“Even high-performing teams can fail to collaborate because team members may end up having different interpretations about the principal task to be accomplished.”

“Collaboration? Easier said than done,” answered the young leader when prompted about the status of his project and the perceived lack of cooperation among his team members. Leaders, at all levels, naturally worry about how to infuse a spirit of collaboration in their teams. Sure, it’s easier said than done, as he pointed out, but it must happen. Without collaboration teams fail.

Regardless of whether you’re leading a large organization or a small team, a short or long-term project, you as the leader have primal responsibility to create the need and atmosphere for collaboration. The road to collaboration begins with team-members’ recognition of a need to collaborate. As simple as this may sound, the need is not always evident.

Researchers, in their examination of team behaviors and in their quest to find insight into the most successful keys to collaboration, highlighted that leaders must begin with the identification of the actual issue that must be resolved; they must also clearly identify the purpose of the collective team in order to induce collaboration. [1] If you thought this is team-building 101, you may be surprised.

In decades of experience leading, studying, and participating in teams, we have found that even high-performing teams fail to collaborate because team members have different notions (interpretations) about the principal task to be accomplished. Especially, when one has very intelligent people in a team, each of those members will most likely interpret the task in a different way. The leader has to hone the team on the task (the real issue to be resolved). The leader must then influence the team by his or her actions, walking the talk through collaborative and supportive actions.

In a large, dispersed, or global organization, leaders can also begin this process by defining a clear vision and purpose statement for the organization. The point that must be made today about vision and purpose statements is that they need to reflect the values a leader want to see in business operations, plus those statements should be delivered accompanied by symbols and graphical depictions that paint the vision and purpose statements. When properly and persistently communicated (with sincere explanation of the symbols and sincere leadership “walk-the-talk”), a new process begins to take hold: one of cultural formation where members begin to shape their collective beliefs and change the norms practiced in the organization.

After the vision, purpose, values, and norms are clearly stated (and the symbols understood), the next step is for the leader to design the organization’s architecture and processes in such way as to imbue collaboration. The mistake, according to scholars Hammer and Champy [2] is that many companies deal with inefficiencies or even redundancies in different parts of the organization by buying more technology or communication equipment. That does not solve the collaboration problem in an organization or in teams. Those practices only produce work expansion.

Where the leader can, cross-functional integration should be designed and embedded into the operations. Leaders should bring together and in close proximity like organizational functions and its dependencies, creating the effect that McChrystal and others termed a team of teams. [3] This type of organizational construction negates keeping an organization operating and residing in functional silos without a real need to collaborate.

Next comes the continued persistent work of the leader. The leader must continue to facilitate clear communication, promote understanding of shared goals, and clearly define roles (RACI—who will be responsible, accountable…who will coordinate, and who will be informed).

Covering in this short post the scope of possibilities that could make teams and organizations collaborate would make this short post enormous, but this is a good primer to get started: clarity on the task, clear sense of vision and purpose delivered in more than just words, careful structure of teams and organizations, and clear RACI roles. Sure, easier said than done, but when done, teams achieve unprecedented feats in performance. It’s worth the sincere effort!

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Always motivated, lugo

© Copyright LugoSantiago Enterprise Group 2019


References and Notes:

[1] Schuett, M. A., Selin, S. W., & Carr, D. S. (2001). Making it work: Keys to successful collaboration in natural resource management. Environmental Management, 27(4), 587-93.

[2] Hammer, M., & Champy, J. (1993). Reengineering the corporation: A manifesto for business revolution. New York, NY: HarperBusiness.

[3] McChrystal, S., Collins, T., Silverman, D., & Fussell, C. (2015). Team of teams: New rules of engagement for a complex world. New York, NY: Penguin Random House.