Last week my Harvard Business Review arrived in the mail (yes, the mail 😊) and I was very excited a to see a teaser on the front cover “Cracking the Code on Collaboration – Six new tools”. Here was the answer I had been searching for – THE code. I imagined that I would find a set of swanky new digital tools or techniques that would blow my socks off. Maybe even a little RPA or AI thrown in for good luck. So, imagine my surprise when the “six new tools” were really not new at all BUT same practical approaches to increasing collaboration within an organization. While I was slightly disappointed that a Harvard Business school professor (it is Harvard after all) did not wow me with some new innovative technological solution, her advice was sound nonetheless.
First, we ALL talk about collaboration and are strong in our conviction that it is the right thing to do, yet most of us have not “cracked the code”. I was encouraged that the author notes that “collaboration requires a certain set of skills” ( we have always referred to them as strategic competencies) AND those skills can be taught. “One problem is that leaders think about collaboration too narrowly; as a value to cultivate but not a skill to teach”. Maybe it’s because the author, Professor Francesca is a behavioral scientist and a teacher that she believes collaboration can and should be taught – we agree! Here are the six tools described in the article:
- Teach People to Listen, Not Talk – This one is near and dear to my heart. As professionals we need to listen more and talk less. When we listen, we learn, and that is so critical when you are trying to build relationships. If you are trying to move to Category Management, you need to understand what is important to your business partners (their Value Drivers) and you won’t discover that UNTIL you seek those out through expansive questioning and listening. We conduct workshops with client organizations where we teach them techniques how to be active listeners – it works!
- Train People to Practice Empathy – This is something we don’t do enough of but will also help to build stronger collaboration and strengthen relationships. I’m sure most of us have experienced a fair amount of resistance in our roles and need to figure out a way to break through that resistance. One clear way is to put yourself in those resistor’s shoes. Listening to their issues and challenges can help you determine how to get them to be supporters. Expressing empathy usually leads to everyone having a mutually satisfying discussion.
- Make People More Comfortable with Feedback – Giving and receiving feedback well is a key component of collaboration and many companies are using feedback techniques to help build a collaborative work place.
- Teach People to Lead AND Follow – It’s as important to be a good follower as a leader. When you are working in teams it is important to allow different members to play a leadership role where appropriate. A good leader can help others lead by being willing to follow and will increase your ability to delegate and develop others.
- Speak with Clarity and Avoid Distractions – This is all about clear communication. Being able to develop easily understood and concise messages adds to your credibility which helps to increase collaboration. This again can and should be taught and practiced to build competency.
- Train People to Have Win-Win Interactions – This one is my favorite. We teach negotiations – both internal and third party (suppliers). Since Category Management is all about relationships (both internal and external) it is critical that your interactions are positive and try to create an environment where everyone wins. The real Value in every relationship is where EVERYONE feels like they have won.
As we are trying to move our organizations to Category Management we need to focus on the skills and competencies our people need to get there. While functional skills (negotiations, contracting, writing an RFP, etc.) are necessary, those are not the skills that will be the difference between success and failure. It is those strategic competencies (consulting, facilitation, communication, change management, etc.) like collaboration that will help you to achieve your vision and be a competitive advantage for your company. So, if you want to get to Category Management you MUST crack the code on collaboration.
Let us know what you think and join the conversation . . . . . .