Using internal techniques to drive collaboration across industry
Collaboration is “The the situation of two or more people working together to create or achieve the same thing” according to the Cambridge english dictionaries. It is the definition I prefer between that of Dictionary.com, Oxford and Collins, because it stresses “the same thing” rather than “something”.
Why does collaboration matter? Because it plays a key role in innovation. In our current business climate we need to become and remain innovative in order to succeed and keep up with increasing business demands. To do this requires developing a culture of innovation, and the most effective way of doing this is through encouraging and developing creativity and nurturing collaboration, both within an organisation and across industry boundaries.
Collaboration within organisations enables groups of people and employees to draw on knowledge from a wealth of expertise, adding value to their work and helping teams to find unique solutions to some of their most difficult challenges.
Likewise, collaboration across industry has the ability to create truly unique and innovative solutions, solving real problems that no one industry could do alone. The collective intelligence of multiple industries can be very powerful indeed. Take a look at this report on collaborative projects across different businesses and industry by Co-society and you will begin to see the potential.
However, many workplaces are still departmentally siloed, companies are geographically siloed and industries often siloed by different purposes and expertise. However on stepping back from the situation it becomes apparent that there are more common goals than initially obvious, both within organisations and across industries. It requires leadership to recognise these goals, communicate them and inspire collaboration both internally and across industry in order to drive innovation.
There is a lot of information available on encouraging collaboration in the workplace, whereas encouraging collaboration across industry remains a more elusive concept, but, I believe if we take a closer look at some of the most vital elements to fostering collaboration internally we see that they translate well to scaling up across industry.
Key Elements to Fostering Collaboration Internally
Fostering collaboration internally requires a genuine commitment to building relationships and trust across the organisation through supporting a sense of community. A good, although somewhat elaborate, example of this would be the RBS headquarters in Edinburgh. In 2005 Royal Bank of Scotland’s CEO, Fred Goodwin, invested £350 million to open a new headquarters built around a large indoor atrium, with restaurants, retail shops, a leisure club, jogging tracks and cycling trails where more than 3000 employees get to cross paths and interact on a daily basis. It was designed specifically to improve communication, increase the exchange of ideas, and create a sense of community among employees. To further encourage collaboration from non-headquarter based partners and employees Goodwin commissioned an adjoining business school where employees from other locations and could meet up and learn, this served to further attract global business and academic leaders.
In a study conducted by Harvard Business Review on team behavior at 15 multinational companies RBS was found to have had very strong social relationships and a solid basis for collaborative activity that allowed them to accomplish tasks quickly and more effectively.
Attitudes to collaboration within an organisation will often reflect the philosophy of the top executives. Senior leaders need to be role models of cooperation and collaboration. In the same study by Harvard Business Review, executives at Standard Chartered Bank were found to be exceptionally good role models when it came to cooperation. The firm has 57 operating groups in 57 countries and members of the general management committee will frequently serve as substitutes for one another travelling to other branches. The senior management team travels extensively, even for relatively brief meetings, investing in face to face interaction within the company. The senior teams collaborative nature has trickled down through the organisation and internal communication is frequent and often. Employees have adopted a collaborative culture towards getting things done.
Proactive collaboration management
The third of the most important ingredients to nurturing collaboration is a bit more direct in nature and involves proactive management, where smart decisions are made about the way teams are formed and where roles, challenges and goals are clearly defined and articulated. According to the study already mentioned, in some organisations teams already had a collaborative culture but were not skilled in the practice of collaboration itself and by training these teams in collaborative behaviours and processes their ability to successfully use this to solve problems increased significantly.
Additionally choosing the right team leaders was found to have made a significant difference to the success of collaborative projects and teams. This begs the question what is the right team leader? According to the findings, this is neither a social relationship focused individual, nor a task oriented productive focused leader, but in fact a combination of both. Flexible leaders that had the ability to guide the team in a task oriented way initially, by helping define the goals, tasks, roles and responsibilities and then allowed the collaboration of the team to take over naturally, produced the best results.
Collaboration across industry is intrinsically much harder with industries and businesses often deeper isolated from each other both physically, by expertise and market. However, the potential benefits when cross industry and business collaboration is achieved are huge. When industries combine their knowledge and expertise, incredible results can manifest and innovation can truly find its way out.
The biggest barriers to collaboration in industry are; trust over issues such as intellectual property, uncertainty of the potential benefits and lack of time to devote to initial exploratory conversations. So in much the same way as fostering collaboration internally within an organisation, opportunities need to be created to encourage relationships to build and conversations to happen. Common goals need to be identified and articulated and the process needs to be managed and lead by industry leaders.