Mention collaboration and chances are that the part of the human brain linked to trust-building might light up. I’m sure neuroscientists already understand this, but regardless, I believe that there is no need to debate the merits of trust in collaboration. There are also other factors, such as shared purpose, that are of critical importance to the way collaboration unfolds. A nice way to put it is this quote by Paul Adler from the Marshall School of Business who says that ‘a shared purpose is not the verbiage on a poster or in a document, and it doesn’t come via charismatic leaders’ pronouncements’. There are always tell-tale signs, and we should learn to observe, detect and understand the other party before we proceed to detailed collaborative work.
When it comes to inter-organisational collaboration things are more complicated because a small group of people across number of organisations may have the best intentions, and elements like trust may be sound, but what we have to remember is that one or two people representing an organisation in a collaborative venture do not hold all the authority. Sometimes, the collaboration can be put at risk due to factors that are larger than the sum of all parts. While trust between two or three people may be okay in an intra-organisational collaboration where the setting is better integrated, the same amount of trust may not be as critical in an inter-organisational setting.
So, what should we look at initially to ensure that we reduce the risk of overcooking it. I address a broad range of those factors in any process of collaborative strategy development and it is often dependent on the context. However, a few are common and worth sharing.
Previous history of collaboration
Be wary of ‘born again collaborators’. Collaboration takes time. As I’ve come to realise, it should not surprise anyone seriously interested in their work or career, and with a genuine passion to impact and create value in their chosen field, that our own drive can act as a magnet for groupies. Not all are interested in collaboration per se as much as the things that come from it. As a result of different motivations, some tend to promote their collaboration inclinations in a convincing way but fail to demonstrate the history of such inclinations. For many, collaboration is nothing more than another buzzword dropped frequently into conversation.
How clear are potential partners in terms of their own vision and goals?
There’s little, if any, point in collaborating with people and organisations who do not have a mature vision, clear goals and an ability to see the bigger picture. However, it is fair if people admit it and seek input and assistance to clarify matters; but the reality is that collaboration is a strategy and before identifying it as means to achieving a vision, one has to clear about the vision in the first place. It’s hard to approach potential partners with a view of creating a collaboration if their vision is bit mushy.
Do potential partners take ‘self-interest’ to extremes?
Collaborating means balancing self-interest with shared interest. It can be, and often is, as simple as that. So this also means parties exploring collaborative action need to be clear of what the self-interest and shared interest is. There’s nothing worse than being ‘sold’ a shared interest without being party to its creation. Collaboration is not about co-opting others into one’s own self-interest, but rather a way of deploying self-interest through shared interest. Confused? Well, let’s put it simply; self-interest is the junior partner in a collaboration. Make sure that those offering collaboration share that view.
Have they mature intra-organisational collaboration
An approach from any organisation, either to your enterprise or to you as an individual, is less likely to fail when all parties have a mature culture of collaboration internally. This is not always clear at the outset, and that is why one has to be brutally honest and ask tough questions. There are many indicators of a solid working philosophy and culture of collaboration that can be detected by simple but well put questions; for instance, what is their employee engagement rate? Over the years consistent research findings have shown that employees want to collaborate and are more likely to disengage when then can’t.
The list goes on. Unless loss of productivity and profit is not a concern, the above should not be ignored. Incorporating a collaborative strategy will significantly increase your chances for better results. Remember, the future belongs to collaboration!