How to improve collaboration between departments

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improve collaboration

By Doug Tedder on

What’s the difference between cooperation and collaboration? And why are some organizations so afraid of the latter? In his second guest blog, industry expert Doug Tedder answers all these questions and more. Find out how to improve collaboration between departments and which barriers to overcome.

Cooperation has long been a hallmark of successful organizations. But today’s digital world demands that organizations be innovative, relevant, responsive, work holistically, and solve problems quickly. Cooperation isn’t enough. What’s really needed is collaboration.

What’s the difference between cooperation and collaboration?

Departments within an organization cooperate when they agree to work together to achieve a goal or outcome. But there’s a catch. When departments cooperate, they’re typically saying “I’ll do my part and you do yours.”

Collaboration goes much deeper than just working together. Collaboration means sharing – not only goals and work, but also sharing the risk and reward.

But for some organizations, the thought of collaboration brings fear.

Why are departments afraid of collaboration?

Collaboration helps organizations make the most out of their resources. It enables them to use the right people, on the right tasks, to deliver the right outcomes – thereby improving efficiency, creating stronger work relationships, improving problem-solving capabilities, and driving innovation.

So why are some organizations afraid of collaboration?

This Harvard Business Review article provides some insight into why some organizations fear collaboration. With collaboration comes:

  • Loss of group identity: identity provides groups with a centre of gravity and meaning within an organization.
  • Loss of legitimacy: a group’s legitimacy develops when that group is perceived by others as fitting, acceptable, and valuable within the organization.
  • Loss of control: groups feel that they must be able to act autonomously to effect meaningful change.

Imagine how collaboration might prompt these fears. Perhaps the facilities department becomes concerned over a perceived loss of control over its work orders. Or the IT service desk may feel that it isn’t qualified to be an enterprise-level service desk.

The concerns listed above overlap in one important aspect: a sense of territorial ownership. Owning territory provides a way for groups to differentiate themselves, establish value, and have the decision rights needed to do their work.

Additionally, collaboration represents a significant departure from business as usual. Traditionally, organizations reward and compensate individuals based upon achievement of defined individual goals. But in many cases, this results in an unintended consequence – individuals and departments become focused on achieving individual goals at the expense of broader organizational goals. So rather than collaborate, departments and individuals tend to dig in.

Answer the WIIFMs

How can leaders help their organizations overcome this fear of collaboration?
Before answering the “why collaborate?” question, you have to answer the WIIFMs – “what’s in it for me?” – for both the departments and the individuals in question.

To help departments become collaborative, this Harvard Business Review article suggests that leaders:

  • Reinforce the group’s identity by publicly acknowledging the critical roles that a group has always played in areas fundamental to its identity.
  • Reaffirm the group’s legitimacy by publicly acknowledging the group’s importance and its differentiated value in the company.
  • Reassert control by identifying the major areas in which the group has autonomy and decision rights, by identifying the processes, decisions, and other topics the group has responsibility. Then consider the processes, decisions, and other topics that require shared or ambiguous control, and how these map into the department’s identified areas of responsibility. Where there are overlaps, one approach to address it is to find other areas in which the group’s control and autonomy can be increased (even if outside of the target initiative) in which you can increase the group’s control and autonomy.

From an Enterprise Service Management (ESM) perspective, remind the IT service desk how it excels at its core mission: resolving issues and helping its customers get their work done. Likewise, assure the facilities department that they’re the acknowledged experts in designing and establishing a physical work environment that enables productive work.

When it comes to people, you might have to tailor your approach depending on the individual in question. This recent Fast Company article lists a few ways to help individuals that struggle with being collaborative:

  • List the benefits: help individuals visualize the benefits of collaboration. Have individuals make a list of all the benefits that result from collaboration, such as mutually beneficial relationships and sharing resources. Then make a list of the benefits of remaining closed. Ask which list makes them feel more connected and empowered, and which list makes them feel limited and fearful.
  • Identify strengths and weaknesses: have individuals identify their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of their colleagues. This will help individuals recognize that doing everything themselves is not sustainable and identify areas for potential collaboration that would be mutually beneficial.
  • Don’t forget the mission: one of the biggest reasons why organizations slip back into competition is that they become disconnected from the organization’s mission and their deeper individual values. When an individual reconnects with their “why” – why they joined the company, for example – it becomes easier to focus on that greater purpose, rather than be distracted by smaller battles that are irrelevant.

What’s collaboration got to do with ESM?

Effective Enterprise Service Management both relies on and helps reinforce and drive collaboration. ESM helps organizations focus on the end-to-end delivery and support of value and outcomes of the organization. Done well, ESM underpins the “win-win” of good collaboration.

Not only does the organization reap the benefits of collaboration, but individuals and departments recognize how they contribute to that success by working effectively with others. Good ESM also paves the way for workflow automation, business process reliability and consistency, and end-to-end performance measurability.

Collaboration goes much deeper than just working together. Collaboration means sharing services – not only goals and work, but also sharing the risk and reward.

Embrace collaboration, not cooperation

Organizations often mistakenly concentrate on cooperation, not collaboration. They simply focus on tool adoption or only implementing service management practices within individual departments – settling for cooperation.

To avoid this, use these mapping approaches to identify collaboration needs and opportunities:

  • Customer journey maps: customer journey maps illustrate how individual customers experience your organization. They identify each interaction between the customer and the organization, showing which departments are involved at each stage – and demonstrating potential areas for collaboration.
  • Value stream maps: a value stream map depicts how information and work flow through an organization. Most value streams within an organization cross departmental boundaries, again illustrating the need for collaboration.
  • Employee journey maps: an employee journey map is like a customer journey map, but it looks at the experience with the organization from the perspective of the employee.

Any of these mapping approaches will provide valuable guidance and drive good collaboration.

5 things you must do to drive effective collaboration

So, if you want to drive effective collaboration across departments, where do you start? Take a look at these five tips:

  1. Be inclusive: effective collaboration depends upon involving each department that will be contributing to the initiative. Good collaboration is a team sport!
  2. Act with a sense of urgency: taking a focused, proactive approach drives engagement and results.
  3. Identify and implement quick wins: get off to a good start with a few quick wins using the outcomes from mapping exercises (described above) as guidance.
  4. Iterate: don’t try to do everything at once – instead, work in small increments.
  5. Celebrate every success: reinforce the benefits of collaboration by celebrating success.

Learn more about Enterprise Service Management?

Want to learn more about best practices for collaboration in the meantime? Download our ESM e-book and begin your organization’s journey towards successful ESM.

Doug Tedder

Principal Consultant at Tedder Consulting LLC