What is collaboration?
Collaboration is becoming increasingly important in the business environment driven by the rapid flow of information, need for quicker business decisions, increasing pace of innovation, and competitive pressure. Yet, it’s been difficult to get a consensus on the precise definition of collaboration. However, some key characteristics common to meaningful collaboration are:
- Joint decision making processes
- Sharing information across organizational and geographic boundaries
- Working toward mutual goals and outcomes
- Building trust through reciprocity
Collaboration is a means rather than an end and transcends teamwork alone. Teamwork is required to achieve results, but many teams lack trust and reciprocity for true collaboration. Teams that take a “know your role, do your job” approach can produce results for well-defined work. However, these same teams have difficulties with novel situations and problems. They greatly struggle with innovation challenges where multidisciplinary skills and strong collaboration are required. This approach also lacks joint decision making and minimizes opportunities for building trust through reciprocity.
Why is it important?
Collaboration is important because it contributes to employee engagement. This is crucial because employee engagement has been linked to better customer service. Collaboration focuses on the results of the group, rather than individual performance, to build stronger cohesion of the team and produce superior results. While this is important within organizations for innovation and responding to competitive challenges, is it also important in professional services organizations. Increased consultant engagement results in higher motivation and morale translating to great customer outcomes.
Benefits of collaboration in professional services include:
- Engaging as a servant leader rather than role player. Consultants become a client business partner.
- Enhancing the capability of a single consultant. Consultants can reach back to their colleagues to provide insights beyond the consultant’s core skill set or experience.
- Building a trust among the team to leverage a community of peers.
Hire for Collaboration
SEI evaluates candidates for characteristics of Servant Leadership. A servant leader makes a choice to put others needs first and help others grow – a key ingredient for collaboration. Consultants take the customer perspective, work effectively with the members of the client organization, and operate more as a business partner than a role player. Finding consultants with such an orientation toward team success over individual recognition is the first step in building collaboration.
Culture of Collaboration
The second step is to establish a system that both encourages and rewards collaboration. While technology is part of a system to enable efficient collaboration, technology alone is insufficient. Organizations get the behavior they reward – the system must be configured to reward collaboration as a cultural value and not simply a lofty target. Evaluation systems such as forced ranking create a zero sum game for peers and do not foster collaboration, but rather promote individual contribution and, at worst, competition among team members.
From inception, the SEI approach valued collaboration as a core value long before it became vogue. It continues today within leadership from the top down as described by our CEO, in An Interview With a Consulting Leader: Bill Gallagher of Systems Evolution, Inc. (SEI) with TheConsultantLounge:
“We’ve taken away the barriers to collaboration by operating a flat model where our Consultants don’t compete with each other for the next carrot. They are encouraged and rewarded to help each other achieve success, across projects, clients and geographic location.”
SEI Approach to Collaboration
SEI combines selecting servant leaders with a system designed to reward participation and collaboration. This facilitates bonding peers with shared values and maintains connections across the organization regardless of skills or geographic locations. Employees who have formed bonds of trust are more likely to collaborate.
SEI culture is key and collaboration is a cornerstone of our culture. Combining great talent with great collaboration leads to Atlanta Business Chronicle’s 2015 Best Places to Work, Boston Business Journal’s 2015 Best Places to Work, Phoenix Business Journal’s 2014 Best Places to Work in the Valley – Micro, and Cincinnati Enquirer’s Top Workplaces 2015