Collaboration, like virtually every aspect of business strategy and performance, has elements that are deceptively simple.
In the case of everyday collaboration, what often remains completely unobserved is the fact that simple, transactional engagement and information sharing between parties does not lead to the best that collaboration offers – that is, the emergence of creative solutions to complex problems that can then form the basis for a new value.
To get to this point, parties have to learn to ‘drop their tools’ and venture into a bit of uncertainty without losing faith in the process. Collaboration is also about willingness to accept change on a personal level, hence the idea of loosening any rigid reliance on what we know and the tools we rely upon. Letting go of those tools and being prepared to venture beyond, by banking on others, is a step in the right direction for any collaboration-focussed team.
As Stephen Covey once remarked “without trust we don’t truly collaborate…it is trust that transforms a group of people into a team”. Trust is also the first tangible sign that innovation and creativity may materialise, as inhibitions and fears of asking ‘stupid questions’ melt away.
Good collaboration feels right when partners get a sense that they are in it together. And curiously, that sense comes only when neither party feels confident they are in control of the collaboration process, because it doesn’t feel like normal or routine work.
It is only when the parties engage with genuine commitment to each other that real possibilities for innovation emerge. And it’s specifically this kind of out-of-the-box thinking that businesses need in uncertain times.
This is precisely where the process of true collaboration delivers.
Usually what we tend to refer to as collaboration is not much more than conventional practice – with parties often tending to hold back. They are present, regularly offer ideas or information and can seem to be engaged in common processes like brainstorming etc, but the real effort in collaboration is only evident when parties take risks – when they start to invest themselves and realise that to get that elusive payoff, it is crucial to trust others. If that doesn’t happen, collaboration can only offer ‘low hanging fruit’ type results and nothing more.
If managers settle for that level of collaborative effort from their teams then the results will barely be worth the effort. It is worthwhile noting that the major downside to low level collaboration is a weakened foundation for a truly collaborative culture that delivers competitive advantage. Effectively collaboration then becomes simply a token exercise. And we all know how well that works out in the long run.