Do you know what the tallest tree in the world is?? If you visit or live in California, you may have seen the giant sequoia.
These redwood trees reach over 300 feet and many can boast a circumference of over 100 feet. It is not just their size that inspires, but their longevity. The oldest living sequoia is 3,300 years old. They are resistant to disease, fire, fungi, and insects. Indeed, these trees seem invincible.
Of all the amazing features of the sequoia, perhaps its root system is the most impressive and surprising.
As it grows it spreads its roots far and wide—sometimes 200–300 feet in every direction, but not deep. The entire root system is generally only about 20-30 feet below the surface of the earth. It seems improbable that such a shallow root system could support so massive a tree. The key is how the roots weave together with the roots of other sequoias, building a vast network of stability and growth.
One of the most common goals I hear from senior leaders is for their managers to collaborate more. There is a strong belief that collaboration, a willingness and ability to help others achieve a common goal, will produce significantly better results. Like the roots of the giant sequoias, the more leaders support, align, and weave together, the stronger and more growth-ready the organization can become.
However, collaboration carries a downside if overused and overvalued. Disengagement, loss of productivity, and cynicism emerge when collaboration is attempted when it should not be. The worst is when collaboration becomes its own goal—when it is done simply for its own sake. We’ve all been in countless meetings held in the name of collaboration, which unfortunately achieved little progress.
Don’t get me wrong—I’m a firm advocate of the power of collaboration within teams and across business units to accomplish amazing results. Leaders and organizations, like the sequoias, can do great things when they work together instead of apart.
So, to help leaders effectively use and not begrudge collaboration, it is time to clarify when it makes sense and when it does not. The following is a three-part approach called Focused Collaboration that enables a leader to know how and when collaboration should be used.
Using the Focused Collaboration model will provide a path for leaders to effectively amplify the success of others through collaboration. (Focused Collaboration is influenced by the great work that Morten T. Hansen did in his 2009 book, Collaboration, Harvard Business Review Press.)
The first step in using collaboration effectively is to determine which topics or challenges are the right fit. There are four variables to consider when finding the proper application for collaboration: newness, impact, speed, and effort.
For any potential challenge, each of these factors needs to be examined. However, it is looking at all of them together that informs whether collaboration is needed or not.
For example, a manufacturing company was debating about how to transition from gas powered to battery engines. This was new technology for the company, it would have large impact to their bottom line, the speed is less of a factor because of their existing market share and cyclical nature of the marketplace, and the effort is high. Therefore, they chose collaboration to move the project forward.
The second step in deciding whether collaboration is the right approach to solve a problem is to discuss the threat of potential barriers. There are three variables to consider when identifying potential barriers to collaboration: access, ability, and incentives. Unless minimized and actively managed, the presence of any of these barriers can quietly destroy a well-intentioned, collaborative effort.
The third step in achieving the best results with collaboration are figuring out the ways or solutions to achieve the best results. Collaboration is merely one approach to get results. It can produce higher levels of buy-in and improve the quality of decisions, but only if the desired results are clear in the first place. Otherwise, an individual or consultative approach might work much better.
To clarify if collaboration is the best approach to create the right solution, three variables need to be considered: people, timing, and goals.
The Focused Collaboration model ensures that collaboration is used in the right way to achieve the right results. It helps leaders answer the important question: How will collaboration help solve our challenges?
A well-functioning team has deep, interwoven roots, just like the giant sequoia. Using the Focused Collaboration model will help those roots grow together, leveraging the true and often hidden potential within any team and organization.
I created a free resource for you to help you achieve the best results. Click here to access this resource. Share it with your team to help you determine when collaboration makes sense and when it doesn’t.
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Daniel Stewart, Keynote
“To Collaborate or Not to Collaborate: That is the Question!”
WISCONSIN STATE COUNCIL SHRM 2017
August 10th – 11th, 2017
Heidel House – Green Lake, Wisconsin
11:15 a.m. – 12:30 p.m
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