To succeed in business, leaders must remain aware of the context in which they operate and the tools available to them to ensure they respond effectively. We live in an increasingly interconnected world and, for business leaders, the last decade has seen a dramatic rise in the speed and scale of this connectivity. But, while increased connectivity is inevitable, increased collaboration is not. Therefore, leaders need to be able to build relationships, handle conflict and share control, in order to promote effective collaboration, when appropriate.
Bad collaboration is worse than no collaboration.
The focus must therefore be on getting the right people to collaborate on the right projects, not just on getting people to collaborate more. The true goal of collaboration is to generate better business outcomes. Ask yourself some key questions….
- What will be the benefits? – It is important to establish whether the potential benefits of collaborating are worth it or not. If collaboration is selected as the right approach it must be disciplined and effective. Disciplined collaboration will amplify the results each individual would have attained; poor collaboration may end up being worse than no collaboration at all.
- Is collaboration appropriate? – Recognising when it is appropriate to collaborate is just as important as knowing when it is inappropriate. If you can use sound business case metrics to reject collaboration then you can increase the likelihood of success on those collaborative projects you do select using the same metrics.
- What is the context? – Successful businesses now recognise the importance of interdependence over independence. However, it is equally important that businesses have confident, collaborative leaders who understand the context in which they operate and can recognise the situations that demand collaboration rather than a typecast response.
- Who is in control? – In situations where you have the power or authority to control other parties – and where the services they supply are commodities – then collaboration is an expensive overhead. It may be ‘nice to have’ but it is not essential. But where you and your partners are in an inter-dependent relationship and all any individual party can do on its own is cause the joint enterprise to fail, you (and they) need to be able to share control and collaborate effectively.
- Do you have collaborative skills? – Words like ‘collaboration’, ‘partnership’ and ‘co-operation’ can sound like soft options in an increasingly competitive, uncertain and hostile business world. But collaboration is demanding and requires sophisticated skills to be successful. Collaboration is initiated by leaders who see an opportunity and who are determined and capable to do what is required to bring it to fruition. It is not just about aligning disparate interests into a common purpose, but also building trust and working with each other to create something new together. It involves managing conflict and, at times, ceding control. Unless leaders are willing and able to see beyond their immediate self-interest, the default position can easily become competition and conflict. Successful collaboration requires difficult conversations with partners you cannot control, who think differently, who have a different history and don’t have all the same objectives as you – but partners you depend on and who depend on you to make progress.
- Do you know when to collaborate and when to compete? – Our strategies are largely determined by our perception of our environment. It is the actions of leaders that can create and shape that environment. Leaders have to analyse their many relationships to find the situations where the greatest needs to collaborate lie. They must then build the right framework of behaviours, processes and rules to enable collaboration by stimulating our natural ability to find common cause given the right circumstances.
Standards- BS11000 The Gold Standard
Much of the foregoing has been recognised by far-sighted institutions, where better working relationships across organisational and departmental boundaries is seen as a strategically important enabler of achieving business or project goals.
The British Standards Institute published BS11000 – “Collaborative business relationships – Part 1: A framework specification” in 2010 (we have a white paper on this). This standard has been adopted by many UK client organisations, such as Network Rail, as the strategic enabler for them to achieve stringent efficiency targets set by regulators. Network Rail now uses collaborative skills and leadership as a major component of its procurement process.
More major clients in the UK are moving towards collaboration as a way of implementing a change programme, and their suppliers are now repositioning their businesses to align with this paradigm.
The figure above illustrates the four dimensions of potential collaboration for any particular situation or project. Internal stakeholders can range from differing departments or divisions or business units. External stakeholders could be JV partners, NGOs or your customers’ customers.
In real-life situations the relationship map can become quite complex and the need to collaborate even more pronounced.
The project leadership response
The London Olympic Transport Plan provides a recent example of the benefits to be gained from effective collaboration (you can download an ODA report about the legacy from the ICE website; there is also an excellent TfL report). Given the complexity of the task and the number of organisations involved, the key challenge was maintaining the coherence of transport whilst allowing all the partners to manage their areas of responsibility. Collaborative working was essential at all levels from Board to operations, with agreed and integrated operations plans, effective interface management, transparent risk management and the necessary levels of assurance to ensure successful delivery.
Collaborative leadership is required to get results across organisational boundaries and to create value from the differences (in culture, experience or skills) that lie in the organisations that sit outside those boundaries (for more on this, I recommend reading “Collaborative Leadership – building relationships, handling conflict and sharing control” by David Archer and Alex Cameron).
To meet those requirements leaders need three abilities, to:
- Build relationships – especially with leaders in other organisations,
- Handle the inevitable conflict that these situations create; and, most importantly,
- Share control with others.
The successful collaborative leader needs three critical skills:
- Mediation – the ability to address conflict situations as they arise, building the confidence of others in the process
- Influence – the ability to match the most effective methods of influence to the needs of the situation and the parties involved
- Engagement – building relationships, communicating with clarity and involving others in decision-making.
To support these skills, there are three essential attitudes for every collaborative leader:
- Agility – to quickly assimilate facts, ask incisive questions and handle complexity with ease
- Patience – to take a calm and measured approach, reflecting on new information and giving confidence to others
- Empathy – to truly listen, understand personal impact and take an open-minded attitude to the views of others.
While traditional business practices will prevail there is no doubt that certain organisations are adopting different business models to achieve their strategic ambitions at a time when specialist skills are in short supply.
Businesses are realising that it takes time to organically recruit, develop and deploy people with the necessary skills, experience and network of influential contacts; such time is in increasing short supply in the fast-moving business place generated by the technological revolution. Consequently, more enlightened businesses have identified their core competencies and then aligned with organisations with comparable values but complementary competencies to meet the needs of their customers and so achieve their own strategic ambitions.
If you believe your project or programme may benefit from Invennt’s help with collaboration please read our white paper “Collaboration on Mega Projects” and then call u