Collaboration Strategy for non-strategists

I sometimes wonder if people think that a collaboration strategy is some kind of office mantra where people walk around like zombies repeating ‘collaboration, collaboration, collaboration’ in perfect harmony.

To be fair, more people are getting used to the idea that collaboration is a specifically focussed business strategy borne out of the fact that we live in a brave new world where new values, solutions and competition must account for productive collaboration.

illustration_collaboration_jdIt would be scary to see people brainwashed to the extent that they could not dare to do anything unless it was through collaboration.  And I don’t think we’ll ever get to that point, which is a good thing.  Workplace culture is an operating system which we are barely aware of and yet it is very powerful in guiding our actions.  Trusting people around us should not come with effort.  It should feel right.  When people have trust in each other, benefits flow for the entire organisation and we know that such sentiment is then part of a healthy culture.  The real strategy of collaboration, the one that translates into the long term results we want, comes when a collaborative approach to value creation is instinctive.  It feels like second nature.  Like with all good aspects of healthy workplace culture, collaboration should simply ‘feel’ as if it is an integral part of a workplace.  There are many more aspects of a healthy workplace culture, and collaboration is now also becoming a critical element.

So, how does collaboration strategy help get the right culture?  Here are some real life examples I have tried, in a variety of settings, to get the ball rolling.

  1. It’s not supposed to be a competition: some people are simply more inclined to collaborate than others so we should not use this as some kind of false ego boost.  Therefore, collaboration strategy should focus on both encouraging people and also managing the differences that arise in people’s attitudes to collaboration.
  2. When asked to collaborate on a project/task/program, people should already know the drill.  There is nothing more off-putting then wanting to collaborate but then getting stuck in place as you try to work out logistics.  A collaboration strategy ensures that rules, guidelines, principles, governance framework, risk management, and tools are all readily available.  If it takes longer to set up a collaboration than it does to organise a client morning tea then there is something amiss.
  3. When things go wrong, nobody loses his/her job.  Confidence in knowing that collaboration is about taking a sanctioned risk is vital.  Collaboration should not allow people to be relaxed and unfazed when things go wrong, but it should not lead to job losses either.  A collaboration strategy then serves to ensure that the process of collaboration is managed well and that the focus is on outcomes, not mistakes.
  4. Collaboration leads to innovation.  It is not necessary for collaboration to lead to innovation, but the fact remains that it often does.  This should be considered in any strategy in order to know how to manage innovation.

The list of factors is longer but getting these starting factors right should lead to significant results.  I’ve seen this first hand.  What’s more interesting is how people who get caught by the collaboration bug become even more creative and curious about this strategic discipline.  Oftentimes enthusiasm borne out of outstanding results gets people to think about ways they can innovate and ways collaboration can add value.  And add to the bottom line.  This is an evolving discipline, which rewards contribution by all parties.  This surely has to be of interest to everyone motivated by results.