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How a lack of collaboration can make or break a project


The importance of collaboration in project management is clear. Otherwise, how would we get anything done?

However, many organisations lack the collaborative culture and management expertise to keep teams engaged and moving in the same direction.

While no company means to create them, silos at work are still a big problem.

Clusters of expertise naturally develop in organisations, often resulting in departmental hierarchies. Teams then become focused on their own duties, inadvertently excluding others in the process.

Line managers are often competent at looking after their own team but lack the expertise to effectively engage in cross-team collaboration.

As a result, links in the business chain can become broken. The most successful companies are those embracing cross-team collaboration.

“Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much.”

Helen Keller


In this article, we’ll be looking at how influential a lack of collaboration and teamwork can be on the success or failure of a project, or the business as a whole.

A learning environment

Collaboration in the workplace doesn’t just happen. It is borne from a culture of learning and knowledge sharing.

UK charity Campaign for Learning recently ran its annual Learning at Work Week campaign to encourage organisations to promote learning cultures and inspire people to learn.

Mike Knivett, MD at Artemis Marketing (one of the many companies to take part) sees learning, a growth mindset and collaboration as critical levers for achieving business success.

He says: “Bringing people together from all departments within the organisation enables us to look at our processes from different angles and continually improve them.

“We know that to stay ahead of the crowd we need the best people working together to deliver innovative solutions.

“We encourage our people at all levels to participate in cross-team rocket projects. Learning from each other is the foundation of our success so far.”

“Great things in business are never done by one person; they’re done by a team of people.”

Steve Jobs

Departmental boundaries

Innovation doesn’t always come from where you expect.

Cross-functional collaboration involves building teams of people who have different levels of expertise.

The most effective workplace collaboration occurs when barriers are broken down and people are brought together.

According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, the biggest obstacle to innovation in large companies is turf wars: “Any time you start something new like [an innovation initiative], that cuts across many areas.

“There’s a potential for people feeling like you’re in their backyard,” says Michael Britt, a senior vice president who heads Energy Innovation at the US utility operator, Southern Company.

But departmental boundaries are only a problem if you let them be.

It is up to business leaders and project directors to foster collaboration by being clear about what is expected and how teams across the business are expected to support those expectations.

The fact is, companies ditching silos and embracing cross-departmental relationships tend to be high performing businesses. Research also shows that interdepartmental collaboration also increases efficiency.

“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.”

Henry Ford

 

Building trust

build trust

If there is one sure way to shoot collaboration down, it’s through micromanagement and a lack of trust.

Consider a work situation where employees are trusted to make decisions.

They feel they can count on each other when there is a problem to be solved, recognise each other’s strengths and share the credit for successes.

Overall, when people feel trusted, they step up and do their best work.

Micromanagement has the opposite effect. If team members don’t trust one another they become less engaged and can even develop negative behaviours, further eroding trust and damaging the outcome of projects.

According to US-based Onpoint Consulting, who help businesses to enhance cross-functional teamwork for success, trust is more difficult to build in cross-functional teams, especially across different geographical locations.

Building trust takes effort. Mentoring and partnering team members can help ensure everyone is on the same page and encourages a more cohesive approach.

Ultimately, cross-functional teams need to be clear they are all working towards the same goal. Involving people, seeking their input and allowing them to make decisions is a crucial part of this process.

See more on why trust is critical to team success here.

“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.”

Harry Truman

Alignment

Effective collaboration requires everyone working towards the same goal.

If employees don’t have the same objectives, collaboration is impossible and rifts in teams are likely.

So, how do you ensure your project team is singing from the same hymn sheet?

It’s simple and it starts from the very beginning. Goals need to be communicated from the outset and regularly reinforced to ensure all project team members are in alignment.

Summary

Any project, as well as day-to-day activities in business, benefits from collaboration.

However, collaborative effectiveness will depend on business culture, goals, trust and how departments work together.

Good communication is also essential. In a non-collaborative environment, staff become disengaged, lose trust and motivation. Business and project success relies on people working together towards the same goal.

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