This thing called collaboration

This thing called collaboration

We keep listening to leaders of organizations and teams lament about the fact that there isn’t enough collaboration among all or some of their team members. They may ask HR to conduct training programs and workshops on collaboration or ask coaches to coach specific leaders to be more collaborative.

Like many others things, our language often betrays the true intent we have in mind about an expectation and “collaboration” is a great example of this.

In order to promote greater clarity, I would therefore use the term “collective efforts” to describe the five levels of expectations in this area:

Level one is competition. I do not need to emphasise the importance of a competitive spirit within organizations because competition is a reality in the larger world and winning is so important. While the need to win is important, how does one ensure that it does not vitiate collective efforts is often the dilemma of leaders. To that end, competition between individuals is seen as detrimental to collective efforts.

Level two is coordination. A lot of everyday work in teams requires coordination of efforts. In other words, the efforts of one person need to be coordinated with the efforts of another person so that they together produce great results. Lack of coordination leads to wasted efforts. Be it a company picnic or the delivery of a service or completion of a project, coordination is important.

Level three is cooperation: There are many occasions when one member of a team or an entire team is leading efforts on something that is important for the team or the organisation. Finance may be closing its books of accounts or Quality or Regulatory affairs may be filing for a certification or HR may want to get performance appraisals done. This can happen only when there is cooperation from all involved.

Level four is compromise. There are occasions when there are conflicting positions on several substantive issues. It could be about policy conformance or a contentious decision that impacts margins but satisfies customers or one function wanting to concessions and another not wanting to agree. The ability to display commitment to the “collective” and compromise without one’s ego coming in the way is a huge sign of maturity.

Level five is collaboration. There are times when organizations and teams may be driving transformational change or launching breakthrough products and services and it may call for the bright minds to come together and give their best, build on each other’s ideas and challenge each other and together create something terrific. This is collaboration.

Given the very nuanced nature of this ask around “collective efforts”, some of the work in building this competence needs to be done with the individual leader and and some of it with the intact team.