Can Your Strategic Initiative Really Afford Driving Into a Collaboration Pothole?

The Lifeblood of Strategic Initiatives

Just as potholes can be damaging to our cars – so can “collaboration potholes” be damaging to strategic initiatives. These “potholes” are essentially the breakdown of collaboration. And when collaboration breaks down, inevitably so can the strategic initiative that depends on it.Collaboration, indeed, is the lifeblood of initiatives. That’s why every organization must do its best to avoid “collaboration potholes.”

Yet, when leaders ask the multiple, cross-organizational, cross-functional teams that are tasked with executing an initiative, to collaborate, they do often hit the dreaded “collaboration pothole.” But, why is that?

Why We Hit Collaboration Potholes

According to Harvard Professor, Lisa B. Kwan, the reason why leaders often find themselves in a collaboration pothole is because they tend to focus on the logistics, processes, and incentives for collaboration. Instead, what leaders should be doing, she claims, is to consider how the demands of collaboration can impact these different groups and their sense of security within the organization.

Namely, when individuals are asked to collaborate, they are actually being asked to “break down walls, divulge information, sacrifice autonomy, share resources, or even cede responsibilities that define them as a group.”

Doing all this, however, undermines the sense of security of their place in the organization. And, when a group’s sense of security is undermined, defensiveness kick in. Where, defensiveness is at the heart of non-collaborative behaviors, such as withholding information, not inviting others to meetings, and taking unilateral decisions, to name a few.

Key Strategies to Avoiding Collaboration Potholes

So, how can leaders avoid collaboration potholes? According to Professor Kwan, this first requires understanding three core dynamics:

  •    Identity: what a group understands itself to be;
  •    Legitimacy: the sense that the group is valuable to the organization;
  •    Control: the ability to act autonomously.

These are the three pillars upon which group security rests, where – group security is mandatory for achieving collaboration.

Accordingly, leaders who aim to encourage effective cross-group collaboration should make sure that they understand the reasons why participant groups care about each of these dimensions, and then they can formulate a plan to address them.

For example:

Identity can be strengthened by granting groups greater ownership over the areas in the initiative that are closely associated with the group’s identity. For example, let the Risk team handle the initiative’s risk analysis.

Legitimacy can be bolstered by reaffirming the group’s legitimacy, for example, by publicly acknowledging the group’s critical role in the execution of the initiative, and in its overall importance to the company.

Control can be reaffirmed by making clear distinctions in the roles and responsibilities of each contributor. For example, review everyone’s objectives and tasks and make sure to eliminate any overlaps.

Doing all this might seem like adding just another overhead to the initiative. However, there is no doubt – when you get collaboration right, you get the initiative right.

About Eagle from Clarizen

Eagle is an initiative management platform that optimizes executive collaboration, delivers visibility, and enables the agility required to successfully execute strategic initiatives.

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