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Whirling Chief

Let’s Collaborate!

Collaboration! What a wonderfully inspiring word, and yet how seldom it is leveraged for its potential!

Can you think of a time when you felt you really had a good collaboration with someone or with a team? It is quiet rare, isn’t it? I vividly recall one collaboration that felt like I was gaining a new family. I know it sounds strange to give a professional relationship personal value, but really, that’s what a healthy collaboration feels like…

There is so much emphasis on collaboration these days. There is enterprise collaboration, cloud collaboration, team collaboration, contextual collaboration; there are collaborative technology systems such as CRM, EIM, etc. And y’know, we intended Whirling Chief to be a collaborative environment, too! ☺

Since collaboration is everywhere, let’s try to understand what it truly means, shall we?

Collaboration, by definition, is the process of two or more people or organizations working together to achieve mutual goals.1 It is similar to cooperation in concept, yet different in its intent of engagement.

When we cooperate with someone or an organization, we are willing to support them or do our share in hopes of achieving a particular goal. When we collaborate with someone or an organization, we are engaged in the relationship for something larger than ourselves, and we work equally and fairly for a greater goal.

One of Germany’s biggest scandals is a good example of an output of a cooperation. The Schönefeld Airport in Brandenburg was redesigned for complete renewal, including the opening of a new terminal in 2011. The leadership had proudly hired several disjointed real estate and facility development companies to engage on the project. But upon discovering a number of fire hazards close to the original opening date, the project has since been delayed numerous times…and doubled its budget.2 Now, not all cooperation needs to end up short on results. This is just one example.

Bringing different team members together to ‘play their part’ in a project is one way of leading; building teams and organizations for ‘collaboration’ is another.3

When we ask people or teams to collaborate, we need to provide a few success elements to ensure solid consequences. Here are the top three most critical success elements for driving collaboration:

  1. Building teams/organizations around common objectives: The most important factor when forming collaborations is to select partners who can unify around a common objective that feels equally valuable to them. There is a feeling of mutual accountability in stepping into a collaboration. For that, parties need be drawn into a strong, shared purpose and vision.
  1. Focusing on values & principles over outcomes: One common mistake we make in bringing people and/or parties into a collaborative space is that we expect them to ‘adjust’ their behaviors and thinking in support of our end goal. This is not only unnecessary, but also contradictory to driving collaboration. In the July 2016 HBR article, “Getting Teams with Different Subcultures to Collaborate,” there is a great bullet point articulating this fact: “Jointly design a solution for the different and conflicting values and assumptions. Focusing on the values and assumptions rather than on the artifacts is important both because it helps everyone understand the reasons behind each team’s artifacts and because it helps you design solutions for norms, structures, and processes that are based on the same values and assumptions.”
  1. Making sure we have the roles and responsibilities clarified: According to research4 from Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practices at the London School of Business, collaboration improves when the roles of individual team members are clearly defined and well understood – when individuals feel that they can do a significant portion of their work independently.

Without such clarity, team members are likely to spend time figuring out who needs to do what vs. the outcomes itself.

In addition, leaders who take part in ‘set-out’ objectives help single parties focus on their part to drive value.

Of course, while all of this is relevant for all business leaders and working professionals, I can’t help but wonder what does it all mean for HR?

We suspect it means three things, really:

  1. When assembling teams, organizations and/or collaborative spaces, we need to make sure our leadership team is clear on their ‘WHY.’
  2. Before outcomes are determined, we need to support our leaders and team, and define and commit to common values and principles,
  3. We need to support our resources to be organized in the most effective way possible.

And, if in doubt, there are questions we can ask ourselves to ‘self-assess’:

  • Do we enter into collaborations as peers, with each person playing an equally valued role?
  • Are we joined together around a common objective?
  • Do people enter into collaborations with a feeling of promise?
  • Is the sense of higher purpose, values, and principles practiced by leadership?
  • Do people understand the team structure and how their roles fit?
  • Are teams recognized and celebrated as a unit?
  • Do we have access to relevant and useful collaboration technologies, and are we encouraged to use them?

What do you think? What does the drive for collaboration mean for HR and how can we best support it?

1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collaboration
2 http://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2015-07-23/how-berlin-s-futuristic-airport-became-a-6-billion-embarrassment
3 https://hbr.org/2015/04/theres-a-difference-between-cooperation-and-collaboration
4 https://hbr.org/2007/11/eight-ways-to-build-collaborative-teams



  • 16 September 2016

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