Collaboration is one of those bullshit bingo buzz-words that gets tossed around organisations like confetti. It implies ‘teamwork’ and that ‘we’re all in it together’. Which of course is how it should be – it’s just rarely true. The reality of many businesses is that the environment is far from collaborative. Getting ahead is typically a competitive & political process.
Knowledge is hoarded as a source of power and rivalries between individuals and departments are commonplace. Plus ça change you might say. Yes, but re-constructing our organisations and people to become truly collaborative is one of the key shifts we need to make to win in a VUCA world.
The Two Faces of Collaboration
The word collaboration has two meanings. The first is to work with others on a joint project with intent to create a positive outcome. The second is more sinister – essentially to work with an enemy in a treacherous act. Whilst the second meaning has its roots in Vichy France amongst other places, its notable that our modern need to collaborate has elements of both meanings.
Yes, we need to get better at working together within our business. But we also need to become open to partnering with other players, some of who may be former of even current competitors. Such are the demands of the disrupted world, that established businesses need to enter partnerships which even a few years ago would seem unthinkable.
Sleeping With The Enemy
Collaboration with former competitors can be a smart play. In 2015, Tesla gifted millions of dollars worth of patent IP to its electric car competitors. It wants them to advance and share the cost of building the fuelling infrastructure necessary for electric vehicles to reach mass viability.
Sharing research, duplicated resources and other common technologies is becoming an essential evolution for many businesses. Most news organisations for example now share reporters and ‘feeds’. The faster that a business can ‘get over itself’ to re-think collaborative possibilities, the more likely it is to prosper.
Equipping Our People to Collaborate
It’s time then to give our employees the skills, mindsets and mandate to collaborate instinctively and effectively.
We define Collaboration as:
The attainment of a common goal through the effort of a combined body of people working together.
Understanding and adjusting our abilities, traits, attitudes and behaviours in each of these equips us to improve our competency to collaborate.
Inspiration refers to the energy, enthusiasm and desire to act as a result of feeling both mentally and emotionally stimulated. It’s generated through activities, attitudes and behaviours such as:
- Passion and
In a corporate context, we need to create an environment that encourages and supports inspiration. Culture can either enable or kill inspiration. An organisation with no vision beyond short-term performance, with poor or inauthentic leadership and low levels of trust is not going to inspire its employees to go beyond the bare minimum.
Crucially, inspiration, like willpower, expires. It must be re-kindled each day. Irregular ‘rally the troops’ motivational speeches from head office do not serve.
Strategies like creating stimulating meeting spaces (check out Google and Atlassian’s offices) and places (walk, go into nature), sharing hopes and taking the time to get to know co-workers can contribute to the creation of a truly inspiring workplace.
Communication is having a well-developed set of abilities to impart information or exchange thoughts, ideas and feelings with others. It’s about both the clarity of our own thinking and expression and the ability to actively listen to others. Key elements are:
- Self-expression and
- Chunking Down
Communication is at the heart of any group and any business. We’ve all experienced workplaces where communication is stymied, top-down, inconsistent or just absent. If ambiguity is one of the constant paradigms of our new business reality, mastering communication must be a priority.
In most workplaces it needs to be re-thought. It must embrace learning from every level of the business and become attuned to emotions as well as ideas. It is the currency of the Imagination Age.
Generosity is about developing a kind disposition and an altruistic manner when interacting with others. It’s not a word often thought of in a business context, where military or sporting metaphors of smashing the enemy or beating the competition prevail. That’s a big shift. It involves adopting approaches such as:
- A win-win approach
- Thinking beyond self
- Willingness to help
To many these may appear weak or counter-intuitive in the ‘war’ of business. Yet, the VUCA world means ‘winning’ looks different. It’s a reality and the starting point is a generosity rather than scarcity mindset.
Courage is about our ability to face difficult circumstances despite being fearful. It includes saying what needs to be said and the wisdom to accept what cannot be changed. Elements include:
- Fear management
- Ability to redirect efforts and
- Trying new things
As the brilliant American psychologist Dr Brené Brown recently said in a presentation in Sydney, bravery not bravado is what makes for the best leaders.
"Are you willing to be uncomfortable?" Brown asked. "To me that's the bottom line."
How Do You Collaborate?
This is a challenging question for us all. We need to rethink what winning looks like. We may need to cede control and give voice and power to others as part of a trust-building process. That’s exposing. Our own failings and fears may become apparent.
If we can take that leap of faith however and encourage our colleagues to do the same, we will be able to genuinely access the collective wisdom, energy, wit and sense of fun that can make our work both more successful and enjoyable.
Worth a try?