When my son was in high school and playing on the baseball team, I volunteered to take on a significant leadership role in the Athletic Association for the entire high school. At the time, I was working for GE and had moved into a much bigger leadership role as well. In GE where I had hundreds of people reporting into my organization, it was easy to make things happen, because even if your hard work as influencing leader did not always work, you did still had the authority to drive consensus and get things done. However, in this athletic association there were hundreds of parents who all had good ideas and their own agendas depending upon the needs of the sport in which their child participated. So, not only was consensus impossible to drive because of lack of authority, it was also very difficult to drive because of so many conflicting opinions about the priorities for the funds raised by the association. The only real way to ever get anything done over the course of that year in that leadership role was by finding ways to drive collaboration among so many different people with so many different needs.
So, what is collaboration? Collaboration is the process of people thinking and working together to discover ways to solve problems and address complex issues/needs via the exploration of multiple options from various perspectives. Most of the obstacles to effective collaboration in business, public service or private functions are within the collaborators themselves. One of the most common issues is a negative or it can not be done attitude. I believe the second most common issue is the self-serving attitude found in various collllaborators. When we discussed fundraising in the association and pushed to think big, it was amazing how the same folks always were convinced that it could not be done long before we even started to achieve the goals. When we discussed the budgets for the association there was little regard from some folks as to what sports provided the most revenue to the budget. They wanted more than their fair share of the budget just because their child and their particular sport was more deserving in their opinion. These same attitudes exist in the business setting and sometimes even more pervasively. It is a much more effective way to impact the thinking of these few through the power of many positive people collarorating than just taking them on yourself as the leader of whatever organization you are driving forward
Collaboration is a way to energize people to work and think together and to have them see the value of broad engagement and experiences on various issues. Complex business issues that seem almost impossible to resolve in several businesses that I have lead were moved to a real breakthrough status by driving collaboration of a mix of business capabilities and divergent viewpoints on these major business issues. It is clear to me that finding solutions and a better way in today’s world of challenges is almost always much more than what one leader’s mind or a select group of leaders can handle. By pulling many in to the day to day process of collaboration as a business team, I think it drives better business speed, output, quality and ultimately profitability. My old adage has been to have the best business possible all your associates “must bring their brain to work and they must be allowed/encouraged to use it!”