Last week during a conversation with a potential client, I was asked what aspect of my business I enjoyed the most – I didn’t hesitate a second and answered – COLLABORATION! Working together, as a team with the best people, who are subject matter experts in their fields can make for amazing, and sometimes unexpected results – and I find that fascinating and exhilarating. No doubt this has been an important part of my life, even during my EMBA program at Thunderbird, one of our mantras was “collaborate so you can graduate”.
DIFFERENCES BETWEEN TRADITIONAL HIERARCHY AND COLLABORATIVE BUSINESS ENVIRONMENTS
In my business, ideas evolve and grow in COLLABORATION with our peers and subordinates – I have often worked with teams spread all over the globe, and the dynamic of collaboration can be real “magic” when everyone takes pride of ownership and responsibility. Being open to all ideas, and understanding that the next great one could come from a customer or a subordinate is really empowering. Unlike popular belief, however, working collaboratively doesn’t mean always playing nice and signing the same tune, it isn’t like group therapy – yeah, sometimes thing get messy when egos get in the way – this is when a strong and nurturing leader needs to step in and wrangle the cats errr… I mean team …
When I work with teams, our communication is open – unhindered by formality and “structure”. The point of this is to create an environment of mutual respect, where the interaction of diverse perspectives leads to an exchange of ideas leading to an an effective solution. This doesn’t mean that it is a “free for all”, there is always a clear leader, but the input of each member is valued equally. The leadership skills needed in a collaborative business environments are very different, somewhere between a kindergarten teacher and Margaret Thatcher, the goal is to guide the flow, and get the BEST out of each team member.
The distinct difference between collaborative groups and formal groups, is that collaborative groups function on the basis of shared power and management among peers, rather than an absolute directive from the top – think of it as managing horizontally rather than vertically.
And thanks to the world of online communication COLLABORATION has grown even more in certain industries – writers often work in a team with an Art Director, Animators with Producers, business strategist with writers, Engineers with art directors, Directors with Producers and clients…. not all located in the same place but technology makes it possible to do work smoothly in COLLABORATION.
To me, working COLLABORATIVELY is the only way to get the best ideas and results – collaborate to innovate – but this is NOT the way most business work today, and I wonder WHY?
The practice of COLLABORATION, which is so common for some businesses hasn’t gone mainstream, most traditional businesses never get “it”, and still allow their executives to engage in more territorial and competitive practices – these often lead to what I call sandbox “turf wars”…… unlike COLLABORATIVE leaders who share control and give credit for ideas, and who facilitate the process of problem solving through diplomacy – refer to my previous comment about Thatcher. COLLABORATION is not common, but what if it where?
Some companies like Mozilla, Linux, eBay, Google, Wikipedia, Facebook, Amazon, are structured around collaboration and team leadership that really works, so what makes for this difference in leadership?