Monday, September 30, 2013

What does collaboration mean to you?

Collaboration is a term no organisation is ignoring in today's hyper connected and globalised world.  But the word means different things to enterprises depending on their priorities.  For some - it could mean as simple as enabling employees to work together to break silos.  For some others - it could mean breaking boundaries and enabling partners, customers and even general public to work together for a common cause.  It could be a mixture of all of this or some of this depending on the confidentiality requirements of the project.

It takes time and energy - We live in a hyper connected and a world built on instant gratification.  We expect immediate results and want to know the results of our initiatives  immediately.  Unfortunately collaboration projects are more complicated than that and takes time to show results.  While it is possible for results to show immediately in small controlled groups (for example collaborating with a group of employees), collaboration with a larger set especially those based outside your organisation takes time before it yield results.  So keep the faith!

Trust is paramount - Reflect on this.  When was the last time you revealed details to an outsider on your first meeting in an enterprise setting?  Collaboration calls for exchange of ideas and some knowledge about your corporate environment.  Due to this, it flourishes fully only when trust in either parties is established.  Though you can help build trust by creating a conducive and transparent environment, it does take time.  So do define the rules and be consistent.

Feedback is important - Since campaigns take time to show results and building trust is important, how do you keep the collaborators engaged?  One of the best ways of doing it is through continuous and regular feedback.  You need to spend your time and energy giving feedback to your collaborators and motivate them to help you.  It also conveys a message to them that you care and are serious about this.  It is also a great way to build connections and understand the pulse of your collaborators.

However small you must celebrate successes - Collaboration needs to be treated like an investment or a plant that needs to be nurtured.  You need to treat collaborators as your extended employee team and work on encouraging and celebrating even their small successes initially.  It is equally important to think from the collaborator's perspective rather than only your own.  Remember true collaboration happens only when there are win-win equations created.  One-sided relationships don't last long and will never realise the true potential of collaboration.

Involve senior management - Collaboration is a strategic initiative.  There is only so much that middle or lower managers can achieve.  Hence it pays to involve senior management and get direction from them on your future collaboration initiatives.  Ideally collaboration projects are best driven top down to ensure that the message is driven throughout the organisation.  In some cases, it also helps to show some initial success starting small to convince the top management which then helps to build the business case.