Getting Action From Your Team: COLLABORATION

Tom Peter’s book, “In Search of Excellence,” recognized Hewlett Packard Co for emphasizing teamwork, delegation, and collaboration. HP created a brand synonymous with quality by requiring product teams to understand and exceed all expectations a customer might have regarding product performance. HP introduced an acronym to their employees, called FLURPS (functionality, localization, use-ability, reliability, performance, and supportability), to aid evaluation and review of requirements documents for their robustness and completeness.

For HP to obtain these robust designs, multiple departments in the organization had to lend their expertise. Collaboration is the cooperation among multiple parties with diverse perspectives to achieve a common goal. Product development, process design, and Kanban quality improvement are business examples where collaboration can deliver a solution greater than the sum of the parts. Achieving collaboration requires a manager to master the management skills that create a culture with a high value on leadership and accountability.

The greatest inhibitors to collaboration are inadequate communication and lack of trust. A “smokestack” organization is one where the departments or functional areas are managed independently with communication channeled through management or data structures. These organizations develop by managers limiting the interactions between departments to reduce the complexity of management. Significant performance improvements can be made by these managers ceasing to manage complexity alone and starting to involve their teams. Clear communication of expectations and status will sustain trust and allow collaboration to flourish.

Clear goals, willingness to share data and recognition, and the ability to negotiate timely decisions that self-direct a team are other key elements that encourage collaboration. Goals need to be clear, tangible, results-oriented, and preferably SMART. Teams that do not share a common view of the end goal tend to generate more meetings and distraction than results. A perceived scarcity of opportunity and confusion about their value can cause workers to hide information and knowledge. A possible solution is deploying technology that improves access to information while keeping data secure. Technology is no replacement, however, for making employees feel valued. One caution: imposing security barriers that separate people from information they need is just another way to hide information.

Achieving effective negotiation within a team is perhaps management’s greatest challenge.  It’s rare that a corporate culture emerges that is truly egalitarian. During my years in information technology, designers held disproportionate power over production engineers, field support, and technical writers. Teaching appreciation of other players’ roles and structuring incentives and performance measures to reward cooperation will boost collaboration. I observe when designers have too much sway, the product usually flops.

Developing a collaborative culture is a complex topic. If you want to learn more, let’s talk and get your questions answered.

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