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How Collaboration Can Succeed 21st Century Organizations

Board Meeting PictureIn an older survey from the Center for Creative Leadership, a large majority of the senior leaders believed collaboration was essential to success. Yet, only 30% of respondents believed leaders in their organizations were actually skilled in collaboration. In my mind, this indicates that leaders must learn and embrace working across boundaries, physical, cultural and political, to collaborate effectively in the coming years.

In theory, collaboration is a process of participating through which people, groups and organizations work together to achieve common, desired results. Generally, there are some common factors and characteristics have been identified by research as influencing the collaborative process, including the skills of leadership (hard & soft). communication, sustainability, unity, participation, and a documented history of successful accomplishments

Below are some key factors that I feel are necessary for success in a collaborative project.

  • Initial Research and Evaluation – A needs and gap assessment should always be conducted. Goals can be made clear and there can be measurement processes in place to collect data and review those goals. Use of a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) format can help you prioritize the stages.
  • Clear Understanding of Catalysts – The need for collaboration is usually based on the existence of problem(s) or the reason(s) within the organization therefore, for collaboration to exist, requires a comprehensive & unified approach. The team must know the WHY or it will flounder.
  • Know the Impact of Policies/Laws/Regulations. – Can collaboration function effectively under the existing policies, laws, and/or regulations, if they are understood and subscribed to or is there authority and process to alter existing or create new ones? (Environment)
  • Understanding Stakeholders – The collaboration team must understand the stakeholders, including the people, cultures, values and habits. Flexibility and adaptation are vital within any collaboration process. (Culture)
  • Positive Political Climate – Ideally, there should be a positive history and environment surrounding power and decision-making. A negative political climate may occur within the group as a whole, systems within the group or networks of people who could prevent success so this is an important point to monitor. Political climate can be affected by many external elements to communications are vital. (Communications)
  • Commitment to Resources – There must be an access process to acquire the required resources. Resources, for this process, refers to four types of capital: human, environmental, in-kind, and financial. (Transparency)
  • Clear, Concise Communication – A transparent & open communications style with an established process. (Vision)
  • Team Sustainability – There should be an agreed to plan for sustaining participation and resources throughout the project including guidelines in regards to the replacement of members, if necessary. (Mission)
  • Is There a History? – It is always good if the group collaborating, already has a history of working cooperatively and solving problems, but if this is not the case then one will be built in the process and should be documented for future collaborations. (Vision)
  • Strong Connectedness – Members should be connected and have established informal and formal communication networks at all levels along a dispute resolution process and a decision-making process that is accepted by all. As John Maxwell says in one of his latest books, “Everyone Communicates, Few Connect. (Communication)
  • Leadership – Leaders who promote, facilitate and support team building, and who can capitalize on diversity and individual, group and organizational strengths should be encouraged to step up and empower the other members to excel.

By using the thoughts outlined above as a focus for discussion you can reduce disruption within any group, new or existing. The group conversation should migrate from generic discussion to focused dialogue which leads to sound decision-making, and action.

Open and honest communication within the group will increase group effectiveness and commitment. It will also allow for viewing issues and problems in a more holistic manner. Open, transparent and honest communication within the collaboration team and with stakeholders is critical to success.

Setting the direction and focus must begin with establishing the vision, mission, values, and principles. Defining the outcome(s) further establishes identity and fundamental purpose. This creates the foundation for the team to work from, however, if the foundation is fluid you will run the risk of instability within the team. Activities also need to be segmented and aligned to provide value to the collaborative team and ultimately to the stakeholders.

Overlapping activities with similar focuses will confuse. Task/role clarity will create greater engagement, discussion and understanding. Applying the factors above to the existing and new processes and contexts of the process results in a greater shared understanding of what the collaboration stands for(WHY), where it’s going (WHERE), the internal and external environment (WHO), and how it intends to make its outcomes a reality (HOW) and (WHEN) it will be completed.

Collaboration often means different things to different people, therefore it is useful to think about collaboration as a continuum. There will be ups and downs as issues are discovered and dealt with by the team and this is normal.

Team members will consider themselves in relationships that vary from ordinary exchanges, in which the groups are more independent, to extraordinary relationships, in which they are more interdependent. Ultimately, collaboration involves networking, cooperation and coordination with empowered members who can lead in absence of orders.

If your company is having issues with collaboration and implementation, please check out our website at Transformative Leadership Group or send an email to