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3 ways CEOs can foster effective collaboration

Ensuring effective collaboration

Like the old saying that charity begins at home, effective collaboration within your organization begins at the top.

If your company's leadership team does not communicate, collaborate, and work towards a common goal, they will find it difficult, if not impossible, to work effectively with other internal and external stakeholders, including customers.

As we move towards a greater digital reality, traditional roles and responsibilities at startups and small businesses are changing. According to Gartner, CMOs will spend more money on IT services than CIOs in the coming years. Since CMOs have more direct relationships with customers than CIOs, it only makes sense that CMOs drive both the relationships and technologies that support the company's customers.

In the context of this new reality, CEOs and various department heads need to take a more holistic view of their organizational infrastructure starting with the abandonment of myopic departmental roles. Instead, leadership should encourage department heads to be influencers for a collective and cohesive company-wide strategy based on a clear line of sight that focuses on collective goals instead of individual roles.


The will to collaborate

Ask yourself this question: In the absence of traditional roles, is it possible for an entire business to rally around one set of goals and objectives or is that too many people trying to work in parallel?

Consider the I-35 bridge replacement project in Minnesota that Kate Vitasek, the driving force behind Vested, and others have talked extensively about. It was an incredibly complex project employing new methodologies under extremely challenging circumstances. Through an open-book framework for collaboration with honest communication and well-designed performance incentives for the contractors, diverse elements came together to bring the project to fruition on time and on budget. In fact, the project was completed three months early!

In the end, it wasn't a matter of whether the desired outcome was achievable, but whether stakeholders had the desire and will to get it done.

So, yes, your business can and should rally around one set of goals and objectives, and the will to collaborate is one of the keys to its success.

A plan to communicate

With the will to collaborate there must also be a plan to communicate.

The success of the I-35 bridge replacement project would be impossible without a definitive plan to foster open and honest communication between its stakeholders—internally and externally.

Open communication within a small business or large enterprise may seem like a given; however, according to a Queens University of Charlotte study, while the desire to communicate exists, 39% of employees surveyed worldwide indicated that their organizations did not collaborate enough. Since collaboration begins at the top, there are definite steps leaders can take to foster effective communication.

This article from The Young Entrepreneur Council—an invite-only organization composed of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs—provides several important steps CEOs can take to help departments communicate issues regularly and more clearly.

Among my favorites are:

  • Encouraging a culture of communication
  • Spending a day with another department
  • Leveraging technology to facilitate and better manage communication
  • Create a company wiki

In short, the desire to communicate without an actionable plan is an exercise in wishful thinking. By moving beyond the intent to communicate and putting it into practice, each partner can realize their benefit in achieving the collective goal while their skill sets are matched and managed more effectively through open communication.


Manage outcomes and benefits

A collaborative plan working towards a specific outcome or outcomes results in a shared benefit. However, this does not mean that the benefit is the same for all internal and external stakeholders. So you need to manage outcomes and benefits individually as well as collectively.

Recognizing these differences and being able to act on them in a productive and mutually beneficial way is at the heart of McMaster University’s (consistently ranked as one of the world’s top 100 higher education institutions) digital transformation. 

McMaster's AVP & CTO, Gayleen Gray, shares how she envisions their own digital transformation. It is, as she puts it, “a crucial part of our ability to realize both individually and collectively the full digital promise outlined in our IT Strategic Vision.”

In her article Driving Digital Transformation Is a Matter of People and Moments, Gray shares how the collective outcome delivers unique benefits to different stakeholders such as students and faculty, stating that “being able to capture and incorporate the unique needs and objectives of everyone into a single, coherent strategy is ultimately the key to digital realization and success.”

Gray concludes by stressing that “you do not gain these kinds of insights working in a vacuum, and that “you need to connect with people all over the institution and talk and learn and understand.”


Will, plan, and manage

I often reflect on the words of an associate who travels the world speaking to executives as the Sensei Leader: The solution or answer to most questions is simple, not easy. Simple in that you know you need to take action, but not easy because action requires the will to do something and a plan as to how you will do it. It also requires leaders like you to stay the course until you realize a desired outcome.

As a CEO, this journey begins with you.


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A two-time Ottawa finalist for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year award, Jon Hansen has written nearly 3,000 articles and papers, as well as 5 books on subjects as diverse as supply chain practice, public sector policy, emerging business trends, and social media.

Leadership, Communication, Collaboration

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