Is it the most difficult type of collaboration?

When we talk about collaboration we think about working together in teams or between organizations. We acknowledge that we can improve our teamwork or we realize that another organization has a different way of working and thus we craft our alliances with them carefully. Somehow it seems different when it comes to internal, cross departmental, collaboration.

I often hear that people feel that working with outside organizations is easier than working with their colleagues in other departments. In the Alliance Masterclasses people sometimes hopefully sigh when they hear that the methodology for crafting external collaborations could very well be used internally as well. However, somehow most organizations don’t do it and people feel that fruitful internal cross departmental collaboration is some kind of utopia.

Many times, the reason lies in the company culture and measurement. Internal collaboration is not really encouraged and the measurement system is too much focused on individual or departmental results. This means that people will strive for result optimization for their own department, which can in the end lead to sub-optimal results for the company overall and can even lead to internal competition.

The lack of an internal collaborative culture can also lead to unconsciously being locked out of other departments in some projects. As an example: imagine you are a specialist in cafeteria equipment and you are asked to redesign certain equipment to improve the capacity of the cafeteria. It needs to be done on time and within budget. Everybody else in the organization is also very busy. Would you take the time to include representatives from the cafeteria staff to involve their view? It would probably not even cross your mind. After all, you are the expert, you have done this many times before. Including others would risk slowing down the project with the ultimate risk that you can’t make your tight schedule.

So, you deliver the redesigned equipment on time and as desired with a larger capacity. In the end it was a small design change: to reach the desired capacity you just increased the top drawer in height and it can now hold double the amount of drinking cans than it could before. You’ve tested it yourself and it worked perfectly. However, a few months into operation there is an increase in sick leave among cafeteria staff and the company’s health costs are rising. It appears that by not including the staff in your redesign, you simply overlooked the fact that the average staff member is 15 cm shorter than you are and they can’t reach the increased top drawer.

A project delivered on time and within budget, but with far from optimal results for the company in the long run. A simple design flaw with large consequences that could have been prevented by collaborating with the cafeteria staff.

There is no easy answer to solving internal collaboration. It starts with fostering a collaborative culture in your organization as an essential cornerstone. Your behavior as a leader, wherever you are in the organization, is essential. Make your behavior inclusive and always consider who else in the organization should be included, to collaborate for the best results. If you can, change the measurement systems to reward for collaborative results.

It might be small steps for you, it can be a giant leap for your organization.

PS: Let me inspire you to achieve the collaborative results you aspire: contact me to schedule your free exploratory call.

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