French Lessons On Collaboration – By Lisa A. Bing

French train executives not only have egg on their faces but also have a nasty financial smashup, to the tune of $68 million and counting, on their hands. It was just discovered that their 2000 newly purchased trains are too wide to fit their train stations. Parisian officials blame this colossal mistake on the fact that the rail operations company is separate from the train company. Really?!

These two companies have been separate for 17 years! Deep analysis isn’t required to realize that trains with no tracks and tracks with no trains, well, you get the picture. The two operations are irrelevant without the other, yet after 17 years they haven’t figured out how to collaborate effectively.

“Collaboration” in business circles is thrown around so much these days, that it runs the risk of becoming yet another empty and annoying buzzword. However, as our French friends so brilliantly illustrate, workplace collaboration is no bromide, but an imperative.

What exactly is collaboration?

It’s really a very simple concept. The term I’ve coined is “double-edged sharing.” This means that there is both a willingness to share and a willingness to accept others’ ideas and input, resources and power. Simple, yes. Easy, not necessarily. Sharing power is probably the most challenging of all.

3 Signs of Collaboration

  1. Somebody has your back. The French railway executives started buying the new wider trains five years ago. It’s hard to believe that no one between the two organizations realized in five years that the train station sizes were different for different stations. When you are collaborating, you raise issues, even if uncomfortable, that are in the best interest of others.
  1. The needs and interests of others matter. You accommodate others’ needs on both small issues, (e.g. moving a meeting start time) and big ones, (e.g. shifting your marketing budget to accommodate a public relations campaign).
  1. Sharing is happening.
    • Ideas. You give your sincere thoughts and opinions and you listen to and accept others’ ideas that move things forward, especially when different from yours.
    • Resources. You share space, people and budgets in the interest of the greater good.
    • Power. You don’t always have to be in charge. And you actively support decisions that you may not have made. “Active support” means you don’t criticize the decision and that you do what’s needed to implement it. True partners have equal sway.

3 Top Collaboration Killers

  1. Lack of trust. I heard T.D. Jakes say that, “trust is constructed”. Creating an environment of trust is a topic for another article, but suffice to say, it pays to learn about how trust really works.
  1. Lack of credibility. When you are perceived as bringing value, others want to work with you. Protect your reputation by acting with integrity, fixing your mistakes when you make them (notice I said “when” not “if”) and following through on promises made. If others don’t believe in your capabilities, it will be hard to get them to collaborate.
  1. Company policies that primarily reward and compensate individual contribution. This is an organizational issue for leaders to redress. Smart people do what’s rewarded, period.

3 Collaboration Best Practices

  1. Clarity. Unclear expectations and goals are the source of at least 75% of the breakdowns I witness in my consulting work with leaders and workgroups. In archery, a bulls-eye, clearly marks the target to aim for. Should you land your arrow in an outer ring, you know you have more work to do. Investing the time to sharpen your business goals mitigates the hit or miss going on in so many corporate halls.
  1. Dialog. In spite of all the talking we do, there often is little dialog happening. Dialog is the dance between “telling”, or advocating for your position and “asking”, or inquiring about another’s position. The end result is that people are more likely to share real interests as well as concerns and there is understanding that their input matters.
  1. Inspiration. “When I saw this could be a model for other agencies, I could get excited about the project and get on board”, so said a recent client. When there is energy and passion for the work, others want to be a part of it.

The French government is now working on a law to allow track and train operators to work more closely together. Consider these tips and you won’t need a law to create collaborations that yield powerful results!

For more information: 718-398-8516 / / bingconsulting