How Companies Create Collaborative Culture for Competitive Advantage

By katie simpson on February 7, 2014

At GoCanvas, we’re not just about technology, but also focused on creating a space for innovation. From our beginning, we’ve found that innovation relies on collaboration.  Recently, I spoke with Rachael Stott, a co-working space designer, to understand the science behind this buzzword.

 Rachael Stott co-working space designer

Katie: The point of organizations is to come together to do what one person can’t do alone. Yet, it seems that collaboration needs to be encouraged, why is that?

Rachael: There’s no cookie cutter solution for collaboration. It needs to be developed organically and led top down. Collaboration also requires support, studies suggest collaboration will likely fail without technology, processes, and culture working together. It takes dedication from the leadership of a company to ensure collaborative efforts are resourced, supported and modelled. So heads of the company need to be the champion and to be accountable.

Katie: What are some of the ways companies encourage collaboration?

Rachael: Collaboration relies on trust. Transparency and accountability build organizational trust. And when we trust our team, our leaders and the culture we feel safe taking more risks, asking more questions and collaborating. It’s important as well to know that failure is an option. Nothing paralyzes innovation and collaboration like fear of failure.

Rachael: More than that, you need to be willing to take people beyond their comfort zone, to encourage people out of their routines. If your team do what they’ve always done, they’re not innovating and probably not collaborating on anything new. As a company head, you must lead your team into uncharted and uncomfortable waters.

Katie: Businesses need to invest time, money, and thought into creating opportunity for collaboration. How do businesses understand the ROI on effective collaboration? How do you measure it?

Rachael: Very clever PhDs are trying to figure out the answer to that question. CISCO did research in 2011 which says that for every one dollar invested, 4 dollars are returned.

Rachael: More than hard ROI, collaboration gives businesses an overall advantage. Collaborative culture is a leading edge in business. It’s impossible to copy, you either have it or you don’t. Collaboration becomes an advantage in the long run.

Katie: What are some of the long run advantages?

Rachael: Competitive teams respond to the market faster, are more empathetic, and solve problems more efficiently and more creatively. Overall, collaborative organizations have strategic advantage over those that don’t collaborate, or collaborate ineffectively.

Katie: What’s the difference between e-collaboration and collaboration in person? Why is e-collaboration not sufficient? What are some ways that don’t work?

Rachael: Working together requires empathy and trust. Empathy and trust are simply harder to do through a blue screen, but it is possible. Collaborative efforts that are entirely e-collaboration may have poorer results, especially if differing cultures are involved.

Rachael: Other ways that don’t work are collaborative attempts that are tunnel visioned, only focus on process, tech or culture. Great collaboration needs all three.

Face to face interaction is key for trust (Oregon Department of Transportation, source)

Katie: Speaking of culture and process, what are some ways businesses have created collaborative cultures?

Rachael: GE is a great example of collaborative culture. Another example is Ford. The CTO of Ford is a big part of this. He’s crazy metric driven, collaborative driven. And so he’s worked to combine the two at Ford. They’re a large organization, but they’ve broken down all the silos. Processes more efficient.

Katie: There’s also a push back for privacy and the space to work solo. How do you balance the need to work together and the need to get something done on your own?

Rachael: Nobody gives their best if they are collaborating 100% of the time, just as no one is most effective in complete isolation. The individuals in your team need to be empowered to make calls about their workday. And there need to be options in the workplace and culture for differences in work preferences. At an organizational level, creating quiet spaces and collaborative spaces might help. Give employees places where they won’t be disturbed and those that they can collaborate easily in.

Finding the collaborative balance in your organization, and in your team is part of the experiment of collaborative culture.

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