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Collaboration – Striking the right balance

“Coming together is a beginning, Keeping together is progress, Working together is success.” – Henry Ford

This quote from Ford sounded so pertinent during a discussion earlier with one of my client firm’s senior leadership team member.

In today’s era, organizations have complex structures characterized by amyriad of legal and geographic entities, matrix of horizontals and verticals. We have different corporate functions established to support internal stakeholders (business units as well as other corporate functions), often operating under SLA’s and expected to deliver ambitious goals. And, an added layer of complexity gets created when an organization leverages outsourcing service providers.

Within these complex structures, organizations often establish project teams to deliver specific business goals (from design to execution to sustenance).

And, one of the critical (and perhaps the most significant) keys to success of such project teams (and the internal corporate functions) is efficient and effective collaboration between all the involved stakeholders.

Now, this is where things get tough. What we often see is the below.

Collaboration calls for seeking (and identifying ways to create) a win-win, while dealing with different and conflicting priorities (and often different personalities). Collaboration needs having equal stakes in success and failure.

But, the stakes aren’t always clear. And, if one avoids conflict, or doesn’t know how to manage effectively, then nothing will happen. Following the path of being nice leads to more hugs than decisions (and hence potentially no, or lesser business benefits).

E. Allan Lind, professor of leadership at Duke University had once said “Conflict is like the fire in the firebox of an old steam engine. You don’t want the fire to get so hot that it gets out of the firebox, but you don’t want it to go out, either.”

Collaboration shouldn’t end up with cumbersome decision-making processes and in proliferating meetings that serve no real purpose. More collaboration isn’t always better, but the right kind is fundamental to creating value in a complex organization.

True collaboration calls for discussing topics and even contentious issues in an open manner. As long as everyone is working together towards the common goal – the team will go through the phases of forming, storming, norming and performing. One shouldn’t get overly worried with debates and heated discussions, and one shouldn’t also get disillusioned by a state of perfect harmony.

Have you been part of teams and an organization that engaged in true collaboration?

What did it take to make it happen?

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