Teams don’t collaborate. They hoard information; they are focused on different priorities; and they blame each other when projects stall or fail to deliver.
This isn’t an easy fix. There isn’t a piece of technology or a software tool that organizations can buy that suddenly makes people collaborate. Managers can’t just set up a meeting or a conference call and assume they’ve covered their bases.
In part, that’s because as Ron Ashkenas wrote in Harvard Business Review last year, "There’s a Difference Between Cooperation and Collaboration". Cooperating is working in parallel tracks completing a task and handing the project off to the next team in the next silo. Collaborating is putting everyone to work in the same track and changing the way they work every day; it requires them to behave and interact in a new way. That’s why breaking down silos is so hard.
Show Me Why
People need to know why they should change. Until they buy-in to why, they will resist and, ultimately, become cynical. Teams that have been focused on their own priorities and are tied to their own processes and measures of success need to see the value of giving up those comfortable ways of working, sharing credit, and possibly sharing blame. Leaders at all levels need to articulate a clear and authentic case for breaking down walls and changing behaviors.
All too often, team members are just emulating the silo behavior they’ve witnessed from functional or department heads. So, when they hear about collaboration, it is just talk. Collaboration has to be a lot more than a communications effort. People need to see their leaders sharing and listening to each other. They need to watch team leaders support each other, resolve differences of opinion, and make cooperative decisions.
Reward the Right Performance
It’s easy to overlook performance indicators when executives push teams to collaborate. Without new KPIs, people will go back to their old ways because that’s how they have earned their bonuses and been promoted in the past. To really get teams to work together, bonuses need to focus on joint results and overall performance. Promotions need to go to the best team players and those who bring out great work from their team, not the individuals who set themselves apart and take credit for accomplishments of the entire team.
Decentralize Decision-Making Structures
If decision-making remains centralized, everyone will focus on reporting up and wait for the blessing from managers before they move forward. It’s important to set up structures so teams can be nimble and share decision-making. Give the people closest to the work the responsibility for getting it done in the most effective and efficient way; remove the checkpoints that don’t add value but only slow things down.
Start with a Pilot
Shifting to a collaborative organization may be imperative, but the change from a top-down, centrally managed organization is a transformation. Start with one team as a pilot. Work closely with them to see how they overcome challenges, to measure and iterate with them, to support them, and to learn with them. As they begin to succeed, look at how to migrate collaborative practices to other teams and to processes and organizational structures.
Cynthia Owens is a Senior Consultant at XPLANE.
We have visualized the constant and rapid change inherent in today's business world, the friction it causes within organizations, and ultimately The Cost of Confusion. To help your organization find a path forward, XPLANE’s unique design approach changes how you solve your complex business challenges. This organizational transformation ultimately provides The Value of Clarity.