One of best lessons I have learned is the powerful impact collaboration has on success, both the collaboration that comes from working well internally but also with customers.
I want to talk about internal collaboration first because we know that when people work together with trust and respect they are more creative, productive and take more risks.
In other words, collaboration is the lifeblood of a healthy organisation.
Collaboration is not a synonym for cooperation.
In my experience people use the word collaboration without having a shared understanding of what it means.
One person may think collaborating means asking a peer for input, for another, it means ensuring there’s a representative from every area of the business on every project. While that sounds good in theory it can be clunky and unproductive. Just because good things come from working across silos it doesn’t mean that every project requires a multidisciplinary team.
Many people confuse collaboration with cooperation, believing that if they’re nice to one another and share information openly they are collaborating.
But collaborating is something different.
It’s when you share a common goal, underpinned by a clear sense of purpose and set up teams and mechanisms to harness it.
Importantly you also need to be working on an issue that requires collaboration and usually that’s when you’re trying to solve a problem or generate options that necessitate the integration of expertise that no single person can provide.
Once everyone can nod their heads and agree on what it means you must provide ways to create and maintain it. If you don’t then you create a culture in which collaboration is just an abstract.
Start with why, move to how.
To start you must be clear about your why, often called your brand purpose. Everyone should be clear about your place in the market, who your customers are and why they would be devastated if you fell off the map. Then you can ‘operationalise’ it.
- Set the collective agenda– when everyone knows what you’re aiming for, all energies can be clearly directed at the goal.
- Map the plan– once you’ve decided on an approach you need a clear plan with responsibilities and timeframes that everyone in the team sticks to.
- Measure true outcomes– it is important to value and reward behaviour and not just output. How the team functions contributes to the culture and willingness to be part of future teams. It’s also important to remember that the journey is just as important as the destination.
- Communication– I’m a fan of encouraging healthy disagreement to check group think and identify difficulties early on. I found getting people to adopt an alternative position to their own helps them see that there is never just one right answer. Nothing underminescollaboration more than not being heard or afestering resentment. If something is frustrating you, let the appropriate people know. Manage it respectfully, quickly and transparently. When disagreements are dealt with openly, they usually disappear quickly. An honest disagreement can build trust because the aggrieved parties end up with increased respect for each other.
Collaborating with customers.
Companies that collaborate with customers smash traditional boundaries. It can be tough to achieve and sustain but technology is making it easier.
One door that’s open is using social media channels. However, social media is more than just a customer service channel. Use it to listen to what people do and don’t like and not just about your own brand, but the industry or environment. If an idea is valuable, let them know, use it if you can. Share the content that customers put out. Draw them into the organisation.
Social media can be particularly powerful for executives if it’s done well – that is – with genuine engagement and personality. Two thirds of customer’s trust companies more if the CEO is social.
Being part of creating something larger than ourselves that connects us to people and purpose brings a sense of career satisfaction and strong culture.
Be yourself, don’t fake it.
Finally, be yourself. That’s my mantra. And it’s the mantra of every successful person I know. Why? Because we see the disconnect when people aren’t themselves. I know myself that if I am not being authentic I don’t deliver to the same level. Sustained, collaborative success can’t be manufactured, it comes from being true to yourself. If you have weakness in one element of your project, or are intimidated by another part, just say it. Know your personal blind spots. Pretending you know more than you do is a sure recipe for failure.
Collaboration depends on you bringing your best self to the effort every day in every way. In my experience, when people are true to themselves and true to the team, amazing things happen.
Rachel is founder of The Retail Collective, an expert at building global retail brands and organisational transformation and integration. Passionate about shaping and empowering the next generation of retail leaders and entrepreneurs to realise and unlock sustained value.