Collaboration Is a Behavior, Not a Technology
With organizational silos, employees can become insular and distrustful of other employees or departments; collaboration is the answer.
The title of this piece became clear to me after listening to a presentation by Margaret Heffernan, author of "A Bigger Prize: How Can We Do Better that the Competition." In her presentation, she spoke of competition among groups who instead should be collaborating.
Competition fosters poor behaviors including cheating, corruption, inequality, and increased risk. She believes that generosity, trust, and time are what are needed, whether the organization is a start-up or mature business. She believes 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 the 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? Harvard Business Review's 10 Must Reads On Collaboration includes an article that defines "collaborative leadership" as "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 command-and-control model, but the differences with a consensus-based approach are more nuanced."
Collaborative leadership style has the following 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 that you have terminated, why, and in what way; you may have already discouraged future collaborations that you may want to initiate.
- Consider whether you can change the collaboration members effectively while retaining the project energy and focus.
- Evaluate whether the right people know they can come to a decision.
- Look at whether debating is encouraged with the understanding that the idea is to come to a decision, not stagnate.
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 or beneficial. 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 often 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, or can extend across departments. Silos can separate executive employers from front-line workers. They 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 project to fail or never get started.
When silos solidify, members can 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 challenge with organizational silos is that silo members need to stop protecting what exists and begin to embrace what is possible. The common refrain of "that's the way we've always done it" does not solve problems.
Focus on innovation for mutual survival. Convince the 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 UC&C tools) among management and employees to increase trust and solve the problems.
How you produce a comfortable culture for collaboration is discussed in Dr. Heffernan's video interview that can be viewed here. Heffernan has also given a TED talk, "Dare to Disagree," which I recommend viewing for more on this topic.