Teamwork: Do you collaborate or cooperate?

Collaboration across functions is critical for big projects to be performed. There’s way to doubt. The reality, however, is that each department is focused on its own goals, so working to achieve a larger goal can create a conflict. In fact, teamwork takes much more than people being willing to share information, knowledge and a pizza in the end of the day. It takes deciding what and what not to do and trade, in order to adjust workloads across areas with different priorities and bosses. For you to understand how to handle it, understand the problems of companies where there is mere cooperation and check out two steps to turn it into collaboration:


Two real cases of Cooperation

  1. A large insurance company developed a new suite of products to meet unique customer needs. But as the products were rolled out, it became clear that the product development and marketing teams had not worked closely enough with the IT and customer service teams that were supposed to support these products. These teams knew about the general product development strategy, but they were not included in the detailed planning and roll out decisions. As a result, customers experienced delays and errors, the call centers were unprepared for questions, and the overall cost of the new products ended up being much higher than planned.


  1. A global manufacturing firm wanted to customize a product component for one of its major customers. Doing so required extensive design reconfiguration, with changes to electronics, cooling, power, weight, pricing, and product delivery. Although every function agreed to take on the changes that affected them, they all worked on them independently and with different time frames. What each function didn’t realize was that their changes triggered adjustments for other departments, and this led to a continual cycle of design changes. It was only when the product manager brought together key people from all of the critical functions and disciplines into a two-day workshop that she was able to finalize the customized design. 18 months later.


The Expert Analysis

The leadership consultant Ron Ashkenas tell that, believe it or not, the managers in these companies had been through various kinds of training about collaboration and teamwork. But despite all of this education, they were still unable to truly achieve the desired outcome because they confused pleasant, cooperative behavior with collaboration. In the insurance company, the product developers kept the back office and customer service people informed, but they didn’t actively engage them in a joint effort. In the manufacturing firm, the design ball was passed from function to function with the assumption that eventually all of the pieces would fit together — each believed the “overall solution” would be taken care of by someone else.

Having worked with hundreds of managers over the years, Ashkenas says, most managers are cooperative, friendly, and willing to share information, but what they lack is the ability and flexibility to align their goals and resources with others in real time. Sometimes this starts at the top of the organization when senior leaders don’t fully synchronize their strategies and performance measures with each other. More often, however, the collaboration challenge resides with department heads, product leaders, and major initiative managers who need to get everyone on the same page – and shouldn’t wait for senior executives to force the issue for them.


Therefore, to start truly collaborating, here are two steps that Ashkenas recommends for you to take:


1. Create a map of collaboration

Map out the end-to-end work that you think will be needed to get the outcome you want. What will your team be responsible for? What will you need from other teams in the organization? As you create this map, sketch out the possible sequencing of activities and timing that might be required. That’s your map of collaboration! When people know what’s needed, in what form, and by when, they can then tell you whether it’s possible or not, and then you can have a real dialogue about what can be done.


2. Convene a working official session

Invite all of the required collaborators from different areas of the company to review, revise, and make commitments to this map of collaboration. One of the biggest mistakes that managers make is trying to go from one function to the next and cobble together an agreement. It rarely works, since each change affects the next. The better alternative is to get all of the needed collaborators in the room together as early as possible to work through the plans, make adjustments, and find ways to share resources and align incentives.


Finally, if you are able to map out what’s needed and bring the needed parties into alignment around it, you’ll not only make an impact on your organization, but begin to develop some important collaborative skills that are often in short supply.


Technology can do a lot to transform the mere cooperation in real-time collaboration at your company. Meet, the team management software adopted by more than 100,000 companies in over 100 countries worldwide. Still able to generate cost, activities and time reports with a few clicks and increase the productivity of your employees by 25%. Try it for free:

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