Businesses worldwide are experiencing the Age of Collaboration. Whether your company is under a strategic directive to collaborate at all levels or collaboration has just evolved its way into your office, collaborating has become as common as texting.
But collaboration is far from a new concept. Team perspectives have been encouraged for years as businesses looked at new ways to improve efficiency or sought more effective ways to cut costs. Perhaps the biggest difference today is how collaboration itself has been streamlined by new products and applications that make not collaborating an outdated approach.
As we focus on business outcomes in pursuit of success, collaboration also brings new challenges. Expanding corporate boundaries to include entities outside your own company – such as consultants or external partners – requires diligence in minimizing risk, ensuring security, maintaining company standards, and protecting your brand. And workers from generations that are accustomed to more individualized work processes may be a bit reluctant to do a deep dive into common workspaces on a converged voice, data and video network.
If collaboration has not been officially welcomed at your office, perhaps it is time to evaluate your current strategy and consider the benefits of a culture of collaboration. Here are five important steps to take:
1. Communicate your company’s goals and purposes to everyone. Exactly what do you want to accomplish? What outcome do you expect? Goals and outcomes are more attainable when they are clearly presented in such a way that everyone feels ownership and responsibility. Every employee needs to understand how his or her role contributes to the company’s success. This could be especially important when collaborating with an external partner.
2. Introduce collaboration as a methodology that will lead to success. If teamwork has typically been a random approach that happens incidentally, introduce it with purpose. Emphasize the importance of diverse skills and perspectives in the creative stage of product development as well as on the production line. Team leaders should be quick to identify what isn’t working along the way and involve team members in devising new processes or work-arounds.
3. Demand open communication. On the football field, success is dependent on every player knowing where each play will send them. The same is true for the office team. Everyone needs to know what others are doing to avoid duplication of effort and make sure nothing is overlooked and deadlines are met. Regular updates are an important safeguard against misunderstandings within the team and mixed messages from outside sources.
4. Reward achievement along the way. Congratulate teams that achieve important milestones and recognize members whose behavior supports collaborative principles. Rivalries and turf wars that result in withholding information because it makes one person or one department seem more important than others have no place in a collaborative environment and should be eliminated.
5. Evaluate the process as well as the finished product. Success should be measured by more than the bottom line. It is important to evaluate how success was achieved or where there is room for improvement once you have delivered your product. That will require input from everyone who was part of the team.
Take it from Babe Ruth, who may have been as good with insight as he was with a bat. As he put it, “The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.”
Today, as never before, we have the ability to communicate with just about anyone just about anywhere. Collaboration provides an opportunity to learn how to work together for a common goal and the common good.