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Belinda Gannaway

Why Purpose Matters in Collaboration

 The problem with collaboration is that the more people talk about it – and the less they actually do it – the harder it is to make it tangible.

I’m guilty. After all, I talk and write about this stuff all the time. So I’ve decided I’m going to try and make it very real and very doable.

After all, collaboration is really just helping each other. One person or team has a problem. Someone else helps solve it.

What we’re at risk of is platitudes about the need to collaborate setting people off in a tailspin. How? With who? And the biggest question of all, WHY?, gets lost.

It’s the why that really matters. Because collaboration isn’t the answer to every question. There is often a very good case for people working on their own to solve problems.

When it goes wrong 

I don’t want to deter anyone, but it’s worth noting that misguided attempts at collaboration do have a cost.

Think of all that failed and hugely expensive M&A activity where the promised synergies fail to deliver. Or the hours and millions spent on pointless flights to redundant meetings on the other side of the world (thank heavens for tech making a dent in that little lot).

Why, who, how

The challenge is to identify those areas where working with other people – often people from different teams, divisions or even countries – can add the greatest value.

Think of it as purposeful collaboration. First identify the purpose – ie what are you trying to achieve. Then work out the who – ie who could be best placed to help. Try surfacing and tackling your unconscious bias that limits who you routinely seek input from. More minds might be better, but do remember that research suggests two or three people working together on a problem are often more creative than a large group.

Then focus on the how  – ie, what’s the most efficient, effective and even fun way to go about doing this work together.

The how is very important.

Purposeful or disciplined collaboration delivers real value. But is there a risk it could act as a block to the serendipitous elements of collaborative working – ie the benefits of unintended consequences? I would say not. In fact, being explicit about the approach should allow creativity to flow. Creative and open-ended exploration around challenging issues, or setting off with no clear destination in mind, is fine as long as that openness is in itself an explicit intention.

Why purposeful adds up

This purposeful approach to collaboration makes it very doable. It also makes it very measurable. So rather than having lots of people running around and sitting in endless and expensive meetings, you have people working meaningfully on stuff together.

Even so, not every teaming up is going to deliver the intended results. But done purposefully it will deliver learning. And that’s what organisations need to be agile in this rapidly changing world.

So the final bit of the puzzle is to make sure people are unafraid of failure. They should be encouraged to see every failed project as a step in the direction of a successful one. Learning what works and what doesn’t – and quickly – is as critical as the actual act of working together.

Why not start by learning that empty platitudes do little to drive competitive advantage or engagement. But purposeful, simple processes can add a lot.







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