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Are you truly collaborating?

Much like the in-fashion terms ‘innovation’ and ‘strategy’, the word collaboration has been extensively used within our workplace to justify a new and better way of working.  So why even discuss it?  Why bother reading a blog about it?  We all know instinctively what it is, right?

Welcome to the inaugural 'Strategy Execution Odyssey' blog.  We are on a quest to discover the real secrets behind delivering that all important organisational strategy.  The most successful businesses all seem to deliver on their intended strategies.  In this age of business disruption everywhere, what makes them unique to the rest of us?  What are they doing differently? 

Join me on a journey to the boundaries of what could be, and what shouldn’t be.  In our first episode, we start with this concept of collaboration.

Let me propose a definition here.  True collaboration can be found within a loose association of individuals who choose to interact from an inclusive and mutually appreciative mindset.  Their goal is to produce a higher qualitative set of outcomes than otherwise would have been possible as individuals.  Similar to the sum of all parts analogy. 

Ask yourself, is your organisation really being more collaborative?  Let’s test some common situations.  A team gets together to jointly work on a particular activity.  This may sound like they are collaborating but are they truly performing at higher rates of productivity and quality?  Are they jointly contributing to the final outcome, or are they each working in isolation and then presenting back to the group to critique?  This approach is really nothing more than a quality assurance exercise and not true collaboration.

Has the team instead chosen to meet, discuss together and then assign each other tasks to perform?  Once again this approach on the surface may sound like a form of collaboration but the devil is in the details.  If each person completes his/her tasks without integrating that outcome into the final objective, it simply becomes a wasteful activity. 

Some might suggest that if the task was required to justify the means, such as a role the individual plays is essential to the team’s collaborative experience, it would therefore be warranted.  Yes, that indeed is a noble and justified aim, but how many teams plan ahead and discuss who will be in that type of role beforehand? 

After-all that individual’s work will be eventually discarded before the final outcome is produced.  More times than not they will feel unimportant and not part of the team.  That individual may even start working against the team by talking negatively about the members, or challenging his/her unintended role.  In this example collaboration has just created the opposite of its intended purpose mentioned above.    

What I often see is not enough thought goes into what collaboration is and isn’t. So how can an organisation become more collaborative if it is left up to a diverse group of individuals to determine how best they should work together?

This is the case of what you don’t know is what you don’t know. The collaborative team at best is only as strong as the strongest leader in the room, who may not fully understand true collaboration. At worst, there is no leader and the team dynamics begin to break down killing off any chance of discovering what true collaboration could be. The whole exercise becomes a simple hit and miss series of opportunities.

Would your organisation’s strategic execution be left up for chance? True collaboration is a fantastic tool for improving upon the way strategy is executed. It breaks down business silos and flattens everyone’s hierarchical position throughout the collaborative effort. The more traditional the command and control business environment, the greater the rewards if truly collaborating. It ultimately can change the culture of the organisation if prioritised at the highest leadership levels.

Speaking of which, moving to a more collaborative environment requires a higher focus on effective leadership. Shouldn’t therefore collaboration become part of the leadership criteria and executive scorecard? Shouldn’t we think more about how to retrain our mindsets to new ways of measuring performance? Otherwise why bother trying to collaborate for the sake of stating we are collaborating? Why kid ourselves into a false sense of security?

Much like performing strategy and innovation well, performing effective collaboration is actually difficult to do.  This is especially true for those organisations who have traditionally relied on command and control decision making structures; the same organisations where individual achievement is singled-out and promoted ahead of collaborative-based outcomes.

People change requires a concerted effort across the organisation.  An effort that should single out individuals who perform true collaboration and who as new-found leaders, become mentors to others who require more attention to the greater cause.

Only then will strategic execution have a chance of getting it right.

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