Collaboration- More than Meets the Eye

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Managing Principle, Wendan Consulting
Dan Morris is a partner at Wendan, Inc. and MCT. He has written 5 books on business transformation, over 70 articles and papers for PEX, TechTarget, BPMI and others, spoken internationally at over 45 conferences and hosted/delivered over 30 Webinars for PEX and other groups. Dan has also served as the North American Practice Director for Business Transformation at Infosys, Capco, TCS and ZS Associates, and as an Executive Consultant with IBM Global Services. He currently serves on the PEX Advisory board and has served on the Forrester BPM Council, and the boards of ABPMP, and the Business Architecture Association. Dan was recently named as an ABPMP Fellow for his work in advancing the BPM discipline.

Has your company adopted collaboration as part of its culture? If it has, you have a good start – great first step.

But experience on transformation projects had shown me that collaboration is more than agreeing to send a representative to group meetings. It is also more than having managers attending these meetings so decisions can be made. Collaboration is much more than simply talking or attending a meeting and ignoring what you don’t like.

Collaboration is really about cooperation for the common good of the company – over the good of any single manager and helping him or her meet their targets. That means that collaboration requires flexibility, compromise, openness to new ideas and to both creativity and innovation. For many managers in untold numbers of companies that claim to be collaborative, this goes directly against goals and culture. That is the hard part. Managers have goals and they are measured by meeting those goals. So, when the need to meet their personal or department goals conflict with a need from a collaborative effort, it is clear which effort loses. Unfortunately, this results in priority issues, staff assignment issues, and a whole host of problems in large improvement and transformation issues.

This conflict needs to be recognized and dealt with at the executive level in companies where this situation is creating success issues.

Do you have a strong collaborative culture?

So, does collaboration in your company take a back seat to meeting internal manager goals? Or, has the collaboration process matured to the point where transformation goals take precedence while delays in any collaborating manager meeting their goals is understood? If not, ask yourself if your teams really collaborate effectively or are participants playing at collaboration?

Collaboration is a key tenet in both Business Process Management (BPM) and Business Transformation (BT). Its importance cannot be overstated – in fact without active and meaningful collaboration, any type of significant business change will likely fail to meet expectations. This is one of the reasons for the 60 to 70% plus failure rate in both large scale business improvement and transformation. Conflicting goals, opinions, and disagreements must be worked out and a resolution agreed to. If not, it will be impossible to deliver what was expected – both capabilities and benefits. No one can succeed when the requirements are opinions and the opinions differ.

While many of these efforts will eventually succeed through numerous iterations, the dissatisfaction among many managers and staff members will slow the improvements that need to be made, while causing internal strife and increases in cost.

Assessing your group’s collaboration maturity

As companies become open to assessing internal cooperation issues and looking into effort failure, many begin to change how people work together. This causes a maturing of collaboration and how priorities are coordinated. This maturing is subtle but results in changes to the company’s culture. It also changes performance measurement and evaluation procedures – challenging the long-held belief that if something is good for a business area, it is good for the entire company. This simply doesn’t hold true when multiple business areas are involved.

From experience, we have found that assessing a company’s collaboration competency should be a key step in setting up any large business change. This evaluation lets transformation managers know what needs to be addressed and what changes are needed. This assessment is also critical if a company is experiencing too much dissatisfaction with projects results – expectations which are set through collaborative teams are simply not being properly set.

Ask these few questions to get an idea of your collaboration competency and maturity.

  1. Who is expected to collaborate? Do managers attend the collaborative meetings or send representatives?
  2. Do managers in the collaborative teams really participate or are they mostly silent until their business area is affected?
  3. Are participants interested in finding ways to improve or do they waste time arguing with one another?
  4. Are meetings on key issues frequent or every now and then?
  5. Do collaborative teams guide or simply look at reports and pontificate?
  6. Are collaborative team members cooperative and respectful?
  7. Are most members of collaborative groups willing to compromise for the good of the company or are they myopically focused on their own business area?
  8. Are collaborative teams formed only at the manager level?
  9. Does upper management listen to the recommendations from the collaborative teams?
  10. Are formal recommendations from collaborative team meetings produced with action plans and investment plans?
  11. Are senior managers involved in collaborative teams to ensure that results will be highly beneficial?

The answers to these questions will provide a rough understanding of where the company stands in its collaboration maturity. The value of collaboration can be significant – or the teams can go through the motions and produce nothing. Where does your company fall in this rough scale of collaboration maturity and value? Do the company’s efforts in collaboration provide solid results? Where do you want your group or your company to fall in this measurement scale? How can your company improve this critical component of change?

As an expert in performance improvement and business transformation, it is clear that many collaborative teams might as well skip meetings and just remain focused on their work. That really will not help the company improve in any way, but it will save wasted time. It is also clear that companies that wish to grow their business need to harness the intellectual ability in every person in the company – all people are able to observe and many are able to find better ways. The place to vet these observations and ideas is a collaborative group where the observations can be combined to form a more complete understanding of the projects and where ideas can be discussed, improved, and realistic benefits agreed upon.

So, is true collaboration being practiced in your company? If not, it can start in your group and expand from there as others see the benefit it is providing.

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