Collaboration Distractions

Collaboration Distractions

By Gary Audin

As an MSP or VAR, you have multiple parties within your communications network that you need to work with on a day-to-day basis. Internally, within your business, you need to collaborate effectively. This raises productivity, reduces errors, creates more billable time for your employees, and helps foster creativity.

You will also collaborate with your vendors and service providers. You don’t want to waste time or create problems or make mistakes. They want to work with you, so both of you will increase revenue and reduce costs.

Finally, you need to collaborate with you customers. Successful collaboration produces loyal customers, can increase revenue, build a good reputation as a cooperative vendor, and make you more competitive.

I listened to a presentation by Margaret Heffernan, the author of, “A Bigger Prize; How Can We do Better that the Competition.  She wrote about competition among groups who should be collaborating. The competition fosters poor behaviors including cheating, corruption, inequality, and increased risk.

How you produce a comfortable culture for collaboration is discussed in Dr. Heffernan’s video, “Dare to Disagree,” which is worth viewing. She also posted an article worth reading, “The secret ingredient that makes some teams better than others.

She believes that generosity, trust, time, and theater are what are needed whether the organization is a start-up and mature business. She states that good collaboration can produce creativity, (no idea should automatically be discounted) spark innovation, reinforce the social fabric of work and, in the end, have participants feel much better than winning your viewpoint.

Collaborative Leadership

Leadership is important. Do you lead, or dictate? Are you a global connector or are you bypassed in collaboration efforts? An article in “On Collaboration” from the Harvard Business Review’s 10 Must Reads, “Are You a Collaborative Leader” defines the leadership role: “Collaborative leadership is the capacity to engage people and groups outside one’s formal control and inspire them to work toward common goals – despite differences in convictions, cultural values, and operating norms. Most people understand intuitively that collaborative leadership is the opposite of the old common-and-control model, but the differences with a consensus-based approach are more nuanced.”

Collaborative leadership style has these attributes:

  • The organization’s structure should be a dispersed cross-organizational network.
  • Employees at all levels and stakeholders should have the relevant information independent of their location.
  • The authority for leadership should be clear and well understood.
  • Accountability and control should be focused on the performance in achieving goals.
  • This type of leadership works best for diverse groups with cross-unit and cross-business work fostering innovation and creativity.

As a collaborative leader, you should:

  • Look back to review any collaborative projects you have terminated, why, and in what way. You may have already discouraged future collaboration that you may what to initiate.
  • Can you change the collaboration members effectively while retaining the project energy and focus?
  • Do the right people know they can come to a decision and end the collaboration?
  • Is debating encouraged with the understanding that the idea is to come to a decision not stagnate?

Working in Silos Defeats Collaboration

Organizational silos are not unique to any size organization. The classic farmer’s silo is used to separate different types of grain. Organizational silos that separate different functions and employees are seldom benign. When employees try to collaborate with people outside of their silo, they become difficult to work with effectively. It can be uncomfortable and trust is an issue. Organizational silos can be like fortresses within a company, defending their territory, or not feeling responsible for projects outside their silo, and causing serious problems that may not be discovered until the damage is done. Once in a silo, it is hard to break free and remain in your present job. Those remaining in the silo may not trust you anymore.

An organizational silo can be made up of people in one department. A silo can extend across departments. Silos can separate executive employers from frontline workers. Silos can be geographical with workers in different offices conflicting with or competing against each other. Any organizational culture that allows or encourages silos will see its IT function and data consumed by this syndrome. Silos can cause any collaboration projects to fail or never get started.

When silos solidify, members become insular and distrustful of other employees or departments (i.e., other silos). Once trust is lost, it becomes increasingly difficult for groups to work together and regain trust. Trust makes collaboration possible. Companies can create environments that accidently allow silos to grow. Poor direction from the top regarding meetings and formal communications are seen as permission for employees to form silos.

The Challenges

The challenge with organizational silos is that silo members need to stop protecting what exists and begin to embrace what is possible. The common refrain, “That’s the way we’ve always done it,” does not solve problems. Focus on innovation for mutual survival. Convince collaboration members to work together toward a common goal by creating an innovation agenda that all employees can form into a collaborative team. Form a committee that is responsible for dismantling the silos and develop and encourage practices that require communications and collaboration. Increase the communications (there are plenty of UC&C tools) among management and employees to increase trust and solve problems.

Edited by Erik Linask
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