Collaboration is a billion-dollar industry and growing. From tools to consultants, "collaboration" is a buzzword with some heft. For good reason. Research into collaboration within companies shows serious bottom line results.
One recent survey of more than 1,400 executives and employees found that 86% of them attribute work failures to lack of collaboration and bad communication. Research conducted by Deloitte on Australian companies determined that businesses that put collaboration at the core of their operations are twice as likely to be profitable and to outgrow competitors. They estimate that $9.3 billion in added value is wasted by those Australian companies not making the most of collaboration.
These bottom line effects don't come out of nowhere. Here are five reasons collaborating – or not - can make or break your company.
1. Successful Collaboration Requires A Strong Company Culture
Collaboration is an attitude. You need the bells and whistles of processes and tools to provide a framework for collaboration. But without an attitude to share, support, challenge, and create as a team, none of the externals matter.
Culture starts with a company's leadership modeling the attitude and behaviors they want to filter throughout the company. If your leadership is fostering a genuine culture of collaboration, your company is necessarily operating in a thriving, positive, pro-active environment.
2. Collaboration Drives Greater Employee Engagement
In some ways, it's hard to distinguish employee engagement from collaboration. I love this definition of employee engagement as "the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals." One of the unique, high-impact benefits of engaged employees is the amount of what the author describes as "discretionary effort" they put into the company.
Collaboration not only requires engaged employees. It provides the means for them to contribute to that discretionary effort. And employees, especially Millennials, want a team-oriented workplace that connects them with their co-workers and company. Gallup's ongoing research on the impact of an engaged or disengaged workforce consistently finds, through a multitude of metrics, that engaged employees have real, quantifiable benefits in company performance.
3. Making External Stakeholders Partners
Client services or account management has always been a critical part of business success. Today, our internal teams are also working with more external teams as outsourcing specialization continues. We also see businesses partnering with other businesses and organizations more frequently and in new ways.
The companies that can build strong, lasting relationships in all these areas have a definite advantage over those still trying to go it alone. Collaboration is the special sauce that erases the lines between teams in separate entities and converts them into a single team working to achieve whatever their defined project or purpose is.
The companies that can't collaborate well with external partners will find themselves replaced by those that can.
4. Sparking Innovation
Innovation doesn't require re-creating an industry. It means identifying opportunities that weren't seen before. Such as opportunities for new business, new models, and new ways of getting things done.
Some people iterate better in their own minds. Others need the team's give-and-get to crystalize their thoughts. Either way, employees eventually need to bring their innovative thinking to the team for consideration and execution. Some ideas will fail. Others will succeed. Either way, working in a collaborative way motivates all team members to share and critique ideas productively.
Employees who feel like they're risking their reputation or position if they offer new ideas or suggestions will keep their thoughts to themselves. There's no room for "discretionary effort" if they perceive the risks are too great. The result is a company with limited or stagnating opportunities.
5. Wider Distribution of Company Intelligence
Every company has its quantifiable intelligence. That intelligence sits in spreadsheets, checklists, slide decks, and employee manuals (among other sources). It also has a constant stream of uncaptured intelligence that some people can tap into, while other employees miss out. In most cases, there are multiple intelligence streams available to their own informal network. If you're lucky, the right people belong to more than one informal network, and help spread your company's unofficial, qualitative intelligence around.
A comprehensive collaboration structure encompasses the key conversations and discussions team members have about common issues and challenges, making it easier for new team members and teams to access and use this knowledge. Now decisions that come up again and again can be made more quickly and in a more intelligent context. There's less reliance on a particular employee holding key knowledge.
A Buzzword with Bite
Collaboration earns its place as a "buzzword with bite" because it's no longer a neutral proposition. Companies that learn how to collaborate in effective, meaningful ways will continue to outpace those that can't, or won't. There's no safe middle ground anymore.