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RECHARGE :: Alan Hargreaves
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Tuesday
Oct112011

Want a more collaborative enterprise?

Make a simple start: encourage joint responsibility.

Collaboration might be the buzz word of the moment but “command and control” is still around in management behavior. It sort of goes with the territory. If you are in charge, you figure you have to lead from the front.

It’s a hard model to break. Even if you practice that core management skill – effective delegation – you invariably just delegate the right to command and control to some other person.

You tell them what you want, give them the responsibility and the requisite power and let them get on with it. Individual responsibility, rather than shared responsibility, is often embedded in business culture. This kind of delegation perpetuates it.

Try something different.

Despite the plethora of management advice on “developing an collaborative culture”, many change strategies are stillborn – great ideas but not a lot of traction.

If you want something to change in your organization, start with you. Rather than hold a two-day offsite, do something simple: adjust your delegation style.

If you normally put one person in charge of a project, put two on it. Tell them the problem; ask them to come up with a solution. It’s a simple first step toward collaboration.

Real innovation often comes from middle managers rather than strategic plans issued from the top. Tap those resources.

You may choose two people with similar skills, but try something innovative. Experiment with a different mix. Want to improve cash flow? Put someone from sales together with someone from finance. Want faster delivery of your product? Put an operations manager together with a marketer.

I have seen this simple process gradually seep into firm-wide practices in businesses of any size. Improve customer service? Put someone who serves at the counter together with a kitchen hand. Want any new idea? Put two diverse people together and ask them to come up with one.

Don’t be surprised to see this grow. It often has it's own momentum. The person from operations has a colleague with some good ideas. They bring them along. So does the manager from accounts receivable. What is developing is teamwork, known today as a “culture of collaboration”.

Why does this work?

There are lots of reasons. Here’s a few.

One is instinctive. Most species go better in groups than on their own. That’s why we form communities. Leverage is another. We are all different. Collectively we are more likely to have the pool of skills required to build solutions. Diversity helps. The broader the range of opinions, the more likely an innovative idea. All of us have more knowledge than one of us. You are less likely to miss out on a good opportunity as a result.

What’s also good about it?

  • People are both flattered and inspired to be asked for their ideas.
  • It generates another buzz word: engagement.
  • It can be practiced at any level in any business.
  • It’s simple, and it’s a start.

To get going, the only thing you have to do is clearly define the objective. People need to know exactly what is being asked. If the goal is properly framed, they will rise to the challenge of achieving it. By giving them shared responsibility for it, you add the seeds of teamwork and a platform for collaboration.

 

If you are looking for a more formal approach to putting a team together, click here for a free download on "Forming a functional team". If you want to get more collaboration at your own level, click here for tips on starting your own think tank.

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