You might think that “collaboration” now rivals “synergy” in the ranks of overused buzzwords, but it represents an idea more business owners should put into practice. True collaboration moves a product from development to launch faster, cuts costs by sharing the workload and encourages innovation. Still, many companies don’t give it priority.
In a survey of 900 managers and project managers, 65% of respondents said they recognize the importance of collaboration to business success, but only 28% said their organizations actually work collaboratively.
“Interaction fosters the thoughts, ideas and processes around being aware of your environment, adapting to it, engaging in productive dialogue to work together toward a common goal,” says Glenn R. BrÃ»lÃ©, executive director of global client solutions at ESI International, the Arlington, Va.-based business learning provider that released the survey in November 2011.
For all its benefits, collaboration won’t work in hostile territory. In his book Collaboration: How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity, and Reap Big Results, Morton Hansen uses the example of two mp3 players to show why. Sony teams succumbed to in-fighting so intense it took years, and moderators, to develop the Connect, which tanked in sales. Apple, then one tenth Sony’s size, launched the iPod in only nine months, in part because of exceptional collaboration by a diverse group of hardware and software experts.
Making your company culture collaborative isn’t a simple as putting it in your mission statement. PROFIT asked BrÃ»lÃ© and Hansen for their tips to encourage collaboration.
Here are their 5 best tips:
1. “Make collaboration a Top 5 priority in your organization, and communicate it to staff,” says Hansen. Pitch it to employees in a positive way, highlighting the benefits to them of improving performance, cutting costs and increasing innovation.
2. “Look at ways to share best practices across the company,” says BrÃ»lÃ©, even when you’re not working on a specific project. Helping employees get to know each other by sharing information will improve collaboration when new projects arise.
3. Offer incentives for teamwork so employees see the positive result of collaborating, says Hansen. Instead of rewarding employees for individual or departmental performance, tie promotions and bonuses to performance within interdepartmental teams.
4. Encourage team members to communicate throughout a project, rather than just handing off a finished section to the next partner, suggests BrÃ»lÃ©. “If we work together on each step, our ability to catch errors earlier on is higher and the project is likely to have a greater degree of quality.”
5. Conduct a strategic audit before each project to identify the optimal financial benefits and opportunity cost of collaborating. Realistically evaluate the likelihood of achieving your optimal benefits in the face of your opportunity cost. “Most people don’t take the time to ask this,” says Hansen. If the realistic benefits don’t outweigh the costs, save collaboration for another project.