Successful businesses thrive on strong collaboration, but if you’re not seeing this in your organisation, it’s time to act.
We all have the potential to become role models for collaboration. Our everywoman associate trainer Des Christofi has drawn on her experience as an Executive Coach and Leadership Consultant to offer her insight into how you navigate the obstacles to collaboration, why putting your customers front and centre is so important, and the skills you need to take ‘working together’ to the next level.
1. Why collaboration fails
According to Christofi, there are four barriers to collaboration:
- Distance — when we have no visibility or influence, and others don’t know our strengths or what we have to offer.
- Dominance — which covers ego, and importance. For example, personal agendas getting in the way or behaviour that results from differences in knowledge, insights and power.
- Dissonance — where we have different marching orders, goals or measures and find ourselves competing against one another and pulling in different directions.
- Discomfort — when we don’t know each other, personally or professionally, and have little understanding of one another, preventing openness and sharing.
In an everywomanNetwork poll, members identified ‘Dominance’ as their biggest obstacle to collaboration, although the results were close!
2. The behaviours that help — and hinder
There are certain behaviours that support collaboration — some examples are listed below. By consciously choosing these, you can build stronger relationships with your internal and external stakeholders, as well as your own team. Christofi suggests opening up a dialogue to co-create the rules of engagement, making it easier to call out unhelpful behaviour if it happens.
What works — listening, being held to account and holding others to account, seeking and giving feedback, debate, customer focus and taking personal responsibility.
What doesn’t — dismissing, moaning, promising then not delivering, shutting out different voices, challenging to undermine, focusing on problems and obstacles, sabotage and allowing frustration to build.
3. Accelerate trust
Collaborative work is anchored in trust and there are four ways to build it, according to Charles Green, co-author of The Trusted Advisor.
You should focus on boosting:
- Credibility — includes your words, presence and your clarity of communication.
- Reliability — covers the consistency of our actions.
- Intimacy — refers to how open and vulnerable you are with others and the extent to which they feel safe to do the same with you, your empathy and sensitivity.
- Self-orientation — the ways in which you focus less on yourself and are interested and curious about others.
What are you already doing that you could do more — and how might you up your game to strengthen your collaborations?
4. Pay attention to how others see the world
Alignment comes from understanding other people. Get curious about what’s driving their behaviour and energy and what their mission is within your organisation. Try to answer the following questions:
- What is the unique value of their role within the team?
- Who are they focused on in their day-to-day — stakeholders or customers?
- What are the most frequent tensions that they encounter? For example, a sales team may want to push personalised solutions to their customers, while operations are trying to create consistency to drive efficiency. Neither is better than the other, but they need to collaborate to achieve their goals and targets.
“Working with information from different angles enables us to have debates with one another in collaboration that are unfiltered, and we can say it as it is,” says Christofi.
Your aim should also be to invest in and develop relationships that are two-way. Once you understand how others work, you’re in a stronger position to think about how you might support them. This could include using your influence and position to connect them to others, sharing information, or becoming a coach or mentor.
By working in this way, you create a very different collaborative dialogue, as well as opening up a space to think about who is supporting you — because at its best, collaboration is founded on reciprocity.
5. Put customers at the heart of what you do
Collaborative work can be very insular. Christofi suggests adopting a different framework to anchor your dialogue around the customer instead.
It can be helpful to think about a professional collaboration that you’re currently a part of and then ask yourself:
- How might your increase IMPACT with your customers or help them develop their own?
- How can collaboration drive greater INNOVATION for you and your customers?
- How could you and your customers improve your INFLUENCE?
- How might the collaborative effort drive INCOME across the board?
And if you were able to do this, what might happen that isn’t happening today?