The last time I was at Fenwick and West I was being deposed in a very ugly lawsuit. I am happy to report that the suit was settled amicably and my deposition had no influence on anything.
Last week I got to revisit the scene of the deposition for a much more uplifting reason. The Churchill Club breakfast featured Kare Anderson talking about collaboration.
Her premise, experience and insight was that having a culture of collaboration, making collaboration a core competency changes much in an organization but it especially changes the ability of the organization to innovate. It accelerates and stimulates innovation and becomes a critical force-multiplier for the enterprise.
And we are not just talking about innovation within the company but also creating a culture that fosters collaboration from without too. Many companies and government departments have experienced the effect of “crowd-sourcing”, sometimes not to their benefit, and they are now incorporating those techniques as an integral part of their business to consumer, consumer to business strategy. What this means is empowering customers, partners, suppliers and, yes, competitors to participate in a company’s future direction.
The most successful collaboration schemes reward the most collaborative participants. If it is the crowd without the organization this can be done with points shown on a “leader board” on the company web site. Perhaps the points can be redeemed for products and services. Within the organization employees who collaborate the most should be rewarded too. This can be monetarily but recognition in the form of awards, plaques, even simple mentions in the newsletter or company meeting can be sufficient.
What is important is constant reinforcement, from the highest level, that collaboration is important, encouraged and that it makes a difference. Any change in company policy or behavior, any new product or strategy that comes from a collaboration should be singled out and celebrated.
Make the rules of collaboration clear and that includes the mechanism for adding collaborators and for removing collaborators. Every collaborator should be there because they have a specific contribution to make. Egos and job titles need to be left at the door. Make the goals of the collaboration well defined with specific ways of measuring if the goal has been achieved and a way of knowing if the goal will never be met. Otherwise let the group be self-organizing, self-optimizing and self-managing.
The unexpected consequences of all of this include improved employee morale, greater staff retention and new employee attraction and, most frequently, solutions to problems that could not be derived in any other way.
So next time you are about to delegate a task to a manager think about creating a collaborative team to solve it. Make the rules of engagement clear and focus on the content, contribution and commitment. Content, what is to be solved. Contribution, who the collaborators are. And commitment, what each collaborator is expected to do.
My mentor and friend, Doug Troxel, wrote to me when I originally tweeted this stream of thoughts. He reminded me that the art of collaboration needs not only to be a core competency in business but in life too. Each of us who are parents and teachers need to make this part of the curriculum of life that we pass along to the next generation.
Tomorrow’s world will be one where technology will be the main, in some cases only, communication channel with our colleagues. Interaction will occur across time zones and language barriers as easily as a chat by the water cooler does today. Those that will gain the most from that world, those that will have most to give to that world, will be those that think collaboratively first.
This is an Empowering Change in our world: embrace it, exploit it, enjoy it.