This article is about the need for organisations and individually to act in a collaborative way especially when times are tough and change is fast.
Organisations need to be able to evolve in a way that enables each part of the new organisation to be effective whilst honouring and recognising the contribution of the old one.
In today’s market which is highly competitive and potentially highly destructive businesses and business leaders need to be able to collaborate and work with the best in their industry. (Our politicians are currently trying to do this)
Being able to move forward quickly and take advantage of those things that come up on the spur of the moment is essential for success.
The days of the rigid long-term strategy are over. Strategies are necessary but the strategy must be fluid enough to change and emerge to match the business environment.
The overall direction and alignment of the organisation needs to be clear so that a general pathway or pathways can be seen, and people can see where they are going and what the organisation is about.
Organisations need to explore what binds them and keeps them together, the glue that holds the tension in place. The glue is much more about how to grow these shared values and understanding so people can feel involved, recognise their part in the wider business and feel valued.
In many mergers and acquisitions what happens is a bloodbath between those who wish to survive and those who have given up the ghost. Both ends of this scale are counter-productive and actually do the organisation long-term harm. With global markets and technology making everything instant any delay to decisions is costly.
When I talk about turning competitive behaviour into collaboration it works on a number of levels:
- Strategically, the organisation itself needs to be committed to wanting to collaborate and value collaboration
- Organisationally that the leaders of the organisation understand collaborative behaviours and actions and
- Personally by acting in a way that is truly collaborative (modeling) not just saying nice words saying hello to people being smiley.
What they have to do is encourage people to act in a way that supports the overall message rather than individualistic opportunities.
The trouble is that what happens is the system inside an organisation starts to grow and develop one set of principles while the stated aim and values of the organisation shows another set of values this ends up being a paradox of reality against aspiration.
Much organisational time is wasted on working out of “what is best for me” rather than what’s best for the organisation political behaviour or what I call over (internally) competitive behaviour goes to work against the organisation and much time is wasted with people trying to carve out a place in some form of personal master plan.
Whereas if they were to act together to create opportunities for the business as a whole there would always be places for them because using creativity and innovation to develop the organization would develop more products, more systems and opportunities.
In a way this can be described as a turning competitive behaviour into collaboration for the organisation
One area that has really disappointed me recently is how in the UK we have become over bureaucratic and we seem to be saying to managers, here are things that you must do. But while we asked you to do this we will then tie your hands behind your back and make it difficult for you to do it and by the way we’ll be ready to catch you out at a moments notice.
This type of action breeds organisational mistrust where people work to the lowest common denominator and are actually want to progress what they want to do is survive and because they spend so much time surviving they have no opportunity energy or ability to start driving, growing and thriving.
The world may be a different place from the growth times that we’ve had in the past 10 years but in order to make this place workable, successful and profitable, the attention needs to be on truly making individuals work together and work in a way that supports the organisational aims and aspirations.
“Collaborative Advantage”, Rosabeth Moss Kanter (Harvard Business Review article) talks about leaders who recognise that there are critical business relationships “that cannot be controlled by formal systems but require (a) dense web of interpersonal connections…”
Chrislip and Larson looked at the attributes of great civic leaders in communities across the US and found some similar attributes. “Collaboration needs a different kind of leadership; it needs leaders who can safeguard the process, facilitate interaction and patiently deal with high levels of frustration”
There have been a number of research projects and reviews of key lessons for Collaborative leaders but they all come down to similar themes. Madeleine Carter, writing for the Center for Effective Public Policy as part of research project funded by the United States Department of Justice and State Justice Institute, defines five qualities of a collaborative leader:
· Willingness to take risks
· Eager listeners
· Passion for the cause
· Optimistic about the future
· Able to share knowledge, power and credit
So how can leaders be collaborative when they have been rewarded and recognized for their competitive nature and achieving high performance?
To turn this way of acting around it is necessary to:
· Ask what’s in it for me?
· Simplify the complex make it easy and accessible
· Have multiple strategies for conflict resolution and do this everyday and in everyway (little and often, on the hoof and other metaphors come to mind)
· Have the courage to act for the long term
· Manage the dynamic tension between focusing on delivery and on building relationships
· Invest in strong personal relationships at all levels
· Inject energy, passion and drive into their leadership style
· Be prepared to be wrong and say so when they have been
· Share the credit generously and immediately
· Change the mind set and the reward systems
The most important factor of all is to:
Continually develop your interpersonal skills, in particular:
- Holding difficult conversations, and
- Coalition building. (as per Cameroon and Clegg)
Or to put it another way turning competitive behaviour into collaboration for the organisation and the individual.