You may be wondering what the Ohio State University’s Marching Band has to do with organization performance. It’s an unexpectedly great performance, don’t you agree? The video shows the Ohio State University marching band performing an amazing 2012 half-time show with a video game theme. We watch in awe as they execute the show with incomparable teamwork. So, it’s about Teamwork, you may be saying to yourself. But, this show was the product of collaboration involving students, Interim Band Director, Jonathan Waters, and his staff; it’s actually a live demonstration of the power of teamwork plus collaboration. We’re all familiar with the acronym for TEAM: Together We Achieve More. We’ve seen this to be true in business for years. I am convinced that Teamwork has a sister, Collaboration, and when both teamwork and collaboration are in play, the results can be game-changing.
How is Collaboration different than Teamwork?
I found an excellent explanation at team-building-bonanza.com, where they wrote:
“Teamwork is a group of people working together to make one goal or one project happen, but each individual within the team may be doing a different type of work to help the group as a whole.” A project is typically divided into parts that individuals work on independently. “Collaboration is still a group of people working together to make one goal or one project happen, but they are working together and feeding off one another. They are making decisions together and working jointly rather than separately completing their own tasks”.
I recall one big project I was part of, where a team of about 8 of us planned a pilot project in an AI group to deploy artificial intelligence tools to several field sales offices, as an experiment to test the value of these tools to our employees in providing rapid technical support and customer services. My role was the planning of positions and recruitment of people to deploy these new tools, which were under development. We did not know one another prior to the project. Our leader provided the context and assigned our tasks. She set up a strong network diagram and supported us in building Gantt charts, staying on track, in communication and on time. We each worked separately, away from the project team, to deliver our parts. The project was a tremendous success, the result of pooling a wide array of skills, knowledge and experience.
Team-building-bonanza.com continues, “Unlike teamwork, a collaborative relationship usually doesn’t have a leader. There are often competing goals as well as shared goals, such as in a customer-supplier relationship or collaboration between different business units in a company. Collaboration is a type of teamwork that requires two or more people to work directly together to make decisions, come up with creative ideas, or develop strategies to be used by the group or in parts of a project. It usually involves working directly together to jointly produce an output.”
In my example above, we did not jointly develop the project plan or schedule as a team. We did not make decisions about the software or the hires as a group. We did not solve the problems each of us encountered in doing our tasks, as a group. Our work was done outside the team, and though each of us team members worked with people outside the team to do our parts, we did not collaborate with our team members to get it all done. Our leader facilitated our work as a conductor leads an orchestra, and we were very effective.
The process of collaboration and its face-to-face dynamics require people to fully engage with one another, to respect one-another’s knowledge and skills, and to interact respectfully as partners, as they share ideas, discuss pros and cons of different approaches, give and receive feedback and jointly make decisions. Teamwork is often successful without the presence of these particular dynamics and skill levels, as shown by my own example in AI.
Now, as many of you probably know, teamwork is not a new idea in industry. In particular, Manufacturing has a long history of using teams and building teamwork in its problem solving, continuous improvement and new process introduction initiatives. With our foundation of teamwork in place, what do leaders need to do differently to foster and build organization collaboration?
In an interview by Simon Barton in Chief Strategy Officer, ‘Collaboration: An Interview with Lisa Renner, Author of ’1+1=3 The New Math of Business Strategy” – Lisa (of lisarennerspeaks.com), an expert in collaboration, states: “In the new working environment, leaders have to do more than set direction and drive execution, they have to take on this third role of building and enabling employee networks”.
In today’s socially connected environment, leaders have a unique opportunity to bring people together through technology as well as in person, to leverage diverse knowledge and skills for the organization’s success. More and more, companies are using internal blogs, conference calls and video conferencing. Many are now enabling employees to build connections and relationships from the time they are hired through enriched onboarding processes. Lisa states leaders need to do three things to build collaboration:
1. “Focus on being an active model for network building and spend time on connecting
2. Align and direct their network through communication
3. Enable autonomy throughout the network”
To accomplish these three actions, the organization needs to model and prioritize the relationship building and inter-personal skills required for people to engage with one another and to work together in collaborative efforts. As leaders, we can do this by ensuring collaboration shills are among the key competencies established for the organization, and that our training and development initiatives include those skills as well as other knowledge and capabilities required to achieve the business strategy.
Of course, the human networks that leaders create need to have high confidence in their understanding of the company’s value proposition and strategic goals. In order to innovate and execute value for the organization with autonomy, the people need to have certainty that their innovations, changes, zigs and zags tie directly to these strategic cornerstones.
Many of us have already learned through experience about the criticality of relationships to successful and satisfying living, both in and out of work. With our world moving more and more deeply into social connections and business networking, it’s clear that organizations will need to establish their own such networks to thrive into the future. This means, to me, that collaboration capability is becoming increasingly essential to achieve new heights of performance. And, new heights of performance can take us into the future.
The good news is that today, as shown in the photo on the left, children are developing collaboration skills at early ages in daycare and educational environments under the guidance of skilled leaders. Many of us have examples of the products of our kids’ and grandkids’ collaborations on our refrigerators, coffee tables, walls and kitchen counters. They, and we, have pride in their accomplishments, which often far exceed our expectations and show what is possible. Our children will likely have strong skills in both teamwork and collaboration by the time they enter the workforce in the years ahead.
What is your organization doing to build and foster collaboration? What tools are being put in place to enable participation across your organization functionally and geographically? What could be done that hasn’t already been put in place? Please share your opinions, ideas and experience.