by Stephen Parry

Big picture collaboration – the key to adaptability

Jan 16, 2018
Collaboration SoftwareIT LeadershipIT Strategy

In an era of unprecedented change, there is broad agreement that problem-solving, critical thinking and adaptability skills are more important to the IT industry than they have ever been. So why is it, if the great majority of job candidates can demonstrate these skills, that organizations are still relatively slow to adapt? The answer is one of scale.

teamwork collaboration chalk ecommerce analytics
Credit: Thinkstock

Releasing the skills from the box

It is all too common for staff to collaborate only within their teams. When people have little or no interaction with others outside the walls of their silo, the organization is wasting powerful resources. The adaptive organization allows staff to express these skills in a “big picture” way – across departments, across different business units – and even across suppliers. When this happens, we start to see the power of real collaboration, problem-solving and critical thinking.

The problem is not the people – it is the organization itself

The biggest problem with the silo mentality is not about what happens within silos or departments. The specialisms within the silos are important to the operation of the business, but this does not mean that conversations should be locked within the silo. It is vital to address what happens – or does not happen – in the gap between the silos.

This is the gap that customers usually end up falling into and from which they need rescuing. Thus, it is vital to have systems and job roles designed to provide business information from outside, and also to identify and address key inter-department issues.

Reorganizing the collaborative model

To address the “silo gap,” organizations need to ask themselves some key questions. How do we collaborate end-to-end – in the horizontal, and in the vertical? How do we create the opportunities for communication in these channels?

The solution is to create a different collaboration model which enables the organization to address organizational constraints so that it can move quickly to change whatever is needed, when it is needed.

Collaboration is about everyone knowing how everything fits together. To achieve it, there must be a process of dialogue where people from different departments learn about each other’s key challenges. This kind of interdepartmental understanding enables people to do their jobs more effectively. And when something goes wrong, it gives them a network outside their area to contact immediately.

Grow your own: why recruit what you already have?

The adaptive organization makes full use of the problem-solving, critical thinking resources within its existing workforce. Staff – including top managers – not only think outside the box, but they are aware of what is outside the box, so they can work outside it too. The more minds this organization brings together, the greater its problem-solving power. Put another way: release the potential of your people and they will realise the potential of your business. Why look to recruit collaborative problem solvers when you already have them in your organization?

The 3 steps true collaboration

1. Identify and understand the fragmentation

Managers identify and address inter-departmental misalignment of goals and targets. How is what we are doing inhibiting the way we drive products and services to customers?

2. Enable work “outside the box”

People begin to see what is outside their boxes and they develop an intimate appreciation of what others are doing and how it is part of the big picture.

3. Work outside the box

Managers encourage their staff to work upstream and down, and horizontally between departments, with vast improvements to their own and others’ effectiveness.

When staff are made to work within their own boxes, they have little chance to engage in true collaboration. They know very little about other parts of the business and how they operate, and can only use their skills in myopic ways. This is not what makes an adaptive business. In today’s fast-paced environment, the whole organization has to understand and shift. The challenge is for management to “let go” a little and allow people to work “outside the box” while still trusting them and still maintaining control.