Innovation can take on many forms. From ideas sourced from a single individual or event to massive projects that require the effort of an entire team, multiple departments and various thought leaders, excellence often stems from collaboration. As a business leader or manager, are you taking the steps today to foster this collaboration for best results?

The Proof Is In The Numbers

Research has shown that, while the cost for effective collaboration for innovation may be high, it’s also effective. In fact, according to the U.S. Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, policies and initiatives that foster collaboration — regardless of time spend on research and development and whether collaboration is domestic or international in form — impact the entire spectrum of a given innovation firm [OECD 2010, “Collaboration in Innovation,” in Measuring Innovation: A New Perspective, OECD Publishing.].

Collaboration leads to effectiveness, which makes innovation possible. This is clearly seen and demonstrated by NetHope — a non-profit organization made up of 37 international, individual non-profits that work together to deliver over $40 billion in humanitarian aid, emergency response, relief and other programs on a yearly basis. Singly, not one of the organizations involved NetHope could work toward those results, however, individually the effect is multiplied and efficiency is the natural byproduct.

In other areas of business, this is also clearly demonstrated. The power of collaborative actions and thinking is exponential to the power of working in a single manner — whether single refers to a sole company or a sole individual — in terms of effectiveness. If excellence is the desired end result, collaboration must be a focus at the start.

Top-down Model of Fostering Collaboration

Just like any other business initiative, and regardless of business entity or industry — from online car part retailers and brick and mortar businesses to high-tech development firms and Fortune 500 corporations — any initiative that is a success must generally start at the top.

When managers become early adopters, a spirit of positivity and a focus on collaborative efforts frequently result.

When managers and executives implement desired initiatives, the rest of the company’s team members are likely to follow suit. Far too often, policies and procedures are handed down and expected to be adopted by the lower level. This leads to negativity and a lesser chance of success. Instead, it’s about focusing on setting an example. When managers become early adopters, a spirit of positivity and a focus on collaborative efforts frequently result. This is seen in all areas of business, but is especially important when innovation is a desired result.

Three Models of Collaboration in The Workplace

Outlined by CMS Wire’s Hutch Carpenter in “Three Types of Collaboration that Drive Innovation,” there are three forms collaboration can take that lead to successful collaborative efforts: Peas in a Pod, Partners in Crime and Challengers.

Peas in a pod collaboration refers to the natural human inclination to form groups that are based on similarities, relative proximity and prior relationships. When individuals are comfortable with those with whom they will be collaborating, innovation becomes a natural by-product. While efficient, these groups may become ineffective over time based upon a lack of diversity which can become problematic over time. This is frequently seen in companies that fail to encourage new innovation groups or to focus on new methods of collaboration. The process becomes stale.

New partners in crime collaboration groups are based upon taking individuals out of their comfort zones by placing them with new groups. These groups are generally formed with purpose — not by convenience — and allow collaboration around specific goals and ideas.

Meanwhile, challengers collaboration, as described by Carpenter, are groups formed with various opinions and backgrounds. These groups have challengers — or individuals who are likely to disagree with ideas. These challengers voice opinions openly, and, when done properly, can lead the group to fully think through innovative ideas, leading to processes without loopholes and intrinsic downfalls. Challenger collaboration is necessary for long-term success and excellence in collaboration. Regardless of the form your collaboration takes on, the following efforts are critical for innovative excellence.

Challenger collaboration is necessary for long-term success and excellence in collaboration.

Enable Relationships

Regardless of the format collaboration takes on in your workplace, relationships must be a top priority. Whether your team is more likely to see results from an organic or inorganic foundation, relationships are essential. Team members must feel connected to be comfortable to share ideas, voice options and challenge the status quo. This is a healthy part of collaboration.

As a manager or top executive, you can aid in the relationship building process. Ideas include:

  • Start regular meetings — bi-weekly, weekly, monthly — that allow each team member to have a voice. Ask questions and send an outline before each meeting that goes over expectations. Allow time for each individual, or department to share and discuss recent developments.
  • Remember the team building activities you did in school? Why not take them to the next level in your office or professional environment. Create quarterly events that take employees out of the office — think hikes, cocktail hours, museum tours, dinner cruises, plain dinners — the options are endless.
  • Solidify your on-boarding process by making proper introductions a priority. Introduce new employees and team members.
  • Make inter-team introductions when you see a lack of communication. Encourage meetings among various departments and make introductions based on innovative potential.

Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

It’s simple. Collaboration cannot happen without communication, and communication is not always easy to come by. In fact, in some situations it can seem nearly impossible. As a manager, you can work to overcome and eliminate the obstacles to communication by simplifying the process.

  • Start with yourself. Create an open-door policy that encourages employees to speak to you. This breaks down power barriers and makes you approachable. Follow through on the policy. Large companies like IBM — known for innovative advances — rely heavily on open-door policies.
  • Create a conference call channel or webinar account if you don’t already have one in place. Provide access codes to team leaders and encourage regular meetings. These can be filmed to inform those unable to make the calls.
  • Communicate your expectations. If an innovation team is formed but expectations are not clear, the results will not fall in line with what you’re looking for. Outline expectations for innovation groups.
  • Create an update schedule. Innovation teams should be tracking progress and keeping notes. Read them. Ask questions, follow through. By showing genuine interest, you’re demonstrating the importance of communicating progress and making it worth the effort of team members instead of just another requirement.

Place a Focus on Results

In innovation, you probably don’t know the end result at the start; if you did, the need for innovation wouldn’t exist. However, you probably have an idea of where you’d like to go or why you’re moving in a specific direction. Your innovation teams should be aware of this focus from the start.

By outlining expectations and desired results — actions you’d like to see, process you believe should be modified and other outcomes — your employees and team members are more aware of what is expected. Take the time to outline expectations and to encourage the setting of benchmarks within the framework of each innovation team. Clearly communicate the result you’re looking for. Focusing on results leads to the fulfillment of those results.

Harness Technological Advances And Resources

The power of technology cannot be understated when working toward collaborative excellence. This is especially critical for innovation teams that are located in multiple places, where remote collaboration is essential for success. For sales teams and research and development teams that depend upon travel and obscure working hours, finding a way to harness the power of collaboration can become a time-consuming, nearly impossible task. However, various programs and resources exist that can minimize and negate these frustrations.

Sometimes email isn’t enough. In these situations, tools that allow for face to face communication, regardless of location or country — like Skype or Zoom Meeting — allow for a perceived sense of in-person interaction, breaking down distance hurdles or barriers.

A private, company-based network — think, private social networking site — can allow for internal, branded communication, shared calendars, task lists, project segmentation and more. Platforms like Social HubSite and Ning were designed with team collaboration inside branded, private networks in mind.

Thinking mobile is critical. Because of the “on-the-go” nature of business and, therefore, collaboration and innovation, most of your team members probably are not utilizing desktops on a regular basis. Because of this, any resources adopted to increase the power of communication should be optimized for mobile devices to ensure access for all team members.

Innovation can and should take on many forms, but it all starts with focused, intentional collaborative efforts that start at the top and funnel down. Start at the beginning by considering the results you want your team to work toward. Clearly communicate those ideals, ensure the proper resources are available and take the steps outlined above to move forward. Innovative excellence based upon effective collaboration is not something to work for, it’s something to start right away. It starts now; it starts with you.

By Alicia Lawrence

About the Author

Alicia is a content coordinator for a tech company and blogs in her free time at MarCom Land.

Photo : Joint Effort – collaboration concept by