Collaboration is a business driver

Collaboration does more than drive engagement. It drives results. According to research from Deloitte, when employees collaborate, they work, on average, 15% faster. More than 70% do better work and 60% are innovative. Companies that have collaboration as part of their culture are twice as likely to outgrow their competitors and more likely to improve their profit. With employees being the largest expense line for most companies, collaboration is the quintessential “no brainer.”

The best leaders count collaboration, and the ability to help others collaborate, as one of their strengths. They realize that their success is bringing together people with diverse thinking, perspective and skill sets to frame and solve problems or to seize opportunities when then they present themselves. However, being collaborative and building a collaborative capability are different animals.

Challenges to creating collaboration

The most common obstacle for effective collaboration is the lack of a culture that supports, encourages and expects it. Genuine collaboration requires an environment of trust so that everyone can share ideas and thoughts without fear of judgement or reprisal. If your organization’s culture features real or perceived silos, collaboration will be difficult. Leaders must set the expectation and the example for others, and this includes providing appropriate time, tools and space.

Another obstacle is simply too much information. With all the data sources and inputs that exist, finding a starting point is daunting. Then, add the variety of options for tools and “how” to collaborate, and the complexity increases.   

Collaboration sometimes suffers from the curse of immediate expectations. Leadership impatience can kill collaborative efforts before they produce results. It takes time to focus, build trust and to realize the outcomes. Yanking the plug too soon not only impairs the outcome, but it also sends a chilling message that collaboration was simply the seasonal flavor for this quarter.

Finally, we don’t enter the workforce knowing how to collaborate effectively. There’s no AP class in high school or a minor to go with our undergraduate degree. Collaboration is both an art (people) and science (process). Companies that say, “go collaborate” and don’t provide the requisite training, tools and support face long odds of success.

Benefits to collaboration

  1. Engagement. Engaged employees are more productive, better performers and more likely to stay with organizations. Sometimes we all need reminders of the obvious; collaboration clearly creates great opportunities for engagement. It also can move the needle the wrong way. A lack of collaboration, or failed attempts to try to collaborate, can drive people away from your organization.
  2. Shared experience. With four generations in the workforce, collaboration can give you a construct to bring people with different backgrounds, experiences and insights together in a powerful way. Your leadership sets the tone and expectation, which makes your teams feel safe to participate. That will spill over to other parts of their work as well. For Millennials, who will make up the majority of workers in the next five years, collaboration is frequently listed as a principal driver of work satisfaction.
  3. Bringing the Outside Inside. Don’t forget to look outside your company for collaborative inspiration. Innovative companies work with their clients and partners to envision new processes and products, building more meaningful relationships along the way.

Making collaboration work

  1. Set the example. It’s deceptively simple, but incredibly powerful. If it’s important to you, it becomes important to your team. Once you’ve personally committed, you should start with assessing the environment to determine the level of trust. If that exists, collaboration is easier to achieve.
  2. Check for goal clarity. Every team wants to know what success is and how it will be measured. Avoid making collaboration something dripping with ambiguity. If you put six of us in a room – physical or virtual – and tell us to “collaborate,” you better have some specificity about what each of us is expected to bring and what outcome you seek. And while we’re in this room, let us know what the process is. If it’s well organized and well understood, everyone will be happier and will produce better results.
  3. Create the context. If you want to build a culture of collaboration, you must have context and you must spend time explaining, reinforcing and listening. What value do you expect? What are the benefits? What are the likely hurdles? How will it be different than we work today? What are the roles and responsibilities of everyone involved? Is everyone involved? What are the ground rules?
  4. Provide proper tools and support. Make sure your teams can, for example, communicate either in real time or asynchronously. Arm them with the appropriate resources to manage content or a project. Ensure that information can be easily documented, stored and accessed. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of tools that support team collaboration. Any decision about tool selection should be driven by your business, your culture and your budget. And it would be worth a conversation with your technology leader to get their perspective. There are too many examples where companies have bought a license for one part of the business and no other departments knew about it.