It’s been a while that I’ve been pretty obsessed with the concept of collaboration and how to do it well.
What is collaboration?
We all hear this word bandied around a lot. The Latin root of the word, collaborare, means to work with. Basically, the opposite of giving orders and then making sure they’re followed.
In essence, collaboration is two or more people (team/or teams) working together (process) towards shared goals (purpose).
Focus on understanding people because collaboration is deeply human.
The concept of collaboration is so intrinsically linked to how we communicate, explain ourselves as people and how well we listen to others. It requires being truly present in the moment. It’s not just about words, but actions, gestures, body language, and interactions too.
We need to understand the individuals within the teams we’re collaborating with— that means going under the surface and taking the time to understand deep-level diversities (personalities, values, culture, thinking styles etc) that exist within and across teams.
Fashion supply chains = pretty damn complex collaboration.
Creating something as simple as a t-shirt requires teams in many organisations across the value chain to come together to create a physical product.
This requires an intricately orchestrated and considered approach. So many individuals across so many teams that not only span functions, organisations, and timezones but include a diverse mix of people in terms of culture, personality, class, experience, background etc.
It starts with the right mindset
It’s so much more (and harder) than open-plan offices and implementing Miro and Slack. Successful collaboration is fundamentally about instilling the right mindset. According to this article Cracking the Code of Sustainable Collaboration robust collaboration can’t just be a value to cultivate but a skill that can be taught. The following 4 attitudes are key;
- Widespread respect of, and trust in, all contributors
- Openness to experimenting
- Checking one’s implicit biases
- Sensitivity to, and understanding of, how your actions may affect others
More outward focus is required and an emphasis on what we can learn from others, rather than fixating on what we want to say and achieve as individuals.
The root cause of a lot of difficulties in collaboration is emotional.
I’ve long been a fan of The School of Life. They’ve written a lot about the psychological problems that get in the way of good collaboration. I love this article— Towards Better Collaboration —where they lay out 10 anti-collaboration traits such as defensiveness, non-listening, secret-manoeuvring and negativity.
The Collaborative *Advantage*
Yes, this HBR article is from 1994(!) but it still resonates with me today and, surprisingly, there’s not enough written about successful collaborations. The gist is that really more time should be spent working on partnerships in cultural, organizational, and human terms because all too often they are neglected in favour of the financial. Less focus on controlling relationships, more on nurturing.
Successful cross-organisational (network) collaboration must add value for all
Collaborating within one team is hard enough, let alone cross-departmental. But what modern businesses require today—particularly those with supply chains—is to nail cross-organisational collaboration too. This is no mean feat.
Good collaboration doesn’t just need the right mindset it requires space and time to allow creativity and problem-solving to flourish.
It’s about creating new value together rather than mere ‘exchange’, ie. getting something back for what you put in.
It’s tiring work improving how I collaborate as an individual, and how we can excel at it as a company as we scale. In Product, the success of my role depends upon excellent collaboration skills. I need to collaborate daily with our Tech, Sales, CX and Growth team (*none of us are currently in the same physical place, some of the team are in different time zones and everyone with their own unique background).
But perhaps most importantly for me are our customers. They are all our collaborators, and I know the only way we can redesign this system into a better one is if we all work together and create new value for everyone.