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Why Collaboration Is Not The Same

July 25, 2012

Good Things Happen When Ideas Connect.

In April I wrote a piece identifying what I call the Collaboration Paradox: whilst senior marketers and CEO’s agree  greater internal and external collaborative behaviour is required to reach their innovation goals, research shows that most people and organisations are not equipped to do it. And  recently a senior business leader raised a related paradoxical point: whilst more  executives than ever are trained in business studies to effectively manage operations, units and teams – why is there a worrying lack of creativity, customer focus, innovation and entrepreneurship?

A  Cap Gemini report revealed recently that whilst 80% of CEO’s surveyed believed that innovation was their main business challenge and that collaboration was the most important element within it – only 16% said their organisations had the right culture for it. The finding is valuable  but  not unique or surprising.  Work by Forrester and General Electric’s Innovation Barometer show similar results and lead to the same conclusion; there is a big gap between the recognised need for collaboration and the skills and culture required to do it effectively.

Successful Innovation Is More About Collaboration Than Being A Mad Genius

Many organisations have created a flow of effective teams, processes, leaders and well organised project management systems but these elements, whilst valuable, do not automatically build a collaborative culture. Collaboration effectiveness is not the same as being a good manager, a well organised project executive or a smart operator. So what’s missing?

In a recent article published in Ivey Business Journal, Rick Lash from Hay Group discusses some of the findings from their ‘Best Companies For Leadership‘ survey that may point to an answer. Their survey, which covered 4,500 leaders across 300 organisations, shows that whilst many of their executives had mastered the art of effective management, processes and operations they lacked the required skills and behaviours of successful collaborators; self-awareness, coaching and other ‘soft skills’.  Lash says; “The management challenges ahead will require the skills of a collaborative leader. Many leaders however lack the required skills to collaborate meaningfully” – and he goes on to say; “The skills required are not the same as knowing how to work effectively as a functional team”.  Team work is valuable but it refers to the situation where a group come together with a plan prepared, roles understood and the goals known – whereas in collaboration, there is a much greater need for exploration of new ideas, new ways of working, questioning objectives, resources and finding the right game to play rather than following the rules. The Hay Group have identified six key collaborative competencies;

Hay Group Reveals Six Key Collaborative Competencies:

Enterprise Perspective: Successful collaborators understand the business & alignment of strategy to help resolve conflicts

Cross Functional Perspective: They understand the needs of other units and can align them (this is a key point of the T-Shaped People identified by Morten T Hansen in his excellent book Collaboration) within this

Customer Perspective: They focus hard on real customer needs and raising expectations

Self Management: They are patient and are able to handle disagreements (what we refer to as ‘maturity skills’)

Listen With Respect: They can empathise and understand people with different opinions and objectives

Matrix Influencing: They excel at communicating with different stakeholders and gaining support

Our CollaborativeEdge Programme is built on the premise that whilst sound planning & organisation is a base for any business project  it is the soft skills (or lack of them…) that will determine the outcome for initiatives, where the quality of the internal and external relationships are so critical to success. For that reason, within our Programme, we focus on sharpening the practical personal skills and behaviours that support collaboration; Awareness, Conversation and Innovation Skills

Lash also refers to the point well made by Morten T Hansen – collaboration is not a simple strategy for every business issue. If not managed itself, it can reckless. If not properly directed there is the danger of what I refer to as ‘departmental tourism’; lots of x-business chat and coffee but no outcome. Effective collaboration focuses upon specific areas and outcomes – and nurtures the right conversations and thinking around that.

The research by Hays Group, along with the other pieces mentioned above suggests that many individuals and organisations are struggling with how to build the collaborative culture that so many CEO’s recognise they need to maintain their edge. Lash has a sobering message for those  that continue to ignore the signals; “Achieving more growth through innovation, searching for new business opportunities across segments and leveraging best business practices to improve efficiencies demands that leaders need to know how to work across organisational boundaries. Whether it’s across national boundaries or across teams – leaders will need to collaborate” 

For further information on CollaborativeEdge and the CollaborationCafe and to find out how we can help to create the collaborative advantage for your organisation and team please contact Andrew Armour at Benchstone.

You can read the full article by Lash here, at Ivey Business Journal.

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