Collaboration is the third of five senses of modern companies. It sits in the middle – by purpose: collaboration is a link, which keeps everything together and enables us to have many different people working for the same objectives, forming an organization which can adapt and foster change.
When starting to engage with ways to improve collaboration, I must admit that I was astonished to see the different ways of misinterpretation. When talking to people about collaboration, I feel like almost everyone claims to be collaborating with his/her colleagues. But what many people mean by collaboration is moreover contribution (“I am contributing my work to a group”), orchestration (“I am orchestrating work in a group”), and knowledge exchange (“I am sharing my findings with a group”).
The big difference in collaboration over contribution, orchestration, and knowledge exchange lies within the formation of alliances, where everyone follows some common objectives and people support each other in getting there. Collaboration thereby is not defined by the skills, where everyone is doing the things he/she can do best. Alliances are formed by urgency, where everyone is doing what needs to be done.
Persons with different skills, capabilities, levels of experience are having individual personalities. We need to bring them together to collaborate. Motivation is key. Establishing real collaboration requires creative tension, which pulls people in the same direction. It is defined from a clear understanding of the status (“where am I”) and an inspiring vision (“where do I want to be”), which should be aspiring at the same time.
The three cornerstones of collaboration are transparency, joint planning, and success. Transparency is about sharing a view on the status und creating attractive visions. Worries about influence taken by people, when sharing their personal views, needs to be wiped away, as transparency is about creating understanding for each other’s challenges and visions and thereby is the fundament for collaboration. Being able to voice opinions and share “weird” ideas creates trust and confidence in achieving beneficial results.
Having transparency is an iterative process, where transparency on individual views are forming results. Joint planning is a central instrument to get there. Whenever you manage to have several people standing in front of a whiteboard with a task (e.g. “come up with a vision” or “find the best way to solve the problem”), they will start to write down their ideas and thereby share their views. Depending on the motivation of the group – especially in the beginning – a good moderation of the discussions might be extremely important. But when people start to see results they agree upon, they will start to collaborate.
The key aspect of joint planning is the idea of having same things on mind in a group of people. This will make them work for the same purpose and not only for their own view. This alliance will work out as soon as the group will recognize the value and contribute to it. Success thereby is the third aspect of good collaboration. Success creates a feeling of unity and strength. An aspect when starting to foster collaboration will be to establish small steps. The smaller the step, the easier it will be to create transparency, commit to joint plans, and experience success. As soon as the group experience the spirit of collaboration, the ambitions and objectives will grow by itself.
Collaboration contributes immensely to continuous adaptation to change. A huge variation of skills and characters, which comes with real collaboration in a healthy organization, is the best instrument to achieve a surpassing robustness. While digitalization can create an infrastructure, which is supporting highly efficient collaboration of many different personalities, it is the collaboration itself, which determines the success of it.
Peter M. Senge provides a seminal view on the aspects of system thinking in his book “The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization”, which includes various approaches to collaborative work.
Replacing roadmap with the much more collaborative approach from “Objectives and Key Results (OKRs)” has shown some great potential to foster collaboration.
Public “Kanban Boards” available to all colleagues provide transparency on plans and invite others to participate.
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