Given the turbulent and changing times facing government organizations, it seems that trying to go it alone no longer makes sense but can result in serious downside risks to long-term survival. We all have to learn how to work smarter within the reality of ever declining resources. The importance of collaboration is more apparent than ever.
A coach friend of mine, Dr. Bill Bergquist, says “To survive in these turbulent times, organizations must be nimble, adaptable, and often subservient to some higher purpose.” This higher purpose can take several forms from ensuring effective execution of an organization’s mission to being willing to reach outside of the organization to get new ideas and perspectives.
Bill, in his article on Collaborating for Survival and Success: Organizational Coaching Strategies to Meet Unique Opportunities and Challenges, suggests there are six compelling reasons for collaboration now.
1. Expanded capabilities
These allow an organization to do more with less or do something entirely different than their existing resource base permits.
2. More flexibility
Be able to share resources and to create new ventures that would have been inconceivable on their own.
3. Allows easy and convenient access to specialized resources
For example, the ability to share contracted services, professional and administrative staff through IPA rotations, professional development services, libraries, computers, or other expensive resources and technologies.
4. Ability to have a wider geographic reach
This means increased ability to reach into diverse markets, allowing for approaches that are customized for local markets and individual customers and stakeholders.
5. Satisfying a need for human community
In contrast to hierarchical organizations, collaborative ventures typically concentrate on joining rather than differentiating. People come together as peers for mutual benefit. They look for shared interests, goals, and benefits—often reinforced by a shared sense of a higher purpose.
6. Increased personal involvement, control, and professional fulfillment
People throughout the world who are frustrated with the hierarchical model, particularly if they are working in large organizations, often see themselves as being at the mercy of limited superiors, left out of the decision-making process, stifled creatively and hamstrung by bureaucratic regulations. In a growing number of cases, people are willing to work harder and to forfeit traditional job benefits in order to take greater control over their destiny.
What are you doing in your organization to promote and ensure collaboration? What are some of the barriers you see to effective collaboration? To read more of Bill’s article about the importance of collaboration, go to the Library of Professional Coaching at the link below.
Trust – trust is the biggest barrier to collaboration. People are afraid they’ll lose something if they give something. We naturally want to protect turf and hold on to what’s “ours” – and we don’t trust that, if we share (mostly information), our colleagues will allow us to retain control of those thing currently within our sphere of influence. So we hoard information and power and control, and that’s when real collaboration becomes impossible.
I think the only way to overcome the temptation to fear / not trust is through honest communication, team-based projects where we rise and fall together and an effort by each person to willingly own failure (vs. shifting blame or deflecting constructive feedback).
An excellent post, Lee.
In business, going it alone is like running out onto the field and taking on the Pittsburg Steelers by yourself. It would be impossible for my company to acquire an $8 million apartment building without my title attorneys, property management companies, SEC attorney, investors, bankers, contractors, inspectors, brokers, local chambers, economic development centers, etc. etc.
In government, it would have been impossible to build a Business Transformation program in the Military Health System without budget people, program managers, executive support, service medical department support (Army, Navy, Air Force), analysts, staffs, etc. Granted, some of them didn’t want to play, but many voluntarily leaned forward, applied resources, and even built their own franchise program. Our strategy depended on it.
I think a go-it-alone philosophy is responsible for a lot of quiet misery – both in government and in business. Collaboration is an important component of success.
Thanks Dave and Andy for adding to our understanding of the value of collaboration. Some of my clients feel an obstacle to collaboration is that they won’t get credit for their ideas and work. This can be problematic for those on teams unless recognition and reward are handled thoughtfully by the team leader and upper management. This can lead to a decline in trust which is a killer of collaboration.
Operational Necessity is also a very powerful mechanism in overcoming “silos of excellence” and promoting collaboration.
We can easily see this in times of disaster or distress, as well as in the field, where the “barbed-wire effect” of us-versus-them and distance from headquarters allows for collaboration by necessity. The key here is the binding affect by the environment. For instance, the collaboration among local, state, and federal agencies is phenomenal in Los Angeles because if these agencies aren’t fighting fires or mudslides, they must contend with or the threat of earthquakes and tsunamis.
Operational necessity can also be the starting point for establishing or testing new relationships, which lays a foundation of trust (or overcome the threat of distrust that Andrew aptly talked about.) If the tested, low-risk initiative works, then you may have a partner for the future. If not, we know that we must find a work-around, wait for another person to deal with, or for the environment to change.
While I recognize that marginal gains can drive the mean, the rub comes in when we start talking about strategic collaboration for problems that take long durations of time (multiple cycles of people) to address, such as capacity building. Here, the binding influence of the immediate and leadership personalities is often overcome by the greater centriptal forces of self- or agency interest. While sometimes nefarious, I think the majority of people that succumb are legitimately concerned about fullfilling the congressional mandate given to the agency as well as staying within their lane of statutory authority. From an individual perspective, where is your longterm career success going to come from? The people of the moment, who you may never see again, or the agency that you must return to after your tour of duty? From an institutional perspective, are you sacrificing the long-term success of your agency’s mission and health — the agency and mission, which you’ve sacrificed significantly for — for a temporary or contra-agency gain?
Operational necessity is not the silver bullet, but it certainly can be a powerful collaboration tool.