It used to be that leading a successful company was all about withholding knowledge, hording power, and smashing the competition. More and more, however, leaders today are called upon to be more collaborative – sometimes even with their competition.
Typical Corporate Structure Impedes Collaboration
“Collaboration” might sound like a wimpy term to some. In fact, it is typically viewed as a more feminine virtue. Yet, the costs of poor collaboration are concrete and even painful.
Ask General Motors about its non-collaborative (“competitive”), “silo-ed” culture that led to a defective ignition switch, which cost the company at least $2.7 billion dollars in repairs, rework, replacement part, and lawsuits. A consulting report concluded that the cause of the defect stemmed from a silo-based culture that covered up issues and did not collaborate well.
Similarly, many companies operate in silos and do not communicate effectively across spans of control. In some cases, if a manager in one silo needs something from a manager in another silo, the company’s formality requires her to send a request up her chain of command to her Vice President, who then reaches across the company to another Vice President, who in turn goes down the chain of command to the manager, and so on. This form of communication is extremely slow and subject to miscommunication. Add matrix-ed relationships to this, where employees strive to serve multiple masters, balancing multiple roles and competing interests. Yeow!
Emphasis on Technical Skills Can Stifle Collaboration
Think about the highly skilled employees in companies within technical industries, who spent years learning a technical function. Often, their companies have not encouraged them to learn the nuanced interpersonal skills required to collaborate on teams. As a result they are not as effective at relating to others, conveying their ideas with impact, getting what they want, or helping others achieve their goals. Therefore, teams in these industries may not perform as well as they could. This results in stalled projects. Ironically, when you multiply this effect across the company — especially when teams have to work cross-functionally — the negative results from a lack of collaboration can hurt a company’s competitive position.
Fostering Collaboration Is Imperative
As companies become more complex, collaboration becomes a core skill that every leader, team, and business unit must have. In some cases, this means you must structure your company to make collaboration easier. In other cases, it means encouraging manager and employees to acquire new skills, attitudes, and behaviors.
Also, leadership today requires you to enhance your own collaboration skills to get what you want from those inside your company and external partners, like suppliers, vendors, regulatory agencies, and customers. Either way, you become a role model for collaboration, setting the example for the types of collaborative interactions you expect from your employees.
When you use collaboration wisely and well, you gain easier cooperation, more information, and greater facility to reach your targets. In short, you become more competitive.
WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE?
You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with leaders who want to confidently become the leader they are meant to be as they maximize the “people side” of business. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.