I’ve had the opportunity to coach my 7 year old son’s basketball team for a few seasons. If I'm being honest, coaching has been both highly rewarding and exasperating all at the same time.
On the one hand, I love watching these players literally improve their skills before my eyes. On the other hand, I know how much better they can be if only they could learn how to play as a team.
As a coach, when you see players on the same team fighting for a rebound or not helping each other on defense, it can make you crazy. But that's to be expected for kids at this age and, each time that happens, a learning opportunity is created.
In sports, the signs of poor collaboration are generally quite visible and the impact is obvious. But in business, the signs may not be as apparent, and quantifying the impact may be challenging. For that reason, while creating a more collaborative business can seem like an academic exercise to some, it's been proven that much more can be done to improve the business when the workforce is working as an integrated whole, instead of in functional or hierarchical silos.
So how does that happen? Here are a couple of examples of the effects of poor workforce collaboration on business improvement initiatives:
Functional Excellence ≠ Business Excellence
Let's be honest, "silo" is definitely a four-letter word in the business world. However, that's not to say that there aren't improvement opportunities exclusive to certain functions, departments, or initiatives that can be successfully implemented and managed solely within that "siloed" function.
Returning to the basketball analogy, there are times in a practice when the coaches will separate the team into groups, for example ball handlers and post players, to work with those groups on specific skills that they will need to demonstrate in a game.
Where organizations tend to get tripped up is when what needs to improve can’t be isolated to a particular function. Part of the problem is that there can be real barriers to cross-functional improvement, including:
- Misaligned goals
- Unclear roles & reporting relationships (i.e., who’s in charge of this project?)
- Departmental or functional polarization (a.k.a. a “turf war”)
What shouldn’t be a barrier are the tools used, or lack thereof, to enable collaborative business improvement. Too often we’ve seen improvement initiatives break down or lose steam, not because those involved didn’t want to make things better, but because the organization didn’t provide the tools to allow the improvement team to work adaptively and collaboratively.
In our view, all organizations should have a platform to:
- Document and manage all of the improvement activity taking place anywhere in the organization
- Task cross-functional and cross-level teams to work on specific improvement initiatives
- Flow improvement tasks to individual employees
- Track the value generated from improvement activity
- Share the knowledge generated from all improvement activity
Collaboration: It's not conceptual, it's statistical.
A few years ago, Frost & Sullivan released a study on the impact of collaboration on business performance. That study resulted in the creation of a “collaboration index,” which measures the extent to which a given organization works collaboratively. This collaboration index was then correlated to a series of key performance indicators (KPIs), one of which was labor productivity. Long story short, this study found that labor productivity is heavily influenced by collaboration.
In fact, 36% of a company’s labor productivity performance could be traced to the effectiveness with which it collaborates. Collaboration has a similarly positive effect on customer satisfaction, product quality, and innovation among other indicators.
The point is that the companies who have “figured it out” when it comes to collaboration are tapping into the potential of their workforce in a fundamentally more meaningful way than those who still work in silos. They’re getting more done at a faster pace and with greater business impact, and that's an idea worth spreading.