The Path to Collaboration – by Brian O’Neill
June 19, 2018
Brian O’Neill, FIS | Chief Client Officer, IFS
“Collaboration is a way of working that attracts and involves people outside of one’s formal control, organization and expertise to accomplish common goals.” – Heidi Gardner and Herminia Ibarra in Harvard Business Review
When collaboration works well, companies win big through improved client experiences, engaged workforces, higher productivity, faster decisions and more agile product development. However, achieving effective collaboration requires more than gathering a group of subject matter experts together. To achieve successful collaboration, companies must make sure their goals are aligned. Here’s how and when to do so.
The Unifying Narrative – The First Step in Effective Collaboration
Oftentimes mergers and acquisitions result in disparate geographies, with unique norms and cultural biases. Add to that a wide range of skillsets and location-specific language, and the challenge is further compounded. That’s why it’s critical to develop one unifying narrative to which all employees can subscribe.
In the case of FIS’ client relations department, the unifying narrative is: to consistently deliver an excellent client experience in every interaction.
This approach ensures that all members of the organization understand that regardless of their unique goals tied to their operating units, they share in the ownership of how the client experiences us.
When Collaboration Is Appropriate
Examples of forces that should lead to increased collaboration:
- Changes in business models
- Evolution of customer expectations
- The quickening pace of changes in markets
- A dispersed workforce with a common challenge or opportunity
- The need to achieve a differentiated market position
When making critical changes, or when predicting or setting new goals for the market, institutions can improve decision-making by tapping into diverse perspectives.
Collaboration Is Not Always the Correct Approach
Collaboration is not the appropriate approach for everyday business-as-usual tasks. Such responsibilities require getting the job done and moving on. After all, how many times have you experienced “collaboration overload” when what could have been a simple five-minute exchange is turned into a 30-minute calendar invitation that takes up too much time and clouds the goal through too much interaction?
The Cultural Impact on Collaboration
According to a study conducted by Harvard Business Review Analytics, the two most frequent themes that inhibit collaboration are around leadership and organizational culture.
Leaders are responsible for the company’s culture and demonstrate the importance of collaboration in the way they behave. This means knocking down silos and actively engaging other departments for their insights. It also means creating an environment where people feel safe to express differing opinions.
In every group with a mix of cultures, we encounter optimists, pessimists, realists and idealists – traits that affect risk-taking orientation and decision-making. I jokingly tell people that I’m from the Northeast, where the “glass is half empty” – not that I believe it to be true, but to underscore how understanding others’ perspectives on life helps facilitate collaboration.
Keep a Check on “Big Personalities” – Including Your Own
Towering figures cast big shadows. In other words, big personalities often act without taking others’ points-of-view into consideration, which can easily result in collateral damage.
Research conducted by Lynda Gratton and Tamara Erickson shows that the greater the proportion of experts a team has, the more likely it is to disintegrate into nonproductive conflict. It’s the responsibility of leaders to keep a check on “big personalities” and prevent collaboration from devolving into one-upmanship and inaction.
The Payoff of Collaboration
While collaboration is not appropriate for every decision, it’s imperative for bigger, end-game decisions. Sailing the world alone is not a good idea for an individual or their company.