Hidden opportunities for improving collaboration in 2015

People are inherently selfish. It’s the human condition.

As we start to realize our personal limitations, we recognize how crucial collaboration is for long-term success. This is especially important in business.

With the New Year already in motion, we turned to a few entrepreneurs and experts with the simple question: How do you encourage, enhance and streamline collaboration?

Bring competition closer

Cindy Ormond owns and operates a wedding entertainment business, Ormond Entertainment. Instead of running rivals out of town, she brings them in on projects she can’t support.

“We ask other area DJ services what dates they need help booking,” Ormond says. “Then, when an engaged couple contacts us regarding a date we’re already spoken for, we can give them ideas about who might be both a good fit and available to help them. In return, these companies do the same for us, which streamlines our efforts to fill certain dates.”

This sort of mutual exchange fosters cooperation more than it does competition, a winning scenario for all parties – vendors and clients – involved.

Know when to collaborate—and when not to collaborate

Collaboration reaps rewards only when it makes sense to pull in other resources. Co-founder of ilos videos Sean Higgins suggests, “Trying to collaborate for the sake of collaboration isn’t smart, it’s crazy. Certain activities require a collaborative approach while others are more modular.”

An aggressive approach towards collaboration can often stymie productivity. Conservative collaboration, on the other hand, allows teams to utilize resources most efficiently.

Recruit naysayers

No single person is always right. When selecting a team for a project, Higgins believes, “You want people with different vantage points. You don’t want a group of your closest peers nodding their heads as you go through the slide deck.” Businesses do not need a leader without opposition. Constructive critics play a crucial role in the development of high-quality deliverables.

He adds, “You need a little disruption to effectively collaborate. Look for people with different backgrounds because they’re the ones to get the conversation moving again.”

While not every meeting requires contention, participants should be free to suggest areas for improvement. Ideas developed in isolation are hardly ever perfect.

Understand each other’s capabilities

The best teams use members’ strengths to counterbalance weaknesses. While it may be commonly known that Susie is an expert copywriter, Jacob is a brilliant graphic designer and Michelle knows how to manage operations, each person may have hidden talents.

Scott C. Hammond, Ph.D., clinical professor of management at Utah State University, reminds us, “Good collaboration requires a full inventory of the expertise in the room.” To illustrate his point, Hammond shares an anecdote:

“Recently a team manager called an emergency meeting to discuss the impact of falling oil prices on a transportation company. She announced to the team that she was hiring a consultant to build some economic models. A younger and quiet team member raised his hand and said, ‘I did my Master’s thesis on the impact of oil prices on the trucking industry and I know how to use the modeling software. I can teach you all to use it.’ The leader had assumed ignorance when what she really had was a team which was underutilized.”

Sever dysfunctional ties

After businesses source, build and develop successful working relationships, teams are reluctant to let them go. But even the most profitable collaborations may be bad long-term decisions.

Selena Cuffe, CEO of Heritage Link Brands, knows when to call it quits. If a partner is not fundamentally “aligned with our morals [and] business philosophy,” Cuffe abandons the relationship. “No matter how hard it is or how much money we fleetingly fear we’re ‘leaving on the table,’ it’s worth it to run. When we ignored this tip in our early days, we ended up paying for it later, and it hurt much worse than if we had cut our losses early on.”

While it may make sense to salvage certain partnerships, businesses ought to be prepared to drop a client, vendor or employee. Supporting a dysfunctional relationship is taxing and can negatively impact your performance on other projects.

Post by Danny Wong

Danny Wong is an entrepreneur, marketer, and writer. He is the co-founder of Blank Label (an award winning menswear company focusing on luxury made-to-measure garments) and does marketing at Grapevine (a platform that drives eCommerce, helping retailers partner with YouTube celebrities). Tweet him @dannywong1190