In today’s business world with diminishing resources, greater competition, and increasingly complex and demanding market changes, organisations have to change the way they think and the way they operate in order to make sure they build collaboration into their business.
As the focus has shifted on “doing more with less”, companies are pursuing three main strategies to secure the future and profitability of their business - productivity, efficiency and elimination of waste. I firmly believe that building a collaborative organisation with the characteristics listed above holds the key to achieving all three of these goals. Collaboration not only improves today’s work, but also allows an organisation to better adapt to tomorrow’s changes.
However, collaboration faces a number of different obstacles in the business world. One of these barriers is the traditional notion that personal knowledge and information is power. Our education system emphasises individual accomplishment and learning in a highly competitive environment where students are graded and ranked. For most students, their ability to find satisfactory employment depends on doing well at school and competing successfully with their classmates. This attitude is often carried through to the working world as employees are preoccupied about taking all the credit for their own ideas and are reluctant to work as a team. To me, this attitude seems wrong and must be challenged by organisations. Even something as simple as having regular brainstorms where ideas from people at all levels throughout an organisation are welcomed can go some of the way to encouraging the sharing of ideas and a non-hierarchical system.
Another obstacle that blocks the path to effective collaboration is an inherent lack of trust in the digital tools available. Technology can go a long way in helping build a collaborative culture, but without trust in the software available, collaboration will never truly exist. There are literally hundreds of brilliant solutions out there that encourage collaboration such as Yammer, Outlook, Lync and Chatter but the challenge is to get managers, employees, suppliers and customers to trust these systems and invest their time, knowledge and resources into them. Social media is, by definition, a tremendous enhancement to collaborative efforts. It gives people the space and tools to form virtual “communities of practice” focused on shared goals and values, as well as the ability to share white papers or webinars for information exchange and training. However, employees are often unaware of the benefits and left confused and intimidated by the vast array of collaborative tools available. What employees need is a clearly defined suite of community tools that guide them through each communication platform available and show them how it can enable them to carry out their job more effectively.
Collaboration is more than the implementation of technology; it can represent a step change in the ethos and culture of a company. It encourages the sharing of knowledge, strategic alignment throughout the organisation and ultimately, creativity. In a tough business environment, it is vital that organisations become smarter by collaborating so that they are agile and dynamic enough to be able to cope with the evermore complex challenges they face.
Many people view collaboration as a process beyond their control, such as the decision to work with another company that only involves the most senior directors of a company. However, being a collaborative organisation isn’t necessarily about global partnerships or multi-nationals joining forces to share their knowledge and expertise. To me, an organisation that embraces collaboration will show the following:
- Aligned values and objectives of all employees
- A climate of mutual trust and respect throughout the organisation
- An appreciation of how the market works, what customers want, and what new trends could disrupt the business
- A de-centralisation of decision making: more stakeholders play a role in defining the direction in which the organisation moves
- A philosophy of “sharing knowledge” where all ideas are pooled to optimise every opportunity
- A flattened hierarchical structure