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Blog  > Interesting Read  > Collaboration

14 January 2019

Collaboration

Capturing value from collaboration

Many of us understand that we need others’ knowledge to solve certain problems, and these problems don't have to be monumental in size to receive the benefit of their thinking.  Yet, there is a hesitance to collaborate. We worry more about our ego and how we may be perceived; or that someone may steal our idea, than focusing the greater outcome achieved through collaborative thinking. 

Teamwork, be it between individuals or organisations, can sometimes feel inefficient (search and coordination costs take time), risky (can I trust them to deliver for my client?), low value (our own area of expertise always seems most critical), and political (a sneaky way of self-promoting to other areas of one's firm).   Behind these concerns is often the fear of losing relevance or being criticised, but once you embark on a collaborative project, these concerns can be laid to rest, through experiencing the value of group input and learning to understand the effort involved and skills required to collaborate effectively. 

What collaboration is and isn’t

It is a ‘way of working’ that attracts and involves people, both inside and outside your organisation, department, and expertise to accomplish a common goal. It isn’t a leadership style where relationships take precedence over the tasks to complete. It’s certainly not delegating to shirk responsibility.  On the contrary, clarity about where the buck stops is one of the most critical enablers of efficient collaboration and teamwork. 

It is not “cross-selling”, but rather it is working across organisational or disciplinary silos to tackle problems for the benefit of something greater. 

It may not be suitable for every task, and therefore situational evaluation is key.  All too often people will try to collaborate on everything, and end up in endless meetings, debating ideas and struggling to find consensus.  It is not about democracy or allowing everyone to give their opinion, but instead it's about utilising the talents and specialist skills of different people to engage in a specific area around a common goal/project. 

Gain firsthand experience

I think many acknowledge the value of collaboration intellectually and proactively seek opportunities, so much so that collaborative skills become central to their professional identity. But, the actual benefits or the required skill set, don’t become apparent until you’ve jumped with both feet into the collaboration pool. You need to get firsthand experience to understand its real value. 

a)     Contribute to someone else’s project

Knowing how and when to collaborate is a learning process. Working with old hands before you forge a project of your own helps you pick up routines, methods, and tools that make it efficient. This insider knowledge can also help you identify future opportunities when collaboration is the right choice.  Imagine having the foresight of hindsight in your team.  Learning from others who have different perspectives is how we continuously stretch our thinking. 

b)     Work on your network

The most significant barrier to collaboration is our ignorance (or fear) about others’ expertise,  and mistrust in their ability to meet your expectations. By building a network of people whose talents you understand and who you trust is one way to conquer this barrier. 

A crucial asset is your relationships with “connectors,” people who bridge speciality domains and organisational boundaries and who can refer you to potential collaborators. Not only do they help you identify the organisation or person you need, but connectors also act as “honest brokers,” vetting potential collaborators’ competence and character. 

c)      Be a good citizen

Most businesses have projects that cut across lines of business, hierarchy and function.  Getting involved in projects allows you to acquire new skills, gain big-picture perspective, increase your connections, and may very well spark ideas which make a positive impact on people, businesses and communities. 

d)     Be strategic about what projects you take on

More isn’t always better.  Too often we end up taking on many small projects where we take more time than needed to come up to speed.  Our exposure to others’ knowledge is lower so therefore are less likely to be in the room when the real “aha” moment happens. 

Many of today’s challenges in business are so complex and multifaceted that they can only be tackled by teams of experts with specialist skills and knowledge. To solve them, we must be able to harness ideas, people, and resources across disciplinary and organisational boundaries without fear or hesitance.  Collaboration is an exciting and energetic way to grow your skills continuously.

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