Collaboration doesn't mean just teamwork. It's about how teams are formed, expanding the ways they communicate and function, and how these new ways of working translate into advantages to your company's operations.
Implementing a successful collaboration framework at a company has great potential to positively impact internal operations. Here are five benefits you should see from effective collaboration:
1. Enables More Fluid Team Structures
Twentieth century company structure was mostly hierarchical and departmentalized. The truth is, most companies still operate this way – with silos of operations and information that have few formal or informal points of contact. The result is slow decision-making and slow output.
But we're also seeing many companies experiment with new organizational structures. Flat structures throw out the hierarchy and layers of management that functioned as obstacle courses of productivity. Another model is a matrix structure that relies on cross-function, inter-departmental teams to speed things up.
Any company that wants to experiment with a new type of organizational structure that improves operations needs the culture and tools of collaboration that enable fluid teams to appear, disappear, and reorganize themselves as business needs require.
2. Creates New Benchmarks of Success
Where collaboration drives a company's operations, focusing solely on individual performance metrics distracts employees' focus and undermines efforts to collaborate. To reframe the cliché about managing only what you can measure, employees will primarily work to whatever metrics are being used to measure their salary increases or even just their job security.
Fostering a true culture of collaboration requires holding individuals accountable for project and company-level success metrics. It's a particular challenge of collaboration-centric companies that an individual's success depends on extracting high performance and results without having direct authority over the execution or other employees involved in the workflow.
Regardless – a company that wants to realize the benefits of collaboration has to properly incentivize collaborative behaviors. That means shifting individual employee's benchmark of success away from individual performance and into team performance.
3. Formalizes and Strengthens the Informal Employee Networks
Every company, no matter its size, has its own set of invisible networks that helps some people get stuff done. And that's the drawback – employees each have their own go-to people in other departments that can help them out. Maybe the help is greasing a wheel somewhere to make needed resources available, providing some expertise, or connecting them to whoever is the right person who can do things in a given situation. Whatever form the help takes, it's only available to whichever employees know how to take advantage of it.
True collaboration uncovers these informal networks, which can then be used to benefit the entire company by making them available to everyone. In this way, collaboration has the potential to distribute company resources more efficiently and productively.
In order to uncover these informal networks, a company needs a collaboration tool that connects and stores output with the conversations employees have to generate that output. Informal networks mean side conversations are happening outside the common workspace with only the end result making it into the formal workflow. Others can’t replicate the process that contributed to that result because they don't know how it happened.
Centralizing all these discussions and contacts in the open and within the collaboration framework gives them a power beyond any specific task or project. Now other employees can tap into these networks for other projects.
4. Better Distributes Formal and Informal Company Knowledge
Just as collaboration uncovers and improves employee networks to achieve better results, it also provides the same opportunities for the distribution of company knowledge. A key driver of operations is how well a company turns information into actionable knowledge. This is typically discussed on the context of Big Data, but it applies to any sort of company information.
A collaboration framework makes setting up and accessing formal knowledge repositories simple. Now any employee can review manuals, best practice checklists, or project post-mortem analyses when searching for a solution to a current project's problem. When the collaboration also captures conversations, teams can more easily turn silo-ed, informal expertise into reusable intelligence.
5. Speeds Decision-Making and Action-Taking
The end result of all this network and knowledge sharing among fluid teams of highly engaged employees is reaching faster, smarter decisions that support faster, smarter actions. That's the end game of effective collaboration, right? We don't encourage collaboration to transform companies into a perpetual Kumbaya around the camp fire moment.
Companies turn to collaboration to upgrade operations in ways that create separation from competitors. If your collaboration practices and tools aren't leading to these operational changes – you're doing it wrong.