Learning to Flex Your Collaboration Muscle
Posted March 14, 2018

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This blog was originally posted to the Burtch Works Executive Coaching website.  https://www.burtchworks.com/2018/03/12/how-to-improve-collaboration-leadership-skills/

“Collaboration” might seem like a fuzzy term to many leaders. Yet the costs of poor collaboration are concrete, and can be quite painful. Effective collaboration in research and analytical roles is a combination of structure and leadership. You cannot only blame the organization or the individual. Both need to be considered and supported to bring about the positive outcomes you desire.

From a structural standpoint, many organizations operate in silos and do not communicate effectively across spans of control. If a manager in one silo needs something from a manager in another silo, she needs to go all the way up her chain of command to her Vice President, who then reaches across the organization to another Vice President, who then goes down the chain of command to the manager, and so on.

This form of communication is extremely slow and subject to miscommunication, especially when deadlines and client deliverables are at risk. Add to this complexity the challenges of communicating with outside consultants and vendors who do not report directly within the firm’s reporting structure, but rather have their own companies. Within complex matrixed organizations, there are extra challenges where teams have conflicting goals and competing management structures.

10 signs that your company isn’t optimizing its collaboration capabilities

Many organizations lose productivity, quality, morale, and customer satisfaction due to poor collaboration among teams, units, and employees. To find out whether your organization might be suffering from the consequences of poor collaboration, take this simple assessment.

If any of the following statements that seem even a little bit true, you can benefit from flexing your collaboration muscle:

  1. There is a general sense that it is hard to get things done in your organization.
  2. Projects are frequently delayed by the friction of working across units or silos.
  3. Projects are frequently over budget due to the friction of working across units or silos.
  4. Projects frequently don’t achieve their desired level of quality due to the friction of working across units or silos.
  5. Products or services sometimes do not go out with the desired level of quality, and this may be due to the way that teams or different units work together (or don’t).
  6. Managers and employees seem to lack the skills required to collaborate effectively.
  7. When a project misses a milestone, people point the finger at other teams or units.
  8. There is resentment or a dysfunctional working relationship among two or more business units/teams in your organization.
  9. There is resentment or a dysfunctional working relationship among two or more high-level executives in your organization, and this dysfunction ripples through the organization.
  10. Employees spend too much of their time on unproductive activities related to coping with the stress and hassle of pushing things forward, instead of the productive activities of creating things, making things, selling things, and serving customers.


How are these challenges detrimental to you?

Leadership skills are essential, but can be problematic within research or analytical roles in highly technical organizations. Many skilled employees have spent years learning technical functions and skills, but may not have learned how to effectively collaborate on teams.

As a result, they are not as adept as they could be at relating to others, conveying their ideas with impact, and getting what they want while helping others achieve their goals, too. Therefore, teams do not perform as well as they could. Projects stall. Multiply this effect across the organization, especially when teams have to work cross-functionally, and the results can hurt an organization’s competitive position.

Some functions are especially vulnerable when they are seen a cost center rather than a revenue generating function. Learning effective collaboration skills with other teams in sales, finance, product development, etc. is critical to the success, impact, and growth of research and analytical functions.

As organizations become more complex, collaboration becomes a core skill that every leader, team, and business unit must be able to have. In some cases, this means structuring the organization to make collaboration easier. In other cases, it means equipping managers and employees with new attitudes and behaviors.

Viewing each employee as a leader and helping them develop the confidence and skills to collaborate can mitigate these risks, and helps those within and across their departments to be successful.


Fixing the problem

Many firms are not unique in their need to find ways to address ineffective collaboration, and there are 6 key steps leaders can take to enhance collaboration.

  1. Identify Perceptions and Behaviors that help or hinder collaboration.
  2. Be clear whether the collaboration needs are Internal or External.
  3. Assess the Opportunity through thoughtful, thorough, and honest discovery.
  4. Understand the Other Party and avoid the impulse to force things through your own way.
  5. Create the Rules of Engagement with the other party so that requests for information, communication, and feedback are baked into the process.
  6. Develop the plan that includes timelines and measures to track success along the way and in the end.
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