Collaboration – 21st Century Competitive Advantage
I just have to share organizational wisdom I learned from Steve, VP of Operations at a large tech company. He consistently instills in his team three elements that makes them extremely effective at collaboration – open mindedness, trust, and enthusiasm. But before I say anything about collaboration, I want to say a word about organization. Organization comes from the word organism and organized. Whether you are a single cell organism, a complex organism – a tree, for example – or a company – a group of people working together to produce value – you are an organism because your features and abilities are organized in a consistent pattern.
When an organization exists “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts”. The hand, for example, is a distinguishing human feature. But regardless of how strong or nimble a hand is, it is useless if it is not connected to the forearm, arm, shoulder, etc. A single disconnected hand is creepy and useless. The hand manifests its design as part of the larger organism.
Similarly, an organization emerges when a set of independent parts work together, collaborate, become interdependent and complementary. The organization is as good as the collaboration among the individuals and teams in the organization.
The role of leaders is to activate and maintain collaboration. Collaboration entails finding the right mix of people (skills, personalities, knowledge, work-styles, and chemistry), ensuring they share commitment to the collaboration task at hand, and providing them with an environment, tools, knowledge, training, process and facilitation to ensure they work together effectively. Here, now, are Steve’s three essential elements of collaboration success:
- Enthusiasm – a keen interest in the people and project and commitment to success
Enthusiasm signals care and commitment. When collaborators on a project care, they make efforts to surpass differences in style, skills, or training in order to contribute to mutual success. Engagement is infectious, and as team members demonstrate their interest and dedication they infuse that care in their surroundings.
- Open mindedness – a willingness to listen, explore, and be intensely curious
Open-mindedness is critical for everyone to contribute their ideas and perceptions. When team members speak out freely, disagreement and debate is guaranteed. People want a safe space to look stupid while thinking out loud or contradicting the group think. They don’t want to confront entrenched positions or group humiliation.
- Trust – belief in one another’s timely follow through and mutual safety
In the absence of trust people are defended and guarded. It is intellectually impossible to be both defended and connected. i.e., when members don’t trust they pull back and away from one another. Each member is silently thinking, “do I believe he/she has my best interest at heart?” A ‘yes’ answer generates trust, and a ‘no’ answer brings about detachment into safety.
Steve’s thoughts have stayed with me. He said that a great attitude does go a long way to making a team work. And, he said, a group that has the three ‘indispensable’ qualities – enthusiasm, open-mindedness & trust – can probably overcome any shortage of experience and diversity to work its way around any collective lack of skills.