If there is one theme that is all over the business networks today, it is the word collaboration. Collaborative tools of all kinds are being developed by a vast majority of companies, which could be as simple as a company intranet to global interdependent supply chains and therefore worldwide cross-functional teams and divisions.
The question is why now? One reason is multi-national suppliers of resources. A Starbucks cup of coffee and the cup is sourced from 13 countries. Improving customer satisfaction such that there is one unified customer contact, and not being transferred to ten different people in the same organization. Another is innovation, which requires many different internal and external perspectives to genuinely stay cutting edge in the ever changing competitive landscape. Today, most companies are service-oriented, and offering solutions to customer’s problems requires breaking down silos and working interdependently.
That said, many of us have two bad memories floating around in our head when the word collaboration is mentioned; one being high school or college classes where we had to do joint projects with other students which usually meant a couple of people did 80% of the work, you had to depend on others to help you get a good grade, or disagree about what we should do together. The second bad memory is being in meetings where the leader is trying to get everyone to agree to a course of action, being heard completely, and getting bogged down in disagreements or never ending input. A question forms in our mind: are we really able to accomplish excellent and expedient work?
To begin with, collaboration is not consensus. Consensus only works with small teams or groups with a leader who guides the process well. Collaboration is working toward joint input to incorporate everyone’s knowledge toward a definite outcome. Typically, a collaborative community requires four building blocks:
- A shared purpose
- An ethic of contribution
- Processes to help people work together
- Infrastructure that values and rewards collaboration
Let’s take them one at a time. As shared purpose requires that people work toward a common good, and not toward individual success alone. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul tells us that our unique gifts are given not for ourselves, but the common good. An ethic of contribution requires a change in how we operate. People, who we will call loyalists, would rather that the bosses fight the battles and make the decisions, and resist collaboration because it requires more from them. On the other extreme, free agent people want to work on their own personal goals and successes, and resist needing to work well in teams. These transitions are not easy, but part of what helps an organization’s transformation are processes to help people work together. These begin with collaborative software tools, but go beyond by using formal protocols, participatory meeting management, and specific decision making authority to the leader of the collaboration.
Continue the exploration around team synergy by listening to our podcast on the topic.