MT Expert - People: Fruitful collaboration

Beatrice Hollyer of Stanton Marris says cooperation is a vital ingredient for a successful business - although it's easier said than done.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Aside from the excitement following the recent election, Bank of England Governor Mervyn King had a deeper message about putting politics second to an urgent need for global cooperation:
We need to balance demand around the world economy so as not to end up with a downturn in the world economy ... the real need is world rebalancing measures, of which fiscal consolidation is a part.’

This, he said, could only be achieved by working together on a global scale, through the IMF and G20.

It also echoed the priority our clients constantly give to the need to improve collaboration across their organisations, to achieve more innovation, better decisions, more effective engagement and communication and more efficient systems and processes. How many businesses do you know with the word ‘collaborative’ in their set of values? In my experience, there are dozens.

And yet, it’s one of those organisational goals that sometimes seems to run counter to human instincts. As we often say, ‘easy to understand – hard to do’. While everyone signs up to collaboration in principle, it’s certainly not easy to achieve in practice, as our clients tell us. There are always a thousand reasons why it comes more naturally to work with the people in your immediate team than the team on the next floor, or on another site.

At the most basic level, managers are busy, and talking to people who aren’t in your immediate loop takes time. It might achieve more for the success of the business than keeping your head down in the tunnel of yet another task, but it can be hard to keep that wider perspective.  

It also taps into the natural competitiveness and power dynamics that you find in any group, from families and schools to start-ups and the biggest multi-nationals. Put simply, we want what we want, and our focus is often on doing what we can to get it, rather than seeing what personal sacrifices we can make to commit to a shared ambition.

What could this mean for your business? You could start by asking yourself these questions:

•    Do you all have a shared vision of the strategy? Go round the table and ask people to describe it in their own words. You could be surprised how much the visions differ.
•    What is pulling you away from the shared commitment you have all made to the success of the business? An honest answer to this question from each key individual could form the basis of a fundamental re-think about how to re-energise the business and make it work for everyone.    
•    Has everyone bought into the vision and the strategy? How do you know?  Engaging everyone from the ground up in the development of the way forward is the best way to make sure that, even when times are tough, people retain commitment to the business they have helped to shape. 

Advancing your own agenda might win you a few battles. But, as Mervyn King made clear, it won’t win the campaign. And success in today’s economic climate means that focus on the wider campaign, and being willing to let go of any personal priorities that don’t serve the shared goals of the enterprise, could make the critical difference for your business.

Beatrice Hollyer is partner at Stanton Marris, a consultancy that specialises in making strategy work through effective leadership, employee engagement and organisation development. By helping organisations make sense of the issues that stop change being sustainable, it enables them to manage the risks associated with strategy development and execution. For more information visit

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