It would be original to start by defi­ning “organization” and “collaboration” given the above title, however, defi­nitions of these terms have become so pervasive that their meanings vary across distinct industries in the world’s economies. I believe that even before you flipped to this section you already had a general idea about what building a collaborative organization involved. Permit me to share one of my favorite sporting events with you, to help sharpen our vision on the subject.

The 4 x 100 metres race is one of the most anticipated events of the Olympic Games. Countries are represented by four of their best men, where each man runs 100 metres with a baton. The baton is passed on to the next runner after every 100 metres until the fourth man, referred to as the anchor runner, completes the last 100 metres. A team is disqualifi­ed if they drop their baton before crossing the fi­nish line. The Jamaican team continues to impress on the tracks; breaking records and winning gold medals. It is therefore no surprise that they were the winners of 4 x 100 metres race in the just ended London Olympics.

When asked how his team keeps delivering great results during the competition, Usain Bolt, the anchor man for the Jamaican team and world record holder of the 100 and 200 metres race, said, “it takes a lot of hard work and training and a great deal of collaboration, fi­rst amongst ourselves and then our various body parts. The head, neck, arms and legs, and your heart need to be pumping right. You need to know when to stretch your hand to receive the baton. Your mate needs to understand you well enough to know which hand you prefer to receive the baton in. Oh, and then you need a good manager and a trainer too.”

Before you start wondering whether this is the sports section or not, we shall look at how the event applies to the context of our discussion.

Collaboration is the continuous process of combining the various parts and functions of the body of an organization to achieve a common purpose. It is continuous in the sense that it does not have an end point. The ability of an organization to promote collaboration amongst its workforce is undoubtedly one of the critical success factors that pave the way for achieving set goals and objectives. In recent times, CEOs and business executives in management

positions are beginning to realize the need for effective collaboration between the organization’s employees and departments with regard to functions and projects. Another essential aspect of organizational collaboration that is often overlooked is the role of external players, for example, clients, business partners and other relevant regulatory bodies.

Why do we have to collaborate and to what extent? If this is the question running through your mind at this moment, then you will make a ‘magni­ficent student. Why collaborate? Results I am yet to come into contact with an organization that is not interested in meeting set targets and shaking o­ competition. In the famous 4 x 100 meters race for example, if one part of an athlete’s body malfunctions during the race, his team will be a great contender for last place. In the same way, every department in an organization needs to be in good shape to contribute to the overall output.

Facilitate innovation

Collaboration facilitates healthy competition among the various departments in an organization and creates a pipeline for innovation as ideas are tested and defended through a collaborative eff­ort of the organization’s workforce. Innovation fuels value creation and has the tendency to increase clients’ or consumers’ willingness to pay for a product or service. Also, the processes involved in collaboration exposes employees to people from diverse backgrounds. In understanding di­fferences, employees learn to appreciate skills that they do not have, which creates an avenue for combining expertise in different fields to develop a unique product. This system is used by some giant technology companies in inventing new hardware and software.

A rare occurrence that is becoming commonplace in the corporate world is seeing two competitors in an industry come together to execute a single project. I believe the cliché “two heads are better than one” will sum up this section perfectly.

Good project/task execution timeframe

Time is a resource that is cherished by business owners and management executives. The ability to meet deadlines and deliver projects on time can single-handedly contribute to high client retention rates in organizations. To achieve this, information needs to be shared with team or project members easily. Fortunately, technology has become extremely ubiquitous due to advances in internet access and mobile communication devices. Distance is no longer a stumbling block for information sharing between two parties.

How is collaboration done?

E­ffective Communication

In every organization, there is some amount of communication. Just like any relationship will flourish on eff­ective communication, the same holds for a collaborative working environment.

Trust, openness, understanding of values and competencies; these are key factors for facilitating eff­ective communication. A superior will only pass on information to a subordinate if the subordinate can be trusted, and vice versa. Also, external partners or clients need to trust an organization enough to communicate openly. As mentioned earlier, the ubiquitous nature of the internet and increasing access to communication tools have made it possible for people in di­fferent geographic areas to share and receive information in good time. In summary, communication strengthens relationships and facilitates collaborative e­fforts.

Clarity in defining roles/tasks

How many times have you picked a cab and not asked the driver how much he was going to charge? Or instead of telling the driver exactly where you are going, you just sit in the car and ask him to start driving? Both scenarios may not have a pleasant ending. In an organization, clearly defined tasks create a sense of ownership. Going beyond ownership, there is the need to align the tasks to set goals and objectives. Inability to do this will ultimately lead to low productivity, which may not be as a result of an incapable workforce but a poor task definition.

Reward team achievement

In creating the right collaborative environment, you cannot overlook the need to reward collaborative eff­orts. Just like the Jamaican athletic team received their gold medals for winning the 4 x 100 metres race, organizations can design workflows that constitute cross-functional eff­orts and then reward the groups or teams that excel. External partners and other regulatory bodies should not be left out of the reward system.

A collaborative organization may not inescapably mean grouping the workforce to execute a project or task. It could be as simple as laying down measures to promote unity in performing the day-to-day tasks required to sustain an organization. Strategies for collaboration may diff­er from industry to industry. However, the guiding principle is to ensure that every part of the organizational body is in synchrony with its internal and external work environment.

by Ko­fi Arhin

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