questioned this assumption. I realised that there are times when it is and that it can sometimes be a hindrance. So in my presentation I went on to look at what it means for leaders to firstly decide whether or not to build collaboration and having decided to do so, what does it take to make it effective.

A CLC study (2007) reinforces that many leaders do think it’s useful, with more than 97% senior leaders believing collaboration is essential to success. Yet only 47% leaders thought their organisation are skilled in collaboration.

In the discussion at the conference we investigated what gets in the way of successful collaboration and came up with a number of factors:

1. The first boils down to the definition of collaboration – I like this one from Michael Winer & Karen Ray  - “A mutually beneficial and well defined relationship entered in to, to achieve results you are more likely to achieve together than alone.”

This seems obvious enough, yet how often in business does the term collaboration get used when it is really about getting on with people, or making connections rather than focusing on the results?

2. Building on this definition we can look at the work of Kaplan who describes an intensity scale moving from Networking – to coordination – to cooperation – to collaboration

The intensity comes in that you have to invest more energy and there is more at stake as you move from one to another. Successful collaboration takes concerted effort.

3. There are also a number of environmental factors that may get in the way of successful collaboration – time, location,  technology, culture

4.  And motivational factors that get in the way - targets and goals, lack of purpose, focus on competing internally rather than externally, organisation structure and hierarchies and unconscious or conscious biases

5. Leadership – or lack of it

So if you are going to overcome the barriers to successful collaboration, what does it take?

  • Having a clear purpose that is related to increasing sales, improving productivity, developing ideas or improving operational performance.
  • Building the skills for collaboration – for leaders and participants. For instance this could involve skills on meeting management or facilitation.
  • Creating a culture that supports collaboration. Break down the silos, give people targets that support collaboration or promote and appoint people who have collaborative skills.
  • Show clear leadership. Create a purpose and goals for the specific collaboration, build trust amongst the collaborators, role model collaborative working, use collaborative language and support the collaborative behaviours displayed by others.

If you are using collaboration now or think that there should be more of it in your business I’d stop for just one moment and consider – what will it take to be effective, do we have the skills and culture to make it work and do the potential benefits of new ideas or improved performance outweigh the cost entailed in making it work?

Without doubt collaboration is useful to businesses; some of the great improvements that organisations have made have come from collaboration happening, with Apple and GE being just two examples. Taking time to recognise what it will take and putting in place appropriate ways of collaborating will make the difference for your collaborative efforts.

To discuss how Kandula can support you to build collaboration contacts us for a discussion.