The People

Alex: Why collaborate?

How well do you collaborate with others?

Collaboration is not a new concept. Yet many organisations seem to find it hard to collaborate with cross functional teams effectively. I know from experience just how easy it is to stay within your own team or area. There is a familiarity, and let's face it, it sometimes takes less effort to just stay within our existing peer group.

You have probably heard of the company Nielsen, the global measurement and data analytics company that provides insights and trusted data into consumers and markets. According to a survey they conducted around the impact collaboration had on innovation in 2014, Nielsen found that two in three business professionals ranked collaboration among the top three most critical factors for innovation success, exceeding even strong leadership and access to financial resources.

In their study Nielsen examined the impact of collaboration can have when a new product is still in development phase. They found that:

Larger teams generate better concepts.

Involving more collaborators leads to a larger pool of ideas, which creates more opportunities to identify a single idea that consumers truly love. According to the data, teams of six or more people generated concepts that performed 58% better with consumers in pre-market testing than the brands' initial ideas.

The other thing they found was that more diverse teams generate better concepts.

Involving collaborators from different functional roles has a significant impact on how successful the concept is and its performance with consumers. Teams with representatives from four or more functions generated concepts that performed 46% better than baseline results with consumers relative to teams with fewer functional roles represented.

So what does this tell us?

Whether we are developing a product or service and no matter the market – there is no doubt that getting the ideas and perspectives of a wider range of people that come from different functional areas and disciplines is really important.

Like I said, this is not a new concept, so why does it seem so hard to execute in reality? Many leaders I work with say that they intend to collaborate and do to a certain extent, but the things that seem to make it hard are:

  • Not having enough time to invite feedback from others
  • The practical difficulty of having too many ideas to manage
  • Greater risk of conflict amongst stakeholders
  • A fear of losing control of the project's direction

So if you know that you need to collaborate more but find one or more of these barriers resonates with you, here are my top tips for easier collaboration:

1. GO back to your vision – for the product, service, your business – whatever it is you are trying to do. Have a really clear vision and definition of success written down – this is the first place to start.

2. Then, do a skills and experience audit of your team (and yourself). Remember that you can't do it all and you don't have all the answers! This is the common trap for teams when they look inwards and don't have much diversity in their immediate team to draw on. What are the various 'zones of genius' represented in your team? Where are the gaps in experience, diversity, skills?

3. Now, that you have a good picture of the gaps you need to fill, find people that can fill them and work with you to make your vision a reality and execute on your idea. Once you have identified those people, here's what to do so it doesn't go sideways and just become an exercise in frustration!

- Have a shared vision, write it down, make it crystal clear.
- Establish the unique contribution that you each will make.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate!
- Pool resources and make sure you have the infrastructure and tools to ensure your project's success.
- Have written and shared metrics for success and goals to keep you all accountable.

Remember, collaborating, done well will have a far bigger impact. Think of it as a jazz ensemble. Each member of the band has a unique skill to contribute, and by themselves they are great. But when they get together, and use different skills to make something amazing, that has far greater impact and reach!

So there are my top tips for collaboration to have a greater impact.

Your challenge this week is to pick a project you are working on, and run the filter over it – do you have a clear vision?, where are the gaps in the skills and diversity of those working on it – identify who you could collaborate with for a better result.

Happy collaborating!


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