Alan's corner: How to achieve innovative through collaboration
Now Reading
Alan’s corner: How to achieve innovation through collaboration

Alan’s corner: How to achieve innovation through collaboration

The question is no longer whether you are open or not to the idea of collaboration, because survival demands it

Gulf Business
Alan's corner: How to achieve innovation through collaboration

While working with a recent client on a culture and strategy development programme, I facilitated a series of workshops in each department where each group was made up of members of just that department.

To ensure that the meetings had a practical and commercial focus, we discussed real-life business challenges. In doing that we built plans for developing new markets, sales, customer service, etc.

A key element was missing, which was innovation. I didn’t get any sense that participants were thinking outside the box. They were trying to fix things within an existing mindset and business model. With some poking and prodding from me, they started to change.

In this fast changing world where barriers to entry for new players are coming down, new competitors can crop up quickly. They can disrupt an industry due to not having any legacy systems or other baggage. We know how Netflix, Uber, AirBnB and others have fared in a short few years.

Where is Nokia now after Apple’s colossal market growth in the last twenty years?

A key cultural trait that is essential therefore in all legacy businesses, is innovation. Don’t get confused thinking that this is only about technology and new product development. You can innovate how you recruit and retain good talent for example.

You can reimagine your inbound and outbound supply chain, your route to market and some of your internal processes.

Innovation is a concept that is all about trying new things and not being complacent or resisting change. The word originates in the Latin word ‘innovare’ meaning to introduce something new.

As part of the workshops mentioned at the start, we did some ‘root cause analysis’ of problem areas. I listened to people blaming colleagues from other departments, that were not in the room at that time.

So for phase two we changed the groups. We ran the workshops, this time with mixed groups from different departments. While there was some tension at first in those meetings, very quickly we moved to
problem resolution.

The atmosphere changed from one of conflict and negativity to one of collaboration and positivity.

The need for innovation through collaboration is more prevalent than ever. The complexity of problems in the world and indeed in organisations demands it. Globalisation now enables incredible access to education, information and the connection of talent and ideas.

Also, increased specialisation means that experts now have a depth of knowledge in increasingly specific and focused areas. The various startup hubs in the GCC are an example, with many startup niche businesses bouncing off one another daily.

We need to fi nd ways and means to connect that specialised knowledge. Picture a spider’s web with each strand going out from the centre as a specialist discipline. Picture too how much stronger and robust the web is – because of the strands that link across those verticals.

This is relevant for all of us, whether the collaboration is internal within our own organisation or if it’s external.

We love the notion of the lone genius, but very often ‘breakthroughs’ are the result of collaboration. People often describe a ‘eureka’ moment where the idea just came to them.

In actual fact, you will most likely find that they have been incubating the problem area for a while and probably discussed it with others.

Typical challenges
Real collaboration within organisations goes far beyond mere ‘cross-party talks’ and can be impeded by obstacles such as different profit centres, internal politics, defensiveness and competing agendas.

These obstacles are less likely when collaborating with outsiders. Instead, the challenges with external partners might be more about lack of trust, potentially differing worldviews and a time-intensive learning curve.

I have experienced real obstacles to collaboration in companies of all sizes. I have also seen it with entrepreneurs who believes they can do most things themselves. And that’s a pity.

Tips on how to create through collaboration
To start with, collaboration requires an opening of the mind to the possibility of working differently and progressing your innovation in potentially different ways. The real shift that is required is about mindset and evolving from a proprietary position to a collaborative one.

The question is no longer whether you are open or not to the idea of collaboration, because survival demands that.

The question now is, where in your organisation is collaboration appropriate for you?

To make collaboration work for you…
01. Have the right people in the room. Select the best people who have both the talent and openness to others. Exclude those that have no desire to collaborate.
02. Create the right conditions. Consider carefully the appropriate physical space and place for a specific group of experts to engage and build trust.
03. Engage a skilled facilitator to ensure the process is structured and focused on a result. The facilitator should ensure a good balance between the level of order and free-flowing of ideas.
04. Agree ground-rules such as active listening, to understand and not to find fault. Pay respect by writing down every idea.
05. Agree actions that are specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely (SMART).

To sum it up 
Small organisations have typically been more open to collaboration than larger ones. But the message for all of us is that there are many benefits to collaborating and shared innovation.

Collaborating externally with third parties, or by forming clusters or getting involved with open innovation networks can facilitate…

  • Development of new relationships
  • Shared tackling of problems and resolutions
  • Access to knowledge and insights
  • Avoidance of duplication of effort by collaborating on common, non-competing areas
  • Opportunities to form partnerships that can fast-track your innovation agenda

Alan O’Neill is managing director of Kara, change consultant and speaker

Also read: Alan’s Corner: Four cultures of leadership and how to adapt to them

You might also like


Scroll To Top