Collaboration –Key Driver for Success in Business, Globally: Diversity of Ideas, Strength in Unity, Power of Innovation, Leveraging Shared Business Model…

Collaboration: “Global companies that collaborate better, perform better. Those that collaborate less, do not perform as well. It’s just that simple.” ~ Jaclyn Kostner.

Collaboration can change the dynamics of companies, markets, industries, and nations. Among firms and individuals, collaboration has been shown to signficantly improve their performance and innovation outcomes. In business, collaboration can be found both inter- and intra-organization and ranges from the simplicity of a partnership to the complexity of international corporations.

Recent improvement in digital age technology has provided people, globally, with the ability to effectively communicate and share ideas through the internet, web-conferencing, and social media without any geographical barriers. Collaboration is the ability to leverage each others strengths to produce results that no party could have achieved alone, and where each member contributes to the mutually agreed-upon objectives and goals with an outcome that says, ‘we did it together and we both are better off for it’.

In the study Meetings Around the World: The Impact of Collaboration on Business Performance” by Frost & Sullivan says that a global culture of collaboration exists, but that there are regional differences in how people in various countries prefer to communicate with one another. “The study results show that collaboration can positively impact each of the gold standards of performance; i.e., profitability, profit growth and sales growth; it can determine a company’s overall performance in the marketplace,” said Jaclyn Kostner. The study surveyed 946 information technology and line-of-business decision-makers from a cross-section of 2,000 small-to-medium, mid-market and global companies in the U.S., Europe (France, Germany, and U.K.) and Asia-Pacific (Australia, Hong Kong, and Japan).

The researchers created a ‘collaboration index’ to measure a company’s relative ‘collaborativeness’ based on two main factors: An organization’s ‘orientation’ and ‘infrastructure’ to collaborate. The study found that the high impact of collaboration on a company’s overall performance was consistent across Europe and Asia-Pacific, and across the six key vertical industries that were examined: healthcare, government, high technology, professional services, financial services and manufacturing.

In addition to measuring the relative ‘collaborativeness’ of companies, the study uncovered general positive attitudes about collaboration, along with specific preferences and regional differences. For example, among the professionals worldwide who responded: An overwhelming number (9-to-1) see their collaborative efforts as highly productive and believe that collaboration through communication technologies provide a competitive advantage.

Many like to work with teams (10-to-1) preferably from home (3-to-1) and not necessarily face-to-face. A majority (5-to-1) feel that conferencing provides a good alternative to travel. Many like to be reached wherever they are (2-to-1) but not necessarily all the time (9-to-1), which may be one of the reasons why e-mail is preferred to using the phone (3-to-1). As for the regional differences, American professionals were more likely to enjoy working alone, and prefer to send e-mail rather than calling a person or leaving a voice message.

They are also more comfortable with conferencing technologies than people of other regions and tend to multi-task the most when on conference calls. Europeans thrive on teamwork more than their counterparts elsewhere and prefer to interact in real-time with other people. Professionals in the Asia-Pacific region, more so than anywhere else, want to be in touch constantly during the workday.

As a result, they find the phone to be an indispensable tool and prefer instant messaging to e-mail.  According to the study, these differences highlight an opportunity for greater cultural understanding to improve collaborative efforts around the world…

In the article “Six Degrees of Collaboration” by Colin Brown writes: While business was once all about keeping one step ahead of your rivals, in today’s socially networked society, working together can lead to greater success.  Steering the enlightened path is a new C-word that has emerged as the way forward for business:

Collaboration. In today’s hyper-socialized economy, it’s not who you know that really counts, but who you don’t. The priority for many CEOs today is to break down the barriers that stand between them and their employees, their customers, their partners, their vendors – even their rivals. National boundaries are being bridged, corporate walls breached, expertise shared.

Google’s Eric Schmidt’s prevailing mantra is ‘collaborate or perish’. Similarly, conglomerates, such as IBM and Cisco, have got collectivist religion and are bent on replacing the top-down managerial model of benevolent dictatorships and proprietary ownership with flatter hierarchies and reciprocal relationships. They know that no single industry, company, or individual has a monopoly on useful ideas.

Failure to adopt this new collaborative mantle also leaves dyed-in-the-wool companies vulnerable to agile entrepreneurs who now have all the communication, technology and information at their disposal to become global competitors. There is no one rigid philosophy or management practice that is driving this shift, but rather a spectrum of changing attitudes, techniques and tools that combine to promote sharing, aggregation, peer group coordination and social cooperation. Together, they amount to one giant ‘reset’ button for business.

In the article The Human Element, Key to a Successful Partnership by Francine Allaire writes:  Professionals and companies are facing perhaps the most challenging environment in decades, making internal collaboration and strategic partnerships more relevant and important than ever before. Whether in business or in life it’s often the human element that makes or breaks any form of relationship, collaboration or alliance. People create alliances, companies don’t.

Technology does not run an enterprise, relationships do! So, at the end of the day…it’s about people, relationships and trust. ‘Tools are the Enablers’ but ‘People are the Key’. Why collaborate at all and why now? We live in what I call the ‘New Normal’. So why, then, is successful collaboration so difficult to attain? Humans are tribal creatures, constantly drawing boundaries between friends and foes. We are constantly surrounded by potential partners; colleagues, neighbors, friends, fellow volunteers…

But powerful partnerships– the kind in which you and a collaborator regularly work together, reach goals together that you never could have accomplished apart, and gain the deep satisfaction only such an alliance can bring– are still elusive for most of us. We are crowded in offices, airports, and subways; frequently within arms reach of dozens of people, but often on a very lonely pursuit.

In a study by Gallup Research they discovered that there were elements that are crucial for two people to become a successful team (in business or in life) and came up with ‘8 Critical Elements of Successful Collaboration’. They are; complimentary strengths, common vision, fairness, trust, acceptance, forgiveness, communication, unselfishness. Being a good partner is hard work!  Take off your headphones… Break away from the screen…Get out of your office…Unleash the Power of Collaboration!

In the article Collaborative Business: Companies that Dare to Share Information are Cashing in on New Opportunities by Paul McDougall writes: Collaboration may sound like one of those mom-and-apple-pie business ideas that everyone supports, but the reality is that many companies remain wary of opening-up too much. Only half of the companies surveyed by ‘Information Week Research’ will share data with suppliers, and just 39% make collaborating with customers part of early product development.

Yet companies that embrace collaboration find that the more they do it, the better it gets. Eighty percent of companies that share data with more than one partner give the strategy a thumbs-up, but only about half of the companies that share data with just one partner feel that way. Most businesses just aren’t built to take full advantage of collaborative networks, says Dale Perrott at ‘Cap Gemini Ernst & Young’. Collaboration calls for decentralized decision-making structures that let knowledge workers act on the information: “This requires a revolution in the thought processes and operating structures of a business,” he says.  

Businesses haven’t yet approached the Zen-like state in which suppliers and customers interact unconsciously in an infinite, virtuous cycle, where customer feedback ripples back organically through the supply chain. Though increasing sales is the most common goal for collaboration, companies are also collaborating to cut costs. More than half of respondents to the ‘InformationWeek Research’ survey view collaboration as a means to squeeze expense out of their supply chain and target other pockets of inefficiency.

In addition to saving money, companies are creating collaborative environments to help build customer loyalty.  Collaboration requires trust and a leap-of-faith that once customers get a good look inside your business, they’ll like what they see.  Despite its potential, true business collaboration is being adopted only gradually by corporate America.

Notwithstanding the onslaught of new tools and services and some notable success stories, most businesses still don’t routinely collaborate with customers and suppliers, according to the ‘Information Week Research’ survey. Only half of respondents say they regularly share information with customers, and only 37% routinely share information with suppliers. Participation in more specific collaborative activities such as the development of customized solutions for each partner was even lower.

Today, people and firms are reaching out to one another in ways that would have been unfathomable just a few years ago and, indeed, the fear that competitors will glean information and skills is becoming more of a non-issue. Businesses today are built less on proprietary secrets and more on execution and connections.  Mary Parker Follett, early twentieth century management guru, described management as ‘the art of getting things done through people’.

She essentially believed in the power of people working together and forming a community; a process for collaboration. Now-a-days collaboration is one of the most important success factors for organizations. Collaboration is a process through which people who see different aspects of a problem can constructively explore their differences and search for solutions that go beyond their own limited vision of what is possible. Effective leadership in the current climate requires; collaboration, listening, influencing, and flexible adaptation, rather than command and control.

According to Arnoud De Meyer; one of the important elements of collaborative leadership is restraint and an ability to walk the fine line between the clear and the dark side of its characteristics. The right approach is often; not ‘either-or’, but ‘and-and’:

The need to conform to the group and yet creatively think out of the box; need to be formal and informal; need to listen to experience and at the same time challenge it through experimentation; need to make money and the need to be socially responsive; need to compete and the need to collaborate. It is uncomfortable to live with such dualities. But in a collaborative world we have no choice.

“In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed” ~attributed to Charles Darwin