Fostering Collaboration

collaborationLet me preface this by saying that collaboration is not as important in some companies as in others, and in some it’s not important at all. For example, some outside consulting firms might not care if their people work together productively, because collaboration isn’t a requirement for success as a consultant. However, in most cases, some sort of collaboration is necessary to achieve company goals. You as the leader, in conjunction with your managers, need to determine how much interaction is necessary. So, once you’re clear on where you’re headed and what you hope to accomplish, diagram out where each of your departments intersect, and devise ways that they can be incentivized to work together. Think of this as intentional collaboration.

Why is intentional collaboration important? Because, when goals and incentives are not interrelated, inter-departmental collaboration is unlikely to be present. While competition within a company can be a great motivator, if it is at cross-purposes with collaboration—and therefore the company’s overall goals—you are creating waste in both human potential and material resources. For instance, an outside sales team that needs the customer service department to deliver as promised will need to find ways to work together. If the two teams see themselves as competitors, no collaboration can happen. Instead, pair them up to achieve the mutual goal of customer satisfaction so they support one another. Sales and service teams that have mutual goals usually perform to higher standards with happier customers as a result.

A very successful engineering firm had a problem with delivery dates, leaving the sales team constantly over-promising and the service team under-delivering. This caused each team to point fingers at one another. The CEO sat down with both department heads and facilitated a discussion that lead to an agreement about mutual goals. Both sides acknowledged behaviors that were not serving the ultimate goal of promoting new products, and they devised ways they could work together versus working from separate agendas. The result was a clear communication process, no more in-fighting or hidden agendas, and two departments that celebrated each other’s successes so mutual goals could be met. It was the first year in which each of these two departments not only met, but exceeded, the company’s goals.

Gaining collaboration is usually pretty simple. It’s just a matter of acknowledging what is currently happening, how that is at cross-purposes with the company’s values, and what it’s costing the company in time and money. Once the wrong road is identified, it’s easier for everyone to move to the right track. So, decide which areas of your company absolutely need collaboration and how you will foster it with teams, rewards, incentives, and shared goals. Also decide what you’ll do when collaboration gets off track. Having a plan will make it easier to identify and rectify a collaboration snag when it happens.

Excerpted from my book, “Putting Together the Entrepreneurial Puzzle: The Ten Pieces Every Business Needs to Succeed.” Available here on Amazon.