Photo by Nikhil Mitra on Unsplash

The C-word

Collaboration. There’s a word that — in a business context — can induce scepticism, cynicism and eye-rolls among the best of us. A word that cues ramshackle workshops and circular stakeholder conversations. A word used loosely and indiscriminately to describe any number of business activities — from deeply systemic working practices to ad hoc middle-of-the-corridor meetings. Somewhere along the way, collaboration lost its meaning a little.

However the willingness and ability of organisations to gather their people — to share, learn, ideate, create and execute together — is becoming ever more critical to their success.

In fact, we’d say collaboration is hands-down the most essential business discipline of our time.

So, what is the true and valuable meaning of collaboration for organisations? It starts with use that is methodical and systemic, that sets a philosophy and approach to doing business. This in turn results in more engaged and committed stakeholders, and better business outcomes. Cooperation around shared goals or mutually beneficial objectives is nothing new but true collaboration as a philosophy and way of working takes ‘working together’ to another level.

Below are some bullet points on the benefits of methodical and systemic collaboration. These were thoughts that Paul Hoskins and I threw around as we began to build the Everyhow proposition back in 2018, inspired by our own experiences, conversations with our clients, a few books and many a Medium article. Here’s our share:

It creates deeper engagement with your challenges — 
Collaboration helps get people focused and standing toe-to-toe with a challenge. It means bringing leaders and thinkers together for discussion, debate and ideation. It should create deep engagement among stakeholders with your organisational challenges, which can only lead to better thinking and better work.

It brings diverse perspectives to bear — 
Collaboration is about bringing multiple perspectives to the table. This in turn brings great benefits. People who see things differently can open up new angles on a challenge; a combination of different perspectives coming together can generate significant breakthroughs. Diversity of experience, expertise and outlook is a potent concoction when brought together effectively.

It forges alignment on the challenges and how they might be resolved — 
Collaboration involves people going on a journey, together. Which sounds pleasant and whimsical but is actually seriously important. Organisations can no longer afford poor communication between business units or have their various limbs working at odds with each other. People and teams who are brought together in a systemic way become better at understanding, empathising, and working with, each other.

It generates solutions that meet your stakeholders’ needs — 
Collaboration is about working on the right challenges with the right people. In our experience, the best people to solve your organisation’s challenges are most likely the people working in your business. Bringing your stakeholders together to work up solutions that meet their needs will result in solutions far more relevant than any external agency or consultancy could deliver.

It delivers a sense of progress and momentum — 
Collaboration helps deliver an acute sense of progress through its very process. Because the methodology of collaboration (for example, co-design or co-creation) involves your people at every step, they will see and feel progress being made. There is no waiting around for answers or presentations. Instead there is an ongoing sense of momentum and value being released iteratively with each and every session.

It delivers practical learning — 
Collaboration around a specific challenge or task can encourage valuable learning within a problem-solving setting. Stakeholders who might not normally be engaged with a certain topic are brought into the fold and participate in a practical way with finding solutions. In this way, collaboration can be seen as delivering immersive and hands-on education.

It generates commitment and encourages ownership— 
Collaboration creates the conditions for your people to truly own the outcomes. When you outsource your problems or solve them in silos, you take ownership of the solutions away from the people in your business. The more ownership you create, the more commitment you get, and the better the results you’re likely to yield.

It paves the way for more effective outcomes — 
Building a collaborative way of working fosters deeper engagement that ultimately creates greater stakeholder commitment to, and ownership of, the solutions. This in turn leads to more effective outcomes. Which is ultimately why we suggest collaboration is such a critical discipline for all organisations.

Thanks for reading. We’ll be sharing more (thoughts, methodologies, tools) in due course.