Monthly Archives: February 2021

Collaboration? What’s in it for me? (Part 2)

In the previous article I described the benefits and the challenges of being collaborative including the effect of Collaborative Overload described by Rob Cross, Reb Rebele and Adam Grant in their 2016 HBR Article Collaborative Overload.  The question is what do we do about it?

Unfortunately, in the unusual times we live in require all of us to be more collaborative through familiar and established means (e.g. phone calls and emails) to newer means (e.g. videoconferencing such as  Zoom, WebEx, Microsoft Teams, etc. and collaboration tools such as Google G Suite, Slack, Atlassian Jira, Microsoft SharePoint/Teams, etc.).  While many of us collaborate in order to achieve the outcomes expected of us, this is underpinned by the fear of “I have so much of my own work to do but what if I don’t collaborate?”.  With global unemployment leaving entire market sectors and economies in ruin is now really the time to be seen as “uncollaborative” and “not a team player”?  With many working from home and increased availability for ‘catching-up’ increases the likelihood and severity of collaborative overload.  So what is the solution?

As with many things it is about balance.  Balancing the need of the individual to complete their own work (their output) with the collective need to collaborate to achieve the organisational outcome.  It is about setting both individual and collective objectives.  In a previous article (see Inputs, Outputs and Outcomes – Part 1 and Part 2) I discussed the differences between being individually accountability for an output while being collectively responsible for an (enterprise) outcome as one method for distinguishing between these two perspectives.  Here “Enterprise” refers to the collection of organisations and individuals that are collectively responsible for delivering the enterprise outcome.  The enterprise may be tightly defined and managed through commercial documentation, or loosely organised through an unwritten understanding of individual roles and responsibilities in delivering the enterprise outcome.

Just as important as setting and reporting on individual and collective performance is organisations and managers publicly encouraging, rewarding and celebrating those who achieve this balance.  

As way of a sporting example, Article VI(E)(10)(a) of the Collective Bargaining Agree (CBA) between the United States Major Baseball League (MBL) and the player’s union outlines 6 factors that may be considered in making a determination of the player’s value as follows:

  1. the player’s “contribution to his Club (including but not limited to his overall performance, special qualities of leadership and public appeal)” in the preceding season (often called the platform year);
  2. the player’s “career contribution”;
  3. the player’s past compensation;
  4. the salaries of comparable players;
  5. any “physical or mental defects” of the player; and
  6. the Club’s recent performance, which can include “[l]eague standing and attendance as an indication of public acceptance.”

As you can see value here is a balance of individual (player) and collective (Club) performance and over the longer term recognising there may be short-term ups and downs.

Unfortunately, for many organisations, this is rarely the case.

So my suggestion for those wanting to incentivise collaboration is to encourage, reward and celebrate those who achieve this balance by assessing value as both individual and collective contributions. By highlighting both requirements we are making it clear that individual success is not enough; rather success is defined as a combination of both individual and collective success.

To finish my story I started with, the person from my former company was fortunately very collaborative.  He not only succeeded personally but helped others in the company succeed regardless of location or position resulting in a “champion team”; and who doesn’t want to be a part of that!

Intra-Organisational Collaboration

ISO44001 – Collaborative Business Relationships Figure 1

Introduction

We have spent a lot of time in previous blogs discussing the value of collaboration between organisations to achieve superior outcomes, but we also need to recognise that intra-organisational collaboration can also deliver substantial benefits to organisations. ISO 44001 Collaborative Business Relationships illustrates this point noting that the standard exists to, “…improve business relationships in and between organizations of all sizes.”[1] More and more organisations are realising that stovepipe approaches to delivery erode value through unnecessary duplication, conflicting goals, and inefficient allocation of resources. By improving internal collaboration we are more likely to get; higher profitability, greater resilience to external shocks, and greater flexibility.[2] We are now seeing more organisations placing a greater focus on internal collaboration to reap organisational benefits.

A Duty to Collaborate and Cooperate?

In the contract law domain, we know that there is an implied duty to cooperate in commercial dealings[3], but what duties drive us to collaborate internally? Some public sector jurisdictions mandate collaboration and cooperation. For example:

  1. Under the United Kingdom Health Act, there is a duty to collaborate with other entities;[4]
  2. The United Kingdom police, fire and rescue and emergency ambulance services now have a duty to collaborate under the Policing and Crime Act;[5]  and
  3. In Australia, Commonwealth entities must encourage officials of the entity to cooperate with others to achieve common objectives, where practicable.[6]

Collaborative behaviours are also finding themselves being introduced into organisational values and behaviours. For example, the recently released Australian Defence Values emphasises the following behaviour:

Collaborate and be team-focused[7]

We also see this theme manifest itself in private sector ‘values’ that demand teamwork.[8] Coca cola, for example, specifically include collaboration as a core values as follows, “Collaboration: Leverage collective genius.”[9]

Putting collaboration at the forefront of an organisation’s mission, values, and behaviours will go a long way to help realise the full raft of collaborative benefits internally but this will only be successful if everyone in the organisation knows what collaboration means and what the common purpose is.

Turning Strategy into Tactics

Having Collaboration embedded in your mission and values will only go so far. Everyone in the organisation must understand what collaboration means to the way they work, think, and behave.  Word pictures such as the following will help embed a collaborative culture:

‘I will actively engage with others inside and outside Defence, and work to create a high- performing team environment that is always seeking to improve our enterprise.’[10]

‘To fully embrace collaboration, we must:

  1. embrace opinions and diversity of thought in order to avoid group-think or narrow perspectives
  2. proactively collaborate, and in a time-conscious manner, in order to ensure a meaningful result
  3. ensure that decisions or advice being progressed have been genuinely reviewed, and all comments have been captured and documented as appropriate to inform                          decision-makers, rather than as a ‘tick in the box’
  4. embed and embrace exemplary practices for communication, media management and advice to government at all times.’[11]

Collaborative principles may also be embedded in employee position descriptions such as the following which appear in the ‘work level standards’ for the Australian Public Service:

“Engage and collaborate with key stakeholders to identify opportunities, achieve outcomes and facilitate cooperation.”[12]

“Drive, manage and coordinate cross-agency collaboration initiatives, activities and relationships”[13]

Even with behavioural standards and values focussing on collaboration, an organisation must have a clear and unified strategy that is understood by everyone in the organisation.  Similarly, leaders must clearly demonstrate and reinforce collaborative behaviours.

Tips for Leaders

Gardner and Matviak offer the following tips to promote collaboration within an organisation:

Connect with the front lines. Make direct contact with people down the hierarchy so you have unfiltered information about people’s actions and states of mind.

Champion collaborative leaders. While recognizing individual effort, also acknowledge the team that helped make the person a hero by calling out the specific actions it took to provide support and the ways all of its members accomplished a goal together.

Reinforce the business’s purpose and goals frequently. A belief that their work fulfills a higher purpose motivates people to think and act in a more collective fashion.’[14]

In summary, leaders need to ‘sell the benefits’ of collaboration to achieve a common purpose and be seen as a role model in collaboration.

Conclusion

The benefits for collaboration are legion, not just between organisations but within organisations as well.  We are seeing more organisations recognise teamwork and collaboration as part of their values and behaviours.  As leaders, we need to ensure our ways of working, thinking, and leading are aligned to realise these collaborative values. 


[1] ISO 44001 p vii

[2] Heidi K. Gardner and Ivan Matviak “7 Strategies for Promoting Collaboration in a Crisis”, Harvard Business review July 2020.

[3] Mackay v Dick (1881) 6 App Cas 251, 263

[4] Health Act 1999 (UK) [26] [27].

[5] Policing and Crime Act 2017 (UK) [1]

[6] Public Governance Performance Act 2013 (Cth) [17].

[7] https://www1.defence.gov.au/about/values

[8] Rio Tinto values https://www.riotinto.com/en/sustainability/people#:~:text=Our%20five%20values%20%E2%80%93%20safety%2C%20teamwork,we%20work%20with%20our%20partners.

[9] Coca Cola values https://www.coca-cola.com.sg/our-company/mission-vision-values

[10] Defence Transformational Strategy (2020) p 29. https://www1.defence.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-11/Defence-Transformation-Strategy.pdf

[11] ibid., p73.

[12] Work level standards for the Australian Public Service (March 2018) https://www.apsc.gov.au/work-level-standard-executive-level-1

[13] Work level standards for the Australian Public Service (March 2018) https://www.apsc.gov.au/work-level-standard-executive-level-2

[14] Gardner and Mitnik, opcit.