What does it take to make collaboration work within organizations?

Discussion
Photo: Getty Images/brazzo
Feb 21, 2020
Dave Wendland

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is an excerpt of a current article from the blog of Dave Wendland, VP, strategic relations at Hamacher Resource Group. The article first appeared on Forbes.com.

Countless articles and studies have been published that endorse the concept of collaboration-friendly environments to move business goals forward. But it seems that a gap remains in effectively moving a team toward execution.

According to research shared by Queens University of Charlotte, “Thirty-nine percent of surveyed employees worldwide say people in their organization don’t collaborate enough.”

The following are four key components that guide purpose-driven collaboration.

  1. Diversity: Filling a room with like-minded individuals seldom inspires new thinking. The very essence of debate and discussion requires healthy discord. It is through such friendly conflict and differing opinions that a more comprehensive — and often decidedly better — solution can emerge. Welcome all comments and suggestions. Then strive to accept all suggestions openly and actually like them. In other words, listen with understanding, and constructively contribute to shaping the idea.
  2. Equality: In organizations where one individual controls the entire outcome and therefore is the lynchpin in all decisions, true collaboration is seldom successful. Unity and self-empowerment will likely be stifled. Each idea presented — and every individual attending the collaborative exercise — must be given equal weight. A judgment-free zone without fear or repercussions must be created. Bringing a team together only to implement a class system is counterproductive, demoralizing and ineffective.
  3. Energy: Collaborations often require physical activities  — whiteboard or sticky note exercises, small group discussions or standing for a bit of stretching. Without interaction included as part of the group’s collaboration, the same result might be generated through an email exchange. I believe the difference is emotional involvement. In a group meeting, emotional engagement invariably occurs, which typically produces a highly motivated and driven team.
  4. Mobilization: Who among the group will be held accountable for which identified activities? What is the time frame for the completion of activities? When will the group reconvene or be informed of progress? How will the newly developed plans make a difference within the organization or externally as they affect customers or partners? Collaboration without an action plan is merely a conversation.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Which of the four components for encouraging collaboration mentioned in the article do you think is most critical? Which is most often under-utilized? Would you add any other suggestions?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Reward them more for collaborating than for solo efforts and they’ll be motivated to collaborate. Reward is still the major reason we work for companies."
"I think diversity and equality are the most important elements of valuable collaboration. Egos have to be checked..."
"I think the most important component is one not mentioned. Patience. Collaboration is not a natural process that people quickly assimilate into."

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17 Comments on "What does it take to make collaboration work within organizations?"


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David Katz
Guest

First, equality: no titles, no politics, no fear. All voices must be set free and heard. Then a champion must establish a time/action/assignment calendar. Then, diversity: There are some who dismiss diversity as something we do to feel better about ourselves, rather than something that makes a better company. They are wrong. We cannot build products for tomorrow’s diverse customers and through diverse channels of distribution unless we have, and harness, diversity in the creation and distribution of those products.

Cathy Hotka
BrainTrust

Very interesting. I’d add a fifth — time to compare notes. I see a lot of organizations that are going full speed ahead, but without a clear sense of what the outcome should be. The photo says it all: time together as a group, developing a game plan, is more important than ever.

Suresh Chaganti
BrainTrust
Suresh Chaganti
Co-Founder and Executive Partner, VectorScient
7 months 2 days ago

Mobilization is the key. A well prepared quarterback can make all the difference. Official titles may vary, but this individual is the key for the other three aspects.

But all four are somewhat tactical in nature. The underlying objective has to be unifying and benefits should be clear and the incentive structure should encourage the right behaviors.

Dave Bruno
BrainTrust

In my experience, equality is often the most difficult of the four components to achieve and therefore it is, in my opinion, the most critical. Internal politics lead to dysfunction, and dysfunction kills honest and authentic collaboration. Leaders must make a great effort to leave judgment at the door and to encourage candid input and feedback. Otherwise, the best ideas never see the light of day.

Dave Wendland
BrainTrust

You’re absolutely right, Dave Bruno. My mentor (and my late father) set an incredible example of inclusion throughout his career. No idea, opinion, or input was ever abandoned at the doorstep and he had an incredible knack for inviting various viewpoints, respecting each and everyone, and treating ALL input as valued.

Dr. Stephen Needel
BrainTrust

First, 61 percent say their organizations do collaborate enough, so let’s not assume we have a big problem here. There are many corporate tasks that do not require collaboration – indeed, collaboration would only slow things down and would be unlikely to produce a better solution. What’s missing? Reward. Reward people for collaborating and they’ll collaborate. Reward them more for collaborating than for solo efforts and they’ll be motivated to collaborate. Reward is still the major reason we work for companies.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

I think the most important component is one not mentioned. Patience. Collaboration is not a natural process that people quickly assimilate into. People come to the process with different backgrounds, priorities, opinions, and agendas. Left brain and right brain. Things don’t naturally mesh quickly. Collaboration also requires compromise, which also does not happen quickly or easily. Collaboration is a learning process for everybody involved, and that happens at very different rates, ranging from quickly to never. The article talks through several key ingredients, but the original premise that it doesn’t happen enough is because it’s really, really difficult.

Michael Terpkosh
BrainTrust

In my experience, the most critical are diversity and equality. Teams that are equally empowered to speak freely and from a diverse cross-section of the organization will create collaboration, which = energy. Get a group of people this far and the energy will propel them to ideas and actions. Then it is time for leadership in/of the team to mobilize the team on the time frame, action steps and accountability to get it done. There are two reasons many organizations have an execution gap. First, they don’t practice using the four components everyday in projects of any size. This can’t be a “one-off” or “big project only” process. Second, organizations move through for the first three components successfully only to fail on mobilization and leadership.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

I would like to add knocking down silos and getting rid of the old notion that if I share information I lose leverage in my job position. Sharing information leads to better ideas and better processes.

Ken Morris
BrainTrust

Equality is the most important factor to make collaboration work. Whenever I have worked with a retailer I have always leveraged ideas from the total organization and not just management. Equality is stifled because of the rigid hierarchy and need for management control. Frequently our teams are prevented from soliciting total organizational input and need to resort to surveys to collect what are frequently breakthrough ideas. Retailers need to leave their rigid hierarchies behind and embrace equality.

Ralph Jacobson
BrainTrust

My experience has shown that all of these components and others, including fiscal budget, skills, etc., are critical, however I will say that “mobilization” continues to be the biggest challenge. As we all are aware, team members tend to get excited by the end of a meeting, yet follow through after the meeting is typically weak. I agree that an execution plan with owners, deadlines and tangible metrics is key to effective collaboration.

Cynthia Holcomb
BrainTrust

Equality to speak and be heard is a powerful experience for all at the table. The flipside of the equation is being heard within a collaboration yet having individual contribution not affect the outcome. Diversity of thought, experience, and knowledge of the organization and product can cultivate new insights and camaraderie. But — there is always a but — Groupthink, design by committee, the inside game of politics hidden under the guise of collaboration is a dangerous playing field to both people and products. Organizations that “play” the collaboration game abound. Corporate lip service to collaboration is a killer of human emotion and the courage to contribute to the conversation.

Lisa Goller
BrainTrust

Although it’s the most critical component, equality seems almost idealistic because it is woefully and consistently underutilized to companies’ detriment. In real life, groups are rampant with bias, ego and risk aversion. The best ideas can come from anywhere, yet innovation is often crushed by judgmental attitudes and the familiar comfort of the status quo.

Since mobilization reflects project management and change management, I have an addition. To encourage the group to start with a positive mindset, companies can express why collaboration is necessary, why team members’ contributions matter to the big picture and how individuals will personally benefit from successful teamwork.

Cate Trotter
BrainTrust

I think diversity and equality are the most important elements of valuable collaboration. Egos have to be checked along with the idea that job title makes one person’s contributions more important than another’s. Diversity is also related to perspective – in the case of retail it’s often frontline staff who have the best perspective of the customer and what they want or what is not working in a store, etc. Those insights aren’t necessarily being shared with those at the top – or aren’t given proper consideration. It’s also important to have diversity across the business in terms of different divisions. Often an outsider can frame an issue in a simple way or raise questions that those who are immersed in a role day-to-day can’t see. You want to create a culture that encourages the sharing of ideas as it’s only once they’re out there that they can be assessed and acted upon.

Peter Charness
BrainTrust

Permission to experiment, fail and learn. If teams don’t suffer for projects that don’t pan out, then individuals have less to worry about in terms of standing out and apart to protect their careers.

Shep Hyken
BrainTrust

I struggle with the four components without considering at least two more. First, leadership must be on board and be the role models of what collaboration really means in their organization. Second, for it to work, it must be ingrained into the culture. If you want more collaboration, it must be part of the way a company operates. You can give a label to these two and then add them to the four already listed.

Dave Wendland
BrainTrust

Good additions, Shep.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Reward them more for collaborating than for solo efforts and they’ll be motivated to collaborate. Reward is still the major reason we work for companies."
"I think diversity and equality are the most important elements of valuable collaboration. Egos have to be checked..."
"I think the most important component is one not mentioned. Patience. Collaboration is not a natural process that people quickly assimilate into."

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