Is Collaboration a bad word? As in collaborating with the enemy – in the extreme punishable by death!
I always found it surprising working in a large organization that people didn’t collaborate far more, or be actively looking for ways to collaborate with their colleagues. This collaboration could be in the context of a team, a unit, in a meeting, a workshop, or across the whole company, using whichever form of communication medium. I would sometimes ask colleagues (half jokingly) what was the name of the company on their corporate badge – sometimes it felt as if colleagues were indeed the enemy.
Some neuroscientists believe we are hardwired to distrust everyone except our own family members, so no wonder it is difficult for us to collaborate with colleagues. How related are we?
Of course not all collaboration creates value, it can create a lot of noise and even disruption, but in my opinion it is better to have too much than too little. Sometimes a lack of collaboration is put down to the difficulty of finding people and knowledge within the organization. Corporate directories and knowledge management solutions are put in place to address this, but often these become underutilised once the initial hype and enthusiasm has dwindled. I remember asking an engineer once why they hadn’t completed their profile (skills, experience, etc.) in a corporate directory – they told me that they already had enough work to do, and didn’t want to attract any more. Perhaps people are simply unwilling to collaborate?
In a workshop setting, running group activities, most often the groups of people formed into temporary teams would by default compete against each other, assuming they were in a competitive situation verses the other teams. Almost never sharing or collaborating, even though no such instruction was given, and even in the case where a common external competitor was identified.
Individual objectives and goals have also been mentioned to me as a reason for a lack of collaboration: I’ll focus on my own goals or objectives. I am not rewarded for collaborating with others, or for helping them achieve their objectives, it just wastes my time. Or perhaps it is the stress associated with such goals, and deadlines? Could the answer lie in having more unifying objectives, objectives where it is only possible to accomplish the result through collaboration? Such objectives are challenging to set, and require that leaders transcend their own organization and see the bigger picture. And then at the end of the day how do you assess and reward individual’s performance in a collaborative effort? But almost by definition aren’t all organizations a collaborative effort!
A collaborative culture, a known set of collaborative technical capabilities are a foundation. One would hope that the overall purpose and objectives of the company or organization are sufficient to encourage both willingness and the ability to collaborate, especially these days when achieving this so often involves people from outside the traditional boundaries of a company in the sometimes very extended value chains.
For collaboration to flourish there needs to be a prevailing feeling that “we’re in the same boat together” !!