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Anyone who has run a collaborative exercise in a business will know there is a very fine line between collaboration and chaos. Often collaboration is treated as a tedious task, rather than a strategic advantage. And more than often, the suggestions and ideas that come out of these exercises are placed in the filing cabinet, never to see the light of day again.

I believe that an organisation’s people are one of their biggest assets. A business that undermines the leverage that comes from embracing the diverse opinions in their teams is forgoing the payoff of working with the strengths and unique insights of it’s key leaders.

But how do you make sure that you get the most out of the collaboration process, without descending into the depths (and expense) of chaos? Important considerations for successful collaboration include diversity, direction, and transparency in communication.

The first step of productive collaboration is to make sure that the team actually represents the diverse areas of your organisation. If your business is committed to collaboration, then you cannot pick only the people you like to participate. I have seen the best outcomes come from workshop groups that have representation from all departments, seniority, academic and technical backgrounds, and general scope of reference within the business. This diversity ensures that each department feels heard and can contribute to the direction of the business. From this group, you can be guaranteed to get a full ‘bird’s-eye view’ of your business’ landscape.

The second element is to make sure that the group has a specific problem to solve. I have seen many groups waste a lot of time off-topic, and out of step with the organisation. It is also critical to ensure that each member of the group has knowledge of the overall business context and strategy. When parameters are clear, I believe that creativity can flourish in a meaningful way.

The final point I would like to make on chaotic collaboration is that you really do need to manage peoples’ expectations surrounding the process, in relation to the timing of change, outcomes and also who the final decision maker will be. If teams do not understand the likely outcome of the exercise, and that the team itself is only providing suggestions for consideration is not, in fact, the final decision-maker, then you run the risk of creating resentment amongst your employees.

Collaboration is an essential element of an effective leader’s arsenal, however certain rules do need to be adhered to in the process and implementation of the exercise to avoid the pitfalls of chaos. Communication, as ever, is key, as is timely follow through.

If managed appropriately the organisation, and leader, will gain insight into their people, engage their team and discover possible areas of competitive advantage that had never been considered in your strategy before. With that as a possible outcome – why wouldn’t you want to collaborate with your team?

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