Five tips for building a more collaborative business

In a recent article, benchmarking nonprofit APQC identified “lack of collaboration” as the biggest challenge affecting supply chains. Noting that collaboration has always been a problem in the supply chain, the report states that “recent material shortages and logistics issues have pushed it [failure to collaborate] in the foreground.”

What stands out even more, however, is that while “lack of collaboration” was cited by 46 percent of respondents to the APQC study, other major issues cited in their article — including communication challenges and technology issues —too stem from a lack of cooperation.

In a post-pandemic world, building more collaborative businesses is key to addressing supply chain issues and other challenges that continue to disrupt business operations. Increasing collaborative efforts is an absolute must with both internal and external partners. Here are five proven tips for building a more collaborative business environment.

1. Be open and transparent

You don’t need to share every intimate detail of your company’s finances with every employee or prospective business partner. But there’s no denying that transparency helps keep everyone informed and aligned with the company’s strategic goals.

Transparency is the basis of a successful partnership. This shows that the business has “nothing to hide” and that it is invested in achieving win-win outcomes for all involved.

Not sure where to start being transparent? Don’t guess. Instead, gather key stakeholders and discuss what you need to be transparent about in a simple transparency commitment matrix.

2. Use technology to eliminate information silos

One of the biggest challenges preventing effective collaboration is the lack of the right technology. Despite the many technological advances made to improve business collaboration, many industries lag far behind in the adoption of these tools.

Quite often, this can lead to the creation of information silos, where vital data or information is locked away in one department with no way to share it with others. Other departments or partners who could benefit from this data subsequently underperform simply because they don’t have the information to help them do their jobs.

Adopting cloud and blockchain technology that synchronizes across departments can foster collaboration by allowing all parties to have one version of the truth. By making it easy for everyone to access the information they need, team members and business partners can work more effectively with knowledge backed by data-driven insights.

A good example of this comes from Walmart Canada, which partnered with Bison Freight and DLT Labs to co-create the world’s end-to-end manufacturing blockchain solution to solve a problem plaguing most industries – freight payment discrepancies. Adopting this blockchain solution improved tracking and transparency and helped reduce the company’s freight claim disputes by 98.5 percent.

3. Find a common definition of success

If your partners don’t have a shared goal, each of you will prioritize different activities on a day-to-day basis. This can lead to vastly different results than what a company had hoped to achieve.

As James M. Kouses and Barry Posner write about Harvard Business Review, “The only visions that take hold are shared visions—and you will create them only when you listen very, very carefully to others, appreciate their hopes, and attend to their needs. The best leaders are able to lead their people into the future because they engage in the oldest form of research: they observe the human condition.

When vetting a potential business partner or hiring a new employee, take the time to really engage and listen. Make sure everyone agrees on what success looks like. A clear shared purpose provides the guidance needed to steer everyone in the right direction.

4. Establish consistent communication

Harvard University professor John Kotter—one of the world’s leading authorities on how to create successful change initiatives—reports that most companies fail to communicate their vision for change by a factor of 10 or more. This lack of communication can create serious alignment problems.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Sheetal Nariani, CFO of the Global Health Impact Network, an organization that brings together healthcare professionals and investors to collaborate on digital health innovation.

Nariani explained, “Even when organizations seem aligned, consistent ongoing communication is vital to keep everything on track. Small and large problems inevitably arise along the way in any partnership. Consistent communication keeps everyone on the same page and helps address relatively minor issues before they get out of hand. It helps you track your progress, determine when course corrections are needed, and perhaps most importantly, eliminate false assumptions. Proactive communications eliminate misunderstandings and keep partners in sync.”

With this in mind, you and your partners should agree on a specific communication schedule. Whether it’s a plan to roll out a new initiative or simply to stay aligned with day-to-day operations, take a step back and create a thoughtful communications plan. This will make it easier to ensure that these necessary checks are actually performed to keep your work on track.

5. Clearly communicate expectations

With both employees and business partners, expectations should be clearly communicated upfront. This is achieved by defining the individual roles of each person or organization as well as their responsibilities within the team or partnership.

This can also include making sure everyone understands what the tasks are no their responsibilities. While some tasks may benefit from the inclusion of multiple groups, don’t waste time and other resources by accidentally duplicating tasks when it’s not a requirement.

One tool that works extremely well to create clarity of responsibility is a simple taxonomy and workload distribution. To do this, create a list of all the work (taxonomy) and identify who is responsible for each item (workload distribution).

If you have multiple groups responsible for the same work, they can step on each other’s toes and create inefficiencies. Workload taxonomy and distribution also allow organizations to quickly identify where they may be “dropping the ball” as work is transferred to other departments or business partners.

You can also add RACI (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted and Informed) analysis by adding columns to your taxonomy.

Whether you use taxonomy and workload distribution – or have a different method – the key is to ensure that everyone understands their role and what is expected of them. When this is done, associates are much better equipped to get to work.

Collaboration for better results

Whether it’s increasing collaboration between business partners or between departments within your own company, research shows that making the effort can make your company five times more likely to become high-performing.

As you embrace transparency, use technology to break down barriers, develop a shared definition of success, and communicate clearly and consistently, organizations will be able to more effectively collaborate with both internal team members and external partners to achieve the results they want.

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