In a recent article, the non-profit benchmarking organization APQC identified a “lack of collaboration” as the greatest challenge affecting supply chains. Noting that collaboration has always been an issue in the supply chain, the report goes on to state that “recent material shortages and logistics issues have pushed it [failure to collaborate] to the fore.”
What stands out even more, however, is that while a “lack of collaboration” was cited by 46 percent of respondents in APQC’s research, other top issues cited in their paper — including communication challenges and technology hassles —also stem from a lack of collaboration.
In the post-pandemic world, building a more collaborative business is key to confronting supply chain issues and other challenges that continue to disrupt business operations. Enhancing collabrative efforts is an absolute must with both internally and with external partners. Here are five proven tips for building a more collaborative business environment.
1. Be open and transparent
You don’t have to share every intimate detail of your company’s financials with every employee or prospective business partner. But there is no denying that transparency helps keep everyone in the loop and in line with a company’s strategic goals.
Transparency is foundational to a successful partnership. It shows that the business doesn’t have “something to hide,” and that it is invested in achieving mutually beneficial outcomes for all involved.
Not sure where to start being transparent? Don’t guess. Instead, gather key stakeholders and discuss what you should be transparent about in a simple transparency commitment matrix.
2. Use technology to eliminate information silos
One of the biggest challenges hindering effective collaboration is a lack of the right technology. Despite the many technological advances that have been made to enhance business collaboration, many industries remain far behind in adopting these tools.
Quite often, this can lead to the creation of information silos, where vital data or information is locked away in a single department with no way to share it with others. Other departments or partners that could benefit from this data subsequently underperform simply because they don’t have information that could help them do their job.
Adopting cloud-based and blockchain technology that synchronizes across departments can fuel collaboration by allowing all parties to have one version of the truth. By making it easier for everyone to access the information they need, team members and business partners can work more efficiently with knowledge backed by data-driven insights.
A good example of this comes from Walmart Canada, which collaborated with Bison Freight and DLT Labs to co-create the world’s full-production blockchain solution to solve a problem plaguing most industries — freight payment discrepancies. Adopting this blockchain solution improved tracking and transparency, and helped to reduce the company’s freight claim disputes by 98.5 percent.
3. Find a shared definition of success
If your partners do not have a shared goal, you will each prioritize different activities on a day-to-day level. This can lead to wildly divergent outcomes from what a company was hoping to achieve.
As James M. Kouzes and Barry Posner write for the Harvard Business Review, “The only visions that take hold are shared visions—and you will create them only when you listen very, very closely to others, appreciate their hopes, and attend to their needs. The best leaders are able to bring 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 onboarding a new employee, take the time to truly engage and listen. Make sure that everyone agrees on what success looks like. A clear, shared goal provides the direction necessary to guide everyone in the right direction.
4. Establish consistent communication
Harvard University professor John Kotter — one of the world’s authorities on how to create successful change initiatives – reports that most companies under-communicate their vision for change by a factor of 10 or more. This lack of communication can create serious alignment issues.
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Sheetal Nariani, CFO of Global Health Impact Network, an organization that brings together health professionals and investors to collaborate on digital healthcare innovations.
Nariani explained, “Even when organizations seem aligned, consistent ongoing communication is vital to keep everything on track. Small and big issues inevitably come up along the way in any partnership. Consistent communication keeps everyone on the same page and helps manage relatively minor problems before they get out of hand. It helps you track your progress, identify when course corrections are needed and perhaps most importantly, eliminate false assumptions. Proactive communications eliminate misunderstandings and keep partners in sync.”
With that in mind, you and your partners should agree on a set communication schedule. Whether it is the rollout plan for a new initiative or simply staying aligned with day-to-day operations, take a step back and create a thoughtful communication plan. Doing so will make it easier to ensure that these necessary check-ins actually take place to keep your work on track.
5. Clearly communicate expectations
With both employees and business partners, expectations should be clearly communicated upfront. This is accomplished by defining the individual roles of each person or organization, as well as their responsibilities within the team or partnership.
This can also include ensuring that everyone understands which tasks are not their responsibilities. While some tasks can benefit from having multiple groups involved, don’t waste time and other resources by accidentally doubling up on tasks where it isn’t a requirement.
One tool that works exceptionally well in creating clarity of responsibility is a simple taxonomy and workload allocation. To do this, create an inventory of all the work (a taxonomy) and identify who is responsible for each item (workload allocation).
If you have multiple groups responsible for the same work, they might be stepping on each other’s’ toes and creating inefficiencies. Taxonomy and workload allocations also allow organizations to quickly identify where they may be “dropping the ball” as work is handed off to other departments or business partners.
You can also add a RACI (responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed) analysis by adding columns to your taxonomy.
Whether you use a taxonomy and workload allocation – or have a different method – the key is ensuring everyone understands their role and what is expected of them. When this is done, collaborators are much better equipped to get to work.
Collaborating for better results
Whether increasing collaboration between business partners or between departments within your own company, research shows the efforts taken can make your company five times more likely to become a high performer.
As you embrace transparency, use technology to eliminate barriers, develop a shared definition of success and clearly and consistently communicate, organizations will be better able to effectively collaborate with both internal team members and external partners to get the results they want.