Collaboration and other tired words

There is a lifecycle to the words that we use to talk about business performance. Overuse flattens the impact of what were once meaningful contributions to the English language. Some casualties may include “Value Added,” “Synergy,” and “Change Management,” but my favourite on this list is “Collaboration.” Part of the fatigue with “Collaboration” may come from the inherent tension between nurturing relationships and delivering results. So without using that word, how can we get along with each other AND get things done?

Let’s look at the some of the possibilities.

Potential Solution Reasoned Rationale Predictable Problem
Build trust People will develop faith that a colleague is not just being objectionable; they are just doing their job. What if these people are actually messing it up for the rest of us?
Better communication This could build the trust that clears the air. Again, what if the wrong people learn how to be persuasive?
Clear performance measures Use the right measures.Note: If you need to, go watch “Moneyball” (Brad Pitt is great in it!) But does a good 1st quarter necessarily mean a good 2nd one? A good year? Long-term performance?
Better hiring If you have people who “get it,” then it becomes so much easier. But don’t you need new perspectives?
Less competition Some breathing room in the market would let us go back to being nice to each other. Where are you going to find less competition these days?


How about this?

Potential Solution Reasoned Rationale Predictable Problem
Better alignment of tangible measures with overall objectives Conflict arises only over how best to accomplish the shared goals and objectives, and we agree on the chosen measures. It is a potentially messy proposition…

It’s not collaboration that is complicated; it’s aligning activity toward purpose. There can be very different perceptions and interpretations of “What are we trying to accomplish?” and “How will we know we are getting there?”

For example, imagine the senior executive who is convinced that success of the organization (or department) hinges on having everyone at their desk from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm with no more than a 60 minute break for lunch. Can you also imagine the motivated (potentially younger) worker who feels they are more productive if they go the gym before work or on an extended lunch hour, but is more than happy to catch up on work in the evenings and on weekends?

The messiness comes from revealing the limitations of some of our core beliefs (for example, does punctuality really indicate productivity?). If you can understand and question some of the relevant logical links, you can start to better align the important elements of performance. Decisions become clearer, and less time and energy are spent on trying to affect change.

We have developed a short diagnostic to gather some insights into how this is currently working for you. Here is an external link to a questionnaire. (This should take 5 or 6 minutes (more if you answer the optional question).)

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NOTE: This article originally appeared in the June 2013 newsletter of the Canadian Supply Chain Sector Council (