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Collaborate, don’t duplicate

OCT 14, 2020

I have worked in many organizations that are built on strong commitment to deliver profits, business unit by business unit. This obviously has a very strong logic as most business leaders like the idea of having a strong drive and commitment to creating value. However, this operating model doesn’t necessarily maximize value.

In organizations where collaboration is needed to leverage the benefits of skills and scale, I believe it is important to look for other organizational design principles. However, we have all experienced how hard it is to collaborate. Collaboration involves spending time with others, and sometimes it is hard to see how the process creates real value. Collaboration requires real effort, compromise, time and resources. And to spend the time to collaborate means sacrificing something else. So why do it? What’s the upside?

Leadership is sometimes defined as making people do what they spontaneously would not do by themselves. In other words, leadership is about managing what happens or should be happening outside of and in between the boxes.

In a complex and competitive world, it is important to “know what you know” and try to “know what you don’t know”. With shifting customer behaviour, new channels and shorter life cycles, having a consolidated and consistent view of what’s really going on in the business isn’t easy. Having data or information is great, but what we really need is knowledge, and knowledge is more than reports, tables or graphs. Knowledge is built on reflection, insights and analysis. We are looking for understanding at a deeper level. If we understand, it is easier for us to accept and commit to change.

I sometimes say that when we don’t collaborate, we duplicate. Compromising means that we can reduce the resources we use. If we agree what program or series to watch, there is no need for that extra TV. My expectations of leaders are that they increase the knowledge of others. By increasing the knowledge of others, we reduce the gap between parts of the organization, we can transfer best practice, increase speed and develop once instead of running things in parallel.

Hence, we have tried to institutionalize a way to increase the knowledge of others. On strategy, I try to make it clear what our strategic direction is. It is important that we all have a clear picture of our strategic intention and then feel mandated to lead in that direction. This means that we are able to move reasonably quickly forward. And since we all share and update each other as we progress, we can adjust the course.

Where there’s little information, speculation kicks in. By increasing knowledge, we also take away the energy drain of needless discussions about things that aren’t relevant. From experience and studies, we know that employee engagement can be low. In one study conducted a few years back by Gallup, 13% of employees felt engaged, 63% were neutral, while 24% were disengaged. Have in mind that the actively disengaged are employees who not only aren’t working productively, they may intentionally undermine the efforts of the organization. It is like having a football team where only 1-2 players really want to score, around 7 couldn’t really care less and the rest are basically sabotaging the team effort.

My clear advice is consequently to work relentlessly to increase the knowledge of others. Create ways to exchange views, discuss findings and bounce around hypotheses, ideas and concepts. Test your thoughts on others and make sure that you share your views. By increasing the knowledge of others, you also increase the dependency between colleagues and various parts of the organization, and we know that this is a way to become much more effective and efficient.

Be curious, share your thoughts and learn quickly. If you don’t do it, others surely will!