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Competitive Strategy Thoughts

Are you collaborating or building a kingdom?

“All of the great empires of the future will be empires of the mind.”

- Winston Churchill

Within hyper-competitive companies, cooperation can be seen as weakness. Despite all that’s known about the strength of teams, powerful individuals still view information sharing and collaboration as a loss of recognition and control. Some will even subvert collaboration, often without meaning to. Of course, corporate “kingdoms” that form around influential managers do produce wins. But sealed silos are poisonous to the larger objectives of a business. The proper flow of communication and data can be the cure.

In his book Silos, Politics, and Turf Wars author Patrick Lencioni writes, “In most situations, silos rise up not because of what executives are doing purposefully, but rather because of what they are failing to do: provide themselves and their employees with a compelling context for working together. Without context, employees at all levels — especially executives — easily lose their way.”

That “context” is a sense of overall mission. But managers often lose sight of it. After all, being handed responsibility for a business unit ignites the entrepreneurial spirit. And few get command of their own fiefdom without being awfully competitive. But those instincts can go amiss, and many managers will shun collaboration because they think it weakens their individual position. This is where the company and division-wide culture – in a word, context – makes a critical difference. Company’s that foster a collaborative culture (and supply the necessary tools) keep silos in check, creating greater value throughout.

Culturally, removing formality barriers is a huge step in neutralizing silos. Writing for BloombergBusinessweek, collaboration expert Evan Rosen said, “Finding and connecting with experts and colleagues spontaneously is key to curing silo syndrome. We should be able to view the availability or ‘presence status’ of everybody in the organization and connect with them immediately through instant messaging, voice, or real-time video. Regardless of level, role, or region, everybody is potentially available to everybody else. Unified communications and collaboration systems provide this capability.”

Another step to reducing barriers and increasing collaboration is to incentivize behaviors that contribute to collaboration. Team building, working together, and information sharing are key behaviors to incentivize. Fortunately, there are some very cool applications in the market place today that can economically motivate employees to increase collaboration. Applications, such as Achievers, YouEarnedIt, Globoforce, and OC Tanner are great ways to allow peers and managers to reward and motivate employees to increase collaboration, reduce kingdoms, and work toward a common goal.

Almost regardless of the collaboration technology used, it has to advance the strategy (context) of organization and mission. Collaboration tools must cover the basics – accessing and uniting talent, serving up disparate data for maximum stakeholder relevance, fostering relationships, streamlining process – all of which help overcome the limitations of silos and fiefdoms.

Amanda Cash-Crowley