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Why Collaboration Often Fails and What to Do About It.

January 8th, 2012 · No Comments · Collaboration

Big Ideas:

  • Collaboration and creativity are big buzz words now but most businesses don’t really know how to collaborate or be creative.
  • Collaborative efforts often produce mediocre results because ego gets in the way.
  • A great team can produce amazing results, but finding those team members is not an easy task.

There is no question that the Internet has changed the way we work and connect with others. From a few people working on a shared Google document to thousands contributing to projects like Wikipedia or Linux, we are collaborating in unprecedented ways. When it works, collaboration is synergistic and amazing. The problem is that too often, real, meaningful collaboration is thwarted by an ugly thing called people.

As much as we talk about creativity and collaboration, most people don’t really know what those things mean. We are all human, so egos get in the way. We want to own, control and dominate. It happens with children playing together, in office politics and in volunteer or non-profit settings. Too often, it is more important to be right than to do the right thing. That is where collaboration fails.

Intuitively, we understand the benefits of  co-working, crowdsourcing, crowdfunding or a great business team on our collaborative efforts, but most of us also have many negative experiences where team efforts get mired in bureaucracy and territorial silo building. It is pretty hard to create something amazing when team members are jockeying for control and recognition.

At least from my experiences, I believe that most businesses don’t understand collaboration. How many of your colleagues or customers are still emailing Word and Excel documents as attachments? If you are over 30 years old, chances are your business processes are still heavily influenced from the Microsoft dominated days of installed software more than two decades ago. The world is a different place now. There are plenty of examples of dynamic companies prospering even when the partners are global dispersed, but they are still the exception.

For real collaboration to work, many elements need to be in place:

  1. Trust. Great relationships take time to build. With the exception of old schoolmates or childhood friends, most of us don’t have those deep social connections anymore.
  2. Talent. Each person has to bring some unique skill to the team. Partnerships quickly fall apart when there is even the appearance of a less than equal contribution.
  3. Personality. There are some people you just can’t work with regardless of their skills. Finding people that you like AND are good is not easy.
  4. Shared vision. All members of the team have to be pulling in the same direction for the collaboration to be successful.
  5. Technological savvy. Everyone needs to buy into the tools to work together. There are talented geniuses who can seclude themselves from the rest of the world, but you need to embrace technology if you expect to really collaborate with a good team, regardless of where they are located.
  6. Communicate. Information hoarding is a remnant of the industrial age. Remove all bottlenecks to effective and direct communication. Social capital is more valuable than financial capital.

Collaboration is Still King

Amazing things can happen if you build the right team. The problem is that you have to sort through many less than optimal candidates on your way. It is all a numbers game, work with as many people as you can to find the right talent. Results will be mediocre most of the time, but every once in a while you will find that diamond in the rough. Do everything you can to work with the diamonds and throw the coal back in the ground for someone else to deal with.

Action Items

  • If you haven’t already, move your business to the cloud. Everything from shared documents, online workspaces, project management and customer relationship management software can be done much better online where everyone has access to the same information in real time.
  • Deliberately start and join new projects with new team members. The only way to find great people to work with is to work with a lot of people.
  • Get really good at something. Talented people are not going to want to work with you if you don’t bring anything to the table.
  • Personality counts. You need to play nice with others if you want them to stick around.
  • Great businesses are built on great processes. Get organized and anal about how you do business, communicate and serve your employees and customers. Creative breakthroughs do not come from some unorganized eureaka moment. Real innovation is systematic and deliberate, and almost always the result of hard work, rich collaborative efforts and insights from outside sources.

 

 

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