Mention “collaboration” in an organizational setting and more often than not, colleagues will associate the term with words like “teamwork,” “cooperation,” and “networking.” But true organizational collaboration is something greater — it’s structured and invokes a great level of introspection when it comes to behavior and communication.

For structured collaborations to take place, organizations need a framework comprised of these 3 key levels:

  • Structural Level: Understanding structures, roles, and responsibilities of team members.
  • Systemic Level: Assessing systems, processes, and policies currently in place.
  • Interactional Level: Evaluating communication among team members.

On a structural level, are the organization’s mission, vision, and values aligned to support collaboration and not just cooperation? Most of us have encountered organizations where there is a strong vision that is aligned to collaboration, yet the structures that support it are rather weak.

An example is an organization that intends to be a top sales group but has structures that don’t support open communication or cross-fertilization of ideas across departments or even within the department. They may have great individual contributors that achieve personal success, but it becomes critical to analyze the team from a structural level to identify whether there is true collaboration taking place.

Behaviors in organization are not random actions — they are brought about by the systems that govern it. As such, leaders need to understand the social, cultural, and other factors that characterize the systemic level so that collaborative behaviors are not acts of chance but are properly choreographed. The system then gives rise to the interactions between the various actors in the organization. Trust, a willingness to collaborate, communication, and mutual respect are some evidence of this systemic level at play.

Organizations often treat collaboration issues at the interactional level, believing this will bring about a higher level of communication and trust. We’ve encountered organizations that believe that running team-building programs would resolve issues and help the team synergize. They spend huge amount of resources to run personality profiling tests and workshops on effective communication and building workplace relationships. But is there true collaboration taking place?

The successful formula for true and transparent collaboration requires that organizations take a hard look at all the 3 levels and carefully analyze the current collaboration competencies of their leaders. A collaboration scorecard incorporating these 3 levels can offer the organization a clear and concrete measurement as to where the strengths and weaknesses of the organization lie.

Based on the scorecard, a competency gap analysis can be undertaken so that effective training and non-training interventions can be identified and executed. Through this process, the collaboration becomes more of a science. It may seem simple enough in theory, but many organizations are still struggling with the execution. By addressing collaboration on all 3 levels rather than solely focusing on one, organizations can significantly improve their effectiveness.


About the Author

Nitin Goil works in CCL APAC as the Regional Director for Leadership Solutions and is responsible for developing the Leadership footprint across the Asia Pacific region. He has more than 15 years of experience in the field of leadership development and counseling and has been a consultant for various knowledge sharing sessions at different institutes and organizations in the United States, India, and Singapore. He is particularly passionate about diversity and culture sensitivity, managing effective teams, cross-generational workforces, self-awareness, and executive coaching.  

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