Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Collaborate or Die

photo via flickr user 'zoom zoom'.

Collaborating across different silos and outside the box is becoming more and more important.

One of my favorite books is by a fellow consultant, Patrick Lencioni, and it’s entitled Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars. Just the title made me want to pick it up, because I feel so much of my energy facilitating groups is spent trying to help clients identify the harmful effects of "silo’d" thinking: the cost to individuals, teams, and business generally of thinking inside the box.

This is becoming especially imperative for US business, as it is incumbent on us to innovate ourselves out of the current crisis, and that’s going to require looking “across the aisle” and joining hands more than we have traditionally done.

I see boxes everywhere, with my coaching clients, the teams I support, and executive teams who run my client companies:

  1. The individual: Boxed-in thinking about what you’re capable of, what your strengths really are, who would be interested in knowing you/networking with you, what people really think of you and what you bring to the table, etc. Often this thinking is difficult to get un-stuck from, without the help of a coach or consultant who opens you up to the world of professional possibilities that are really available to most people. Plus, the transference of confidence into someone is a really powerful motivator.

  2. The team: What does the team do now, for the organization, and how could team members re-conceive themselves, their purpose, and the way they collaborate laterally? Teams get stuck in historical performance – “this is the way we’ve always done our function” – vs. thinking of all its possible stakeholders and driving value to each. It’s critical to stay relevant. This requires understanding what each stakeholder in the organization outside of the team WANTS and needs from the team, and mixing the team’s internal values/vision with external customer wants. This is the only way to achieve and maintain alignment.

  3. The organization: Company-to-company collaboration is the way of the future. The metaphor I like to use is that of Supply Chain – whoever your suppliers are on the front end, and whoever your customers are at the back end, your company has the opportunity in our inter-connected world to reach beyond your four walls and use your influence and values to impact the practices of EVERY entity you touch. I hope we live to see in the next decade the larger corporations moving towards a model of investing in the suppliers and partners they so rely on, so that the quality of the ultimate output is better. This means seeing your business as connected, and responsible, beyond traditional definitions.

In the world of corporate diversity initiatives, collaborate or die takes on a whole new imperative. I work a lot with Affinity Groups (race, gender, age, sexual orientation-based employee groups at companies), and the days of the groups existing for community and networking purposes, and working in silo’s on their own initiatives, might be over. What will help the business case for diversity the most in corporate America is if these groups co-develop their strategies, to be interlinked, so that no leader who “doesn’t get it” can separate anyone anymore based on gender or color, because the groups can present a united front.

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