In most companies, collaboration is a valuable part of corporate culture. In fact, it’s expected that teams, departments and divisions work and share information together. In some of the best companies, collaboration is well executed with outside vendors, suppliers and consultants. Yet, for some reason, collaboration does not always happen. Many businesses tend to be divided by silos – groups of people who function like clicks.
Collaboration like corporate culture is the elusive quality that is characterized as a soft skill. While considered soft, it’s a skill that appears to be very hard to acquire.
Collaboration is the act of working together with one or more people in order to achieve a common goal. Sounds simple. Right? When you factor human nature, you start to see where complications begin.
What could possibly get in the way of such a desirable element for successful business? For one, people like to take credit for achievement. When two or more people work together, they combine their brains. By doing so, one thought can feed off of the others’. That makes it difficult to say who the originator of the thought was. When, in fact, the thought was not originated by anyone. It was an amalgamation of everyone involved. The likelihood of one person originating the innovative concept is low because it required the combination of conversations. However, the material gains and notoriety that can be realized from the accomplishment can cause selfish actions.
Secondly, collaboration becomes difficult when one person believes their idea is more right than others. Once a person believes they are right, that means the others are wrong. This can create an acrimonious relationship. Whether it’s groups coming together or individuals, each person has formulated an identity around the knowledge, information and experience they have acquired over time. Because most people believe they are smart – this gets worse for highly educated people – they trust their knowledge is better than others. They believe they have lived a successful life based on their knowledge and experience. Therefore, if someone comes up with an idea that invalidates what they know to be the facts of life, they will fight against them to validate their existence, knowledge and experience. This makes collaboration nearly impossible.
Third, collaboration can be difficult when it comes to resources. In an organization where departments and teams have to collaborate, there may be a concern for resource allocation. To ensure your team or department receives the resources you have requested, you may withhold information to weaken the other side. While you may win on the surface, it could kill the project or weaken the final outcome.
As you can see, collaboration comes with pitfalls. While it appears easy for people to come together for a common purpose, self-interest can derail all efforts.
Nevertheless, there have been people who orchestrated great collaborative efforts. Andrew Carnegie is one such person. He created the largest steel company of his time. He did this in the face of not knowing much about how to mine iron ore or how to mix the chemical compounds to make steel. He wasn’t even good at selling steel. He did, however, know how to choose brilliant people who knew how to do those things. He brought them together to work as a team. By serving as the thread that bound accomplished men together, Carnegie was able to foster a spirit of working together for a common goal.