The other day I came across this quote on Twitter: “The biggest threat to innovation is internal politics and an organizational culture, which doesn’t accept failure and/or doesn’t accept ideas from the outside, and/or cannot change.” Supposedly it is from a Gartner research study.

It made me think about what the biggest inhibitor to successful collaboration in companies is. Collaboration in the broadest sense: in teams, between departments, and with other organizations. Whenever you talk to people about collaboration, they feel it be an obvious part of how organizations function. Still, collaboration is not without hurdles and in several studies the success ratio of alliances averages around 50%. Why is that?

Some companies suffer from the “not invented here” syndrome, or as in the Gartner quote, they “don’t accept ideas from the outside”. For them, everything that comes from the outside world can not be good enough to use in their organization. Everything needs to be developed in-house, collaborating with partners is a no-go.

There can be legitimate reasons to develop some elements in-house instead of collaborating with an outside company. However, when we talk about “not invented here”, we often see a predisposed attitude to whatever comes from the outside is not good. Even though this attitude is diminishing, it still often occurs within companies with a long history.

So what drives this attitude and could that be an inhibitor to collaboration?

It can be a matter of pride when it comes to owning products or solutions. However, in most cases, I feel that it is more a matter of trust or lack thereof and thus the desire to stay in control. It is often part of the organizational culture. Also in such a control driven culture, employees are often measured more and rewarded on their individual accomplishments, than on the team’s accomplishments. When a company has a control driven culture it is very hard for them to change.

Trust and control, two essential words that go hand in hand in both enabling and inhibiting any type of collaboration. When we doubt the trustworthiness of the other party, we’d like to stay in control and in many organizations control becomes the default mode to do business.

Whether we trust our counterpart says a lot about ourselves. Charles H. Green describes it finely in the trust equation. This equation is based on four variables: credibility, reliability, intimacy and self interest. In the equation, the sum of credibility, reliability and intimacy is divided by self interest. The more we focus on ourselves, the lower our trust quotient will be and a low trust quotient is similar to low trustworthiness.

In other words, the more we want to stay in control, the higher our self interest will be and the more difficult it will be to collaborate with others. To me, that is the biggest inhibitor to a fruitful collaboration, both within your own organization as with outside organizations.

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