Collaboration can greatly aid success in business – teams coming together to exchange information and share resources for mutual benefit to reach a common goal.
But while many organisations aspire to greater collaboration, few feel they're actually accomplishing it. In fact, research shows more than 50% of strategic alliances and joint ventures fail.
Here, we talk you through what true collaboration entails and give our top tips on how to attain it.
Barriers to success
Collaboration is more than just cooperation. Cooperation is when teams work on a project, but have separate responsibilities and undertake tasks alone, then bring the results to the table. Collaboration is when you work together through negotiation and discussion, using shared resources and responsibilities to acheive a mutually beneficial goal.
To be motivated to collaborate, individuals must recognise that achieving their objectives is dependent on others. But as teams have different viewpoints and priorities, the process of establishing a collaboration in which everyone has a vested interest and are equally driven, is rarely a smooth one.
Our Managing Director, Adrian Moorhouse, recently said at our conference: ‘Great collaboration is not just cosy, with us all being mates so we can get on, there’s a lot of tension. It's not going to be a smooth ride, there will be people fighting their corner. There's an element of challenge as well as support within collaborations.’
Although this conflict is an important ingredient, as it indicates commitment and, if worked through constructively, can strengthen teams' ability to work together in the future,2 conflict can get in the way of success. For example, in instances where one party has high levels of assertiveness and low levels of cooperation and wants to win for themselves, this can impede collaboration. Likewise, if one team is low on assertiveness, they can end up compromising too much and lose motivation to make it work.
At the heart of this conflict is communication. Keeping the lines of communication open is imperative; when we don't share what our goals are, and what we have to offer, we can't see how collaboration can be beneficial and so it fails.
Requirements for effective collaboration
When Adrian was training for the 200m breaststroke at the Olympics, he had specialists working with him –a strength coach, a nutritionist and a sports psychologist –and they didn't just collaborate with him to help him perform better, they also collaborated together to understand the impact of each other's work. In order to collaborate effectively, we need to manage conflict and communication constructively.
- Encourage teams to come together to achieve shared goals. Instill positive interdependence – when individuals feel they can only achieve their goals if others achieve theirs.3 This results in better interaction and greater cooperation.4
- Allow your teams to get to know one another's expertise, experience, strengths, priorities, ambitions or challenges to develop collaborative opportunities.
- Ensure there are high levels of assertiveness and cooperation on all teams. According to the Thomas-Kilmann taxonomy,567 this is the only way collaboration can be achieved.
- Equip individuals with the skills to work through difficult conversations. A workforce with high emotional intelligence can identify, understand and manage their own and others’ emotions, aiding collaborations.
Role of leadership
The role of the leader is also essential in ensuring that tasks, organisational structures, processes and physical working environments enable collaboration. For example, when Bernard Ainsworth took on project management for the construction of The Shard, the tallest building in Europe, he ripped out all the walls inside the project's headquarters to enable teams to communicate. So what can leaders do in your organisation?
Here are a couple of tips for leaders to help improve collaboration:
- Create a psychologically safe environment where your team feel able to express opinions. By empowering them, you'll maximise their contributions. Trust them to do their job and also have confidence in your own leadership ability.
- Provide direction, then take a step back and put the team at the forefront of the action. Admit you don't have all the answers, and benefit from their diverse knowledge, skills and expertise by involving them in decision-making.
At Lane4, we know if you want to collaborate well, you need to believe that working together can help you reach that end game everyone all bought into in the first place. Yes, there will be conflict along the way, but if you can manage this effectively, using good communication and leadership, you can push your teams' performance to a higher level.
1. Kale, P., & Singh, H. (2009). Managing strategic alliances: What do we know now, and where do we go from here? Academy of Management Perspectives, 23(3), 45–62.
2. Pelled et al. (1999). Exploring the black box: An analysis of work group diversity, conflict, and performance. Administrative Science Quarterly, 44, 1-28.
3. Johnson, D. W. & Johnson, R. (2005). New developments in social interdependence theory. Psychology Monographs, 131, 285-358.
4. Choi, J., Johnson, D.W., & Johnson, R.T. (2011). Relationships Among Cooperative Learning Experiences, Social Interdependence, Children’s Aggression, Victimization, and Prosocial Behaviors. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 41, 976-1003.
5. Ruble, T.L., & Thomas, K.W. (1976). Support for a two-dimensional model for conflict behavior. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance, 16, 143-155.
6. Kilmann, R. & Thomas, K.W. (1977). Developing a Forced-Choice Measure of Conflict-Handling Behavior: The “MODE”Instrument. Educational and Psychological Measurement, 37: 309.
7. Thomas, K.R. (1977). Conflict and conflict management. In M.D. Dunnette (Ed.) The Handbook of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, (pp. 839-935). Chicago: Rand McNally.