My mother, who typically signaled her impending words of wisdom with, “Well, you know what they say,” told me more than once, “Two heads are better than one.” The value of collaboration — two or more people working together to achieve or create the same thing — has been common knowledge for a long time.

So, why do we in business find it so difficult, and what can we do to get better at collaboration?

This article answers both questions convincingly throughout, but it is toward the end that the critical component needed for a collaborative culture is most compellingly stated, “To unleash the potential of horizontal collaboration, leaders must equip people to learn and to relate to one another across cultural and logistical divides.”

Simply, the key to systemic and sustained collaboration in business is leadership — leaders who value collaboration; who are willing to exert energy and resources to develop it in themselves and in their employees; who set up structures to reinforce and maintain it; and, of course, who consistently act collaboratively themselves.

However, even with comitted leaders, the challenge of successful collaboration is real.

As the authors conclude, “Today the vast majority of innovation and business-development opportunities lie in the interfaces between functions, offices, or organizations. In short, the integrated solutions that most customers want — but companies wrestle with developing — require horizontal collaboration.”

This article offers four specific suggestions to instill and strengthen collaboration — suggestions that can be implemented, for the most part, using existing company resources:

  1. Develop and Deploy Cultural Brokers – people who “have experiences and relationships that span multiple sectors, functions, or domains and informally serve as links between them.”
  1. Encourage People to Ask the Right Questions – “As MIT’s Edgar Schein explains in his book Humble Inquiry, questions are the secret to productive work relationships — but they must be driven by genuine interest in understanding another’s view.”
  1. Get People to See the World Through Others’ Eyes – “People from different organizational groups don’t see things the same way … this leads to misunderstandings in interface work. It’s vital, therefore, to help people learn how to take the perspectives of others.”
  1. Broaden Your Employees’ Vision – “As a rule, cross-functional teams give people across silos a chance to identify various kinds of expertise within their organization, map how they’re connected or disconnected, and see how the internal knowledge network can be linked to enable valuable collaboration.”

These approaches are sound and worth serious discussion about how they can be adapted to benefit your company. But, unless you, as the leader, consistently model collaborative behavior and values – unless you seek and show genuine interest in others’ views, respect different perspectives, and listen to your team members and employees – your company will not realize the value collaboration can bring.

Contact us and we can help you identify specific ways you as a leader can create a collaborative culture in your company. 

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