Leaders want to get people to think as one company. But managers or other leaders in different functions or different business units may seem surprisingly reluctant to work together. Jealousies, misunderstandings and enmity may seem more common than collaboration. Many people confuse collaboration with teamwork. You know the attitude of team against team philosophy (the ol’ tug-of-war idea) when leadership really wants to encourage team with team thinking.
Collaboration can be within a firm or within an industry. In this article, I would like to address collaboration within a firm. What does collaboration really look like? This is clearly outlined in the book The Journey Ahead by Sandra Wiley, COO and Shareholder at Boomer Consulting, Inc. Sandra outlines the journey a fictitious firm takes in moving toward a collaborative firm environment. I do want to take this moment to state collaboration within a firm is not the sole focus of Sandra’s book. In fact she spends considerable time describing collaboration within the industry. Her description of this fictitious firm’s journey is engaging and inspiring. Gary Boomer states in the forward: “Finally there is a clear plan and path for truly changing your firm from a group of individuals sharing overhead to a team of collaborators creating something larger than any individual.”
“Creating something larger than any individual” really resonated with me. Collaboration is not an option in this economy; it’s an imperative. If you are in any doubt that collaborative leadership is an imperative, and not just a fad, take a look at any of these 22 articles in the Harvard Business Review series on collaboration.
Anyone can be collaborative leader — no matter whether you are the president, a mid-level manager or a front-line supervisor or in a large corporation, a small business, a non-profit, or an accounting firm. Collaborative leaders create communities and build relationships. Reference chapter 4 in Sandra's book for a description of steps this firm took to build relationships within their firm.
Anyone in a firm can be a participant in a collaborative effort within the firm at any level or position from the administrative assistant to the partner or consultant.
Collaboration is working together to create something new or better in support of a shared vision. The key point is that this is not an individual effort, something new or better is created, and that the glue is the shared vision. A perfect example of collaboration in our company was the SamePage Project. The mission was to take BCI’s core work and place it in a location and format that everyone can use, share and collaborate on. The collaboration happened among everyone in the company from the very backstage associate to the front stage consultant delivering the service to our clients. Everyone bought into the project and contributed multiple ideas and concepts, shared in the work to convert to complete the project. The end result is a very functional process for the everyone in the company to access and work on any project with any client from location using the devise of their choice.
If you are truly interested in a roadmap to collaboration in your firm, I encourage you to obtain Sandra’s book and start your journey ahead to collaboration within your firm.