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RECHARGE :: Alan Hargreaves
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Tuesday
Nov082011

Why you need to collaborate

It’s not just good for everyone else

Collaboration gets a lot of traction in management commentary. Wherever your look, we are encouraged to form alliances. Even Harvard Business Review recently devoted an entire issue to it. Everyone, it seems, wants to work together.

Teamwork, as collaboration was once known, has always been a key to success. What has shifted is the preparedness for greater collaboration across traditional boundaries.

Diversity has been acknowledged – not for its political correctness but for the fact that cross-fertilization of opinion and perspective leads to more robust decisions.

This also works at a personal level

Collaboration might be good for an organization. It highlights adjacent opportunities, spurs innovation and engages employees. What’s slowly dawning on people is that it is also good for you.

By you, I mean anyone who is leading or managing a team, or a bunch of collaborators if you like.

Managers work worst when they lead in isolation. The big issues of the day, be they your own personal ones, or those of the business, are much bigger when they only have your head to occupy. They take up a lot of space and crowd out the chances of finding a creative or productive way out of them.

As the saying goes, your own thinking often created them; it’s unlikely that the same thinking will resolve them. Einstein said something like that.

That’s why you and your collaborators benefit from alternative, even contrary input. Big issues become a lot smaller when they share the space in a number of people’s heads.

The power of diversity

This natural advantage, coupled with diverse input, is one of the drivers behind the growth of peer-based management networks. Rather than expect creative management to arise magically from some irregular off-sites with like-minded people, the peer advisory model means regular contact with managers in a wider variety of industries.

The participants may have technically different issues, but underlying problems tend to resemble each other regardless of the industry. You are more likely to hear a creative solution listening to how someone handled a similar conundrum in a business entirely unrelated to your own.

It’s a key reason why I advise anyone in a management position draw on the wisdom of a purpose-built think tank. You can join an established one, or set up your own. Just make sure it is populated by a diverse group of people who can be open about their own experiences. I say “open” because it needs to be a place where you feel safe enough to expose your own vulnerability.

Try it

The most constructive group I am involved in has five people with ages ranging from 35 to 60. Their businesses include privately owned firms employing two people through to publicly listed companies with hundreds. The results are stunning. I rarely leave without renewed vigor and enthusiasm, even in the most difficult of circumstances. 

Collaboration works as a corporate strategy but try it at the personal level. Set up an informal gathering of peers and share the issues you face. The impact of this small investment in time can be both reassuring and educational. Invest more and it can grow into a powerful source of creativity and inspiration. 

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