Collaboration is not (only) a matter of attitude 

When organizations collaborate in an appropriate manner, they not only achieve better financial results. They also create a better work environment. But how can we determine if they are doing it correctly? In this article, we present 4 levers that organizations can activate to design an efficient and impactful collaboration framework. 

No one doubts the need for collaboration to achieve a company’s objectives. However, if we aim to collaborate better, having the right attitude, willingness, and desire are not enough to produce results. When collaboration is not properly designed, bringing the romantic image of teamwork into reality can be slower and, at times, less beneficial than we would like.  

According to a survey conducted by Harvard Business Review, the main barriers to collaboration include a lack of transparency in information and knowledge sharing within companies, unclear role clarity in decision-making, and a lack of trust among team members. Identifying these obstacles is the first step in finding the optimal form of collaboration. 

Deciding when to collaborate

In our experience of helping companies design organizations for better collaboration, the first challenge is identifying when it is beneficial to collaborate, which decisions or processes add value, and collaborating to an appropriate extent since it comes with a cost.  
While the lack of interaction between departments often leads to rework or poorer solutions, excessive interactions, discussing everything with everyone and involving more people than necessary in each decision, become costly.

4 levers to design efficient collaboration 

When considering a plan to collaborate better, our experience has shown that there are four aspects within our organization that we must design in order to enhance collaboration: 

  1. Structure: what form should an organization take to facilitate better collaboration? The shape a company takes depends on its strategic objectives, and the need for collaboration depends on those objectives. A company seeking to leverage its global scale may require a structure that optimizes collaboration between global and local teams. On the other hand, a company prioritizing local innovation may focus more on designing local teams that combine the necessary expertise for agile decision-making. Within each type of company—be it hierarchical, matrix, agile, or networked—there are nuances that guide us to design collaboration differently, based on the organizational capabilities needed and the optimal design of those capabilities.
  2. Roles: what role does each person play in ensuring correct collaboration? Role design ensures that each person’s involvement is done appropriately and with the greatest impact on the business. By defining what is expected of each individual, we ensure that people provide inputs specifically on what is needed, rather than offering opinions on other matters. In organizations, people often try to share their point of view on topics where they don’t have a defined role, leading to inefficiencies. Therefore, the focus should be on maximizing the outcome of the decision, not just collaboration. This requires clarifying the roles of participants in the process so that everyone understands who does what.
  3. Routines: how do people interact to make decisions together? It’s no longer just about who makes the decision but also where and when it is made. When clear routines are not established, it is common to encounter numerous meetings that do not serve the purpose of decision-making or, conversely, many decisions without a proper forum for making them. Additionally, individuals who do not have a role in the decision-making process often participate in these forums, leading to the problem of “opinionists and silent naysayers.” The challenge is to identify when we need to interact with others to make a decision and design those interactions so that the right people participate and have the necessary information to contribute value.
  4. Culture: does the company’s way of working enable behaviors that foster collaboration? When analyzing culture, we must consider two axes: the “soft” and the “hard.” The soft aspect relates to interpersonal skills, competencies, values, and behaviors that facilitate (or hinder) the flow of collaboration. We can ask ourselves if employees fulfill their agreements, share their knowledge, and so on, or if, on the contrary, they rely on email communication to leave a written record. Regarding the hard aspect, we need to observe if the infrastructure provides workspaces that encourage collaboration, if incentives are offered to stimulate it, and if information systems are widely available.

In an increasingly dynamic scenario that demands more innovative and rapid responses, team collaboration has become a fundamental enabler. However, to harness its potential, it is not enough to leave behind the silo culture. We must identify which organizational elements are hindering collaboration and redesign them to improve collaboration. The challenge will be aligning the way and timing in which each rower makes their move so that the boat (to which everyone belongs) can swiftly advance towards the set destination in record time. 

Ernesto Weissmann
Partner at Tandem.

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