The Book: Collaboration Is a Culture
By Admin

March 1, 2011

The Great Workplace 2.0 flourishes on a Collaborative Culture.

By definition, The Great Workplace is committed to fostering a collaborative, productive, engaging and rewarding culture that encompasses customers, prospective employees, employees, vendors, “Participants” (Stake/ Shareholders) and the community. The organization practices collaboration to the extent that “Internal and External” no longer have a distinction, and it recognizes that “Community” has no true boundaries.

Here are two facts about “Collaboration” as a strategic business tool that may keep you reading, especially if you are of the “legacy” mentality (“Prove to me this new fangled stuff works!):

1)    The #1 consumer products company in the USA has seen products that were developed by EXTERNAL collaborations grow from 15% of sales to 35% of sales and that 45% of new products have elements in their development due to EXTERNAL collaborations. That equates to Tens of BILLIONS of dollars of sales and BILLIONS of dollars of profit. These new products were NOT bought or acquired; they were developed from a strategic collaborative process.

2)    The # 1 Health Care hardware organization in The USA FELL to a level of 55% fulfillment rate of their orders because they LOST the majority of their vendors to the recession (and their own lack of “touch”). When their fulfillment rate fell to a critical level, the company was NOT aware of the % of vendor die-offs. They did not have Collaboration as part of their culture. They KNEW everything and could do anything, including treat their vendors like step-children. Even those vendors that survived the recession are re-thinking IF they want to do business with this company again.

“Collaboration” is defined here, for our purposes as uniting disparate entities or assets that may have different individual purposes (or goals) and aligning them for a single purpose/ goal, that may NOT be their first defined responsibility or accountability.

Collaboration is NOT teamwork, although it may feel that way. Collaboration is NOT simply getting a bunch of people together in a room and asking their opinion, as legacy organizations seem to do.

Collaboration is the view that the enterprise has an extended base of knowledge and expertise and that extended base SHOULD be used for solutions, direction and innovations. Collaboration is by nature OPEN and at the same time integrated. It is an evolution of thought that is put into play, even though in our “command and control” world, the very nature of collaboration will seem counter-intuitive.

Collaboration is a strategic tool that demands the enterprise make visible the assets of the enterprise.

Collaboration dictates that the “Marlboro Man” must be retired, and the new hero is an ever-changing group of talent. “Top Talent” may in fact be a core requirement for many companies that deal in that talent as product. But the idea that even Top Talent can stand on its own in its own space with special consideration is dying fast. The idea of “Top Talent” may be great for a basketball team, but for a business, top talent describes the ability to get results at an organization versus what appears on a CV.

 

Collaboration IS or can be structured, strategic, planned and at the same time…chaotic (Collaboration is in fact to many people a true dichotomy of concepts). The chaos is defined by having non-linear thinking CONVERGING into the creative process. Lack of chaos almost always points to a lack of divergent thinking, therefore a more predictable and manageable outcome (legacy). Collaboration understands that IF the organization KNEW the outcome before the process was initiated, then the process itself is flawed, and the collaboration was simply a false attempt.

You own a car. A nice one at that. You spent much time nursing your Credit Score, Saving money and Budgeting your cash flow so that you could buy that new ride. You brought it home and admired it. The neighbors admired it, and so did your kids.

Now, go into the garage, pop the hood and disconnect 3 of the 6 or 8 spark plug leads so that your car uses only 3 of the 6 or 8 cylinders it came with. It now spurts and pops and chugs. It can be driven, just not as well as it could or should. In some cases, it won’t go at all. But hell, it uses less gas, and the ability of the vehicle to function is under your direct control.

Even though you know what you just did, you don’t equate the poor performance with the spark plug leads. After all, you were simply trying to save money, control outcomes, or your thoughts were that a select few of your spark plugs could do the job by themselves. But…you still go out and hire some expensive consultants (from outside the region!) to try and tell you how to fix your car. You don’t let them fix it mind you, they just tell you what should be fixed and how.

Legacy workplaces regularly cut off their ability to fully utilize all their competitive assets, just like in the example of your car. They do what is called “SILO-ing” their assets. Especially the ones regularly at their door: Their employees, vendors, advisors and community. The assets that may seem less controllable or less linear in their orientation toward the ultimate success of the organization or the innovation of products and services.

Collaboration finds its most friendly nests in organizations that need to be highly competitive, highly innovative and highly fluid to survive or thrive in their fields. And it seems that the more of a need to be innovative, the easier it is to convince management of a need for Collaborative culture.

In a collaborative environment, disparate (or “cross functional”) entities, with their own purposes are brought together to focus creative energies on a single activity that has it’s own purpose or goal. The disparate entities align their own purpose(s) for the stated purpose (goal) of the collaborative assembly, and by achieving that purpose or goal, allow their own “purpose” to expand.

Collaboration extends connectivity and engagement to all “participants” and in that way extends the reach of the enterprise beyond a single “center” for solutions. Remember that “Participants” includes insiders and outsiders who have a connection to and interest in the success of the organization.

In collaborative environments a unique, but highly productive non-activity happns: Through Serendipity, new opportunities, solutions and assets are found that were not seen before. Somewhat like searching behind the couch cushions for your car keys. Serendipity is a propensity for making fortuitous discoveries while looking for something unrelated.

It is through the leveraging of this EXTENDED enterprise (Collaboratively bringing disparate entities together) that an organization can leverage tremendous assets it typically would ignore.

How does or can this work? Here is a real-life example:

An organization that has about 120 employees in NE Ohio and does custom “Identification” solutions for companies (Product tags, printing, ID tags, etc) has setup up a room specifically for working WITH customers on new products or designing solutions for customer product issues. This room is chock full of previous examples of winning solutions for other customers, including POP displays. The meeting “Tables” are not round, nor square, but invent ably unique in shape. The room has been designed (high ceilings, glass, warm colors, open) to encourage creativity, but also crisp organization.

Brought into the meeting are:

2 Customer Representatives

2 Company Designers

1 Person from Shipping

1 Person from Customer Service

1 Person from Accounting

1 person from a Main Material supplier (A Fortune 500 Organization)

Me (an outside vendor who has nothing to do with the product)

The Receptionist

Everyone is given an explanation of what goal the company’s product has. (Not what they want this company to make … yet)

Drawings are circulated, discussed, questions are asked. The designers have a format to follow that is one of “discovery” about the customer’s customer.

What the customer wants this organization to design is discussed and lots of fun ideas hit the table.

You know where this is going: Each individual at the table has a creative idea from THEIR POINT OF VIEW (Including me). The shipping guy talks about changing the design size to save money (serendipity). The materials vendor talks about new materials and manufacturing methods that could be used. He introduces a totally NEW material he would like to experiment with, just for this product.

 

Result: Today, the design and direction is highly creative, practical, and workable. The customer is ecstatic. The next meeting will be about a prototype, costs, etc.

Note: Ecstatic customer. VERY happy employees. VERY, VERY happy vendors.

2nd note: There were NO managers present. None. All people were staff level. The facilitator (The Receptionist) had a brief outline and 1 hour training on collaboration facilitation. She was thrilled.

Guess what the receptionist will tell customers who call in and want to chat?

Here is the lesson: In legacy companies, this meeting would never have happened. Only designers would be present, and the meet would be conducted by a manager. Everything would have been controlled. There may have been a solid outcome, but in a Collaboration, many more people just took ownership of the outcome for the customer, including me. * It should be noted that I was NOT invited to the organization for this meeting. I happened to be visiting the president for a totally different purpose.

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