The benefits to fostering a collaborative environment are, in a nutshell, to multiply growth. Collaborative environments, whether digital or otherwise, are about harnessing the skills and talents of individuals in teams within organisations to create a bigger and better impact than the sum of the parts. Such collaboration can achieve something that has a greater impact than that of an individual delivering a single element.
Many organisations, particularly those larger and high-growth businesses where the environment is always changing, struggle with collaboration. There’s a natural tendency to think of you need to solve all of your business problems in one hit, and mobilise all of your talent in different directions to achieve as much as possible, as quickly as possible. So in a business of twenty people, you’ll end up with twenty people solving twenty different things. And the net result is you won’t make anywhere near as much progress as you would hope.
The irony, of course, is that in a technology business the agile development process is designed to accommodate this way of working by creating shared goals and shared visions within a small team of people who are building something together. But what you find is that even within the technology sector, particularly in a large business, the rest of the business doesn’t tend to behave in that way. In a large tech organisation, you’ll have one part of the business working very collaboratively with customers to understand problems with each other, with shared goals and shared vision. But outside of that, for example in finance, marketing, sales and other business-related activities, these departments still operate in very traditional ways. You end up with very polarising collaborative environments.
So it’s a question of how do you bridge that gap, even in a technology business or digital business, with access to digital tools and a digital workforce? How do you bridge the old approach and the new approach? And I think that’s the crux of what businesses really struggle with. How can they foster a collaborative environment? I see two key ways, which are closely related.
Regardless of the size of a business – whether you have twenty people or two thousand people – you need to have a very clear set of objectives and goals throughout your business. Ideally these will be reviewed and communicated on a reasonably high-frequency basis, for example quarterly, which is what we do at GO1.
If you can line all of that up, then you basically create the perfect environment for collaboration. You can get results that cascade through a business from the executives all the way through to the guys cutting the code, or the guys on the frontline supporting the customer, or the guys selling to different verticals and segments.
The great thing about the digital dimension is there are actually some really cool tools out there today that enable you to do that sort of objective and key result planning, reviewing progress with your teams, quarter by quarter. That said, even with those tools and with that kind of alignment, you may still have challenges with distance and language. These are simply the traditional barriers that businesses face, some of which can be overcome with digital communication tools and visualisation tools.
Collaborating visually is very powerful. It becomes a language, just as a picture paints a thousand words. By using the digital dimension and sharing collaboration in a way that is very visual, you can overcome traditional barriers.
When you put seasoned, experienced individuals who are a little bit older with less experienced people who are a little bit younger, how can you harness the different energies and skills to create something really interesting? The businesses that can overcome that, and harness the range in talent and diversity, will create the most collaborative environments.
This involves putting people in a position where they can be most effective and can use their perspective and share knowledge. It’s about balancing the energy of the younger generation, who are often coming at things from a different angle, with wisdom and governance, but doing so in a way that doesn’t sound like “Oh, it’s the old guy being negative”.
As I said at the start of this piece, the benefits to fostering a collaborative environment are to multiply growth. If you have enormous talent all working towards the same thing, and who aren’t afraid to break off the hardest problems and solve them, you get a force multiplier. The result is synergy – which in the Ancient Greek literally means “working together” – and today signifies the creation of a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Thomas Wythe is Chief Information Officer at GO1.com, the world’s largest onboarding, compliance and professional development platform. Thomas was Chief Operating Officer and Chief Information Officer at Temando and held a number of senior technology positions at Betfair.