It turns out that communication difficulties and old rules of business have conditioned us, as workers, to avoid collaboration. Over decades, concerns over competitive advantage have seeded discord, both within companies, and between companies and their business partners. Sensitivity about access to confidential business information, and distrust about the motives of potential partners in teams, are some of the recognized barriers to collaboration. And then increasingly, as technology has come to mediate communication and business processes, problems with information sharing and data use, as well as differences in technological literacies and fluency have also worked against facilitating collaboration. So collectively these impediments to sharing can sabotage any attempt for teams to work productively together.
But these old barriers of business trust and technological capability need to be overcome. The benefits of collaboration for productivity are substantial and growing. And the motivation for a change in attitude to collaboration is exactly the same as the reason why it used to be resisted – competitive advantage.
The benefits of collaboration for productivity are substantial and growing.
Over the last decade, study after study has identified the value of collaboration for competitive advantage. McKinsey's study on the Social Economy identified that productivity improvements from the use of social technologies could improve productivity by as much as 25%. A recent study by Deloitte Access Economics for Google in Australia noted that companies that embrace collaboration are “five times more likely to experience a considerable increase in employment, twice as likely to be profitable, and twice as likely to outgrow competitors”. And over at CISCO, they’ve been talking about Return on Collaboration as driving the next wave of business value. There is little doubt that collaboration is the secret sauce for both creative and competitive market positioning. Yet, in spite of this, many business leaders and companies still resist efforts to embed collaboration in corporate culture.
Fortunately, there are ways that companies can overcome the old barriers to collaboration.
Firstly, you need to ensure any teams you put together feel comfortable to explore both the areas where they have common goals, and the areas where they may disagree. This means that you need to build enough time in to collaboration initiatives to ensure that these trust weaknesses can be overcome. Obviously you need to inculcate the notion of respect for differences of opinion across teams, but you also need to inspire confidence in participants that given enough time, great things can happen. That might mean being super patient at the start of a collaboration process, but productivity will speed up as trust between participants is forged and reinforced.
Companies need their senior executives to be active participants in collaboration exercises, and they need to ensure that they acknowledge the contribution of all parties.
You also need to ensure that collaboration is fostered from the top. An endorsement is not enough. Companies need their senior executives to be active participants in collaboration exercises, and they need to ensure that they acknowledge the contribution of all parties.
Finally, you need to make collaboration part of business as usual, without it turning in to Just Another Company Meeting. The exercise of collaboration should be aligned with company objectives, and it should generate creative, productive outputs which are more than a To Do List. If it is to be genuinely beneficial, collaboration has to be something that workers look forward to, something that makes them happy to be part of a team.
As Don Tapscott has noted, learning to collaborate is "part of equipping yourself for effectiveness, problem solving, innovation and life-long learning in an ever-changing networked economy". I would go one step further, and say learning to collaborate is not just competitively advantageous in a networked economy, but it is a means of rediscovering our natural, creative and decidedly social selves.
learning to collaborate is "part of equipping yourself for effectiveness, problem solving, innovation and life-long learning in an ever-changing networked economy" - Don Tapscott
Anthony J James is Chief Innovation & Growth Officer @ DDB, he is a C-Level, international marketing transformation executive specialising in creative, digital, brand positioning, and innovative global B2B and B2C solutions focussed on GROWTH. With deep experience across Asia Pacific, Middle East & Europe plus high-growth emerging markets.