Almost every CEO we interact with sees improved collaboration as increasingly vital to business success.

It doesn’t matter what sector they’re in; whether they’re fintech, media, financial services, manufacturing or professional services, it’s clear that collaboration among their leaders, teams and people opens the door to long-term success.

But how, in a world where collaboration is getting harder, can CEOs encourage and embed it in their organisations?

Before we jump into that, it’s important to look at why collaboration is important. What competitive advantage is on offer to those who get it right? From our experience of working with leaders across a range of industries, the key benefits we see time and time again are:

  • Innovation – combining diverse thinking to bring ideas to market more quickly
  • Talent sharing – allowing talent to flow across boundaries so the best people are in the most critical roles at the most vital times
  • The customer/client experience – teams working closely together enhances the way customers and clients are served

Right, on to how it can be achieved….

Tackling the challenge

At ENGAGE, we’ve carried out extensive research and worked with hundreds of organisations to improve collaboration. Although every organisation has its own unique challenges, there are five common principles that we see as key to building collaboration:

  1.     Build trust

Teams that trust each other are much more likely to perform together. Our research has demonstrated that teams which share high levels of trust can actually achieve performance levels over three times higher than those with lower trust levels.

If CEOs are serious about building trust in their organisation, they need to encourage their teams to spend time together, get to know each other on a deeper level, and work on specific shared goals together. And while many organisations see these practices as “extra-curricular” activities, the really high performing ones embed them into day-to-day ways of working.

The ENGAGE team recently studied the culture of a financial services firm, and found that many managers saw collaboration as a “weekend and after hours” activity. But this is exactly the kind of thinking that holds back collaborative potential.

By giving teams the time and space they need to build rapport and trust, the better they become at changing, delivering and performing.

  1.     Role model from the top

Managers and employees within functions, divisions or geographies are unlikely to act collaboratively unless they see leaders above them doing the same. So CEOs need to set the right tone and culture for senior leaders to pave the way for organisational collaboration.

We recently worked with a leading fintech organisation who have built collaboration into its values, as well as in the leadership and employee behaviours that underpin them. This has made it much easier to encourage collaboration from the top down.

By prioritising this in leaders’ 360s (which form a part of their bonus assessment at year-end), collaboration levels can skyrocket in your business.

  1.     Set the right objectives and incentives

Collaboration also needs to be reflected in your performance management system.

In many organisations, the way objectives get set (passed down from leaders to managers to team members) means that silos get solidified, not broken down. So more forward-thinking approaches are required to set objectives and measure performance at a team level.

The best approaches focus on this from a cross-functional point of view. If the set up of objectives and incentives emphasise the need to collaborate, people are much more likely to work together to achieve their goals. This holds true for a long-term food manufacturing client of ours, who has used this approach to fundamentally change how its business works. 

  1.     Encourage talent sharing

Leaders have typically wanted to hold on to their best talent; their high performers and high potentials. But CEOs who have cracked the collaboration conundrum have turned this on its head.

Lateral moves within organisations and active talent “sharing” between teams not only provides great career development opportunities, but also helps to build knowledge and trust between teams. But leaders have to be actively encouraged to take this approach, and to think about what is best for the business as a whole.

The more forward-thinking organisations ENGAGE works with are actively encouraging leaders to talk about talent in their teams more openly, and take time to assess where these lateral moves might be most beneficial. CEOs therefore need to be recognising the sharing of talent as a positive leadership behaviour to reinforce this.

  1.     Always focus on the customer

Approaching issues through the customer lens can be a great way to enhance collaboration.

We’re currently working with a small but rapidly growing fintech, and using this approach to encourage teams to solve customer issues. However, to achieve this, they have to work across multiple boundaries including Product, Technology and Marketing.

These teams have had to come together to look through the eyes of the customer to solve specific issues and enhance the customer experience.

The impact

Becoming a truly collaborative organisation takes change. And this change has to be intentional.

The fact is, positive change doesn’t happen of its own accord, nor does it come through hollow corporate values that are plastered onto office walls. Collaboration needs to be led from the top, role modelled by leaders, and built on trust. It also needs to be properly incentivised, and enhanced by talent mobility and a relentless focus on customer experience.

When you do achieve this level of collaboration, you can look forward to three research-backed effects:

1. You retain high-performing talent: for example, at the food manufacturer we mentioned, employees who felt a strong sense of collaboration while working towards common goals were 4.8x more likely to stay with the organisation.

2. CX improvement: while working with the rapidly growing fintech, client NPS scores improved by 20 points, as they perceived that different departments in the organisation were collaborating to provide a better service.

3. Top and bottom-line performance will follow: when partnering with a major national retailer, stores with high levels of colleague collaboration (between departments) were significantly more likely to have high levels of engagement. Meanwhile, stores with high engagement had significantly higher year-on-year sales, and were adding 15% to the top-line sales growth overall.

If you’d like to find out more about improving collaboration within your organisation, get in touch with the ENGAGE team.