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Unleashing the power of your team: Proven collaboration best practices

Adm. William Lescher

By Adm. William Lescher

Over the course of benchmarking many strong commercial and public sector organizations, we were struck by how common it is to see firms and teams with a strong vision of how to effectively work together, often reflected in their vision statements, yet featuring systemic leadership behaviors that consistently inhibit effective collaboration.  This is particularly significant given that, for most organizations, the most consequential opportunities to pursue competitive advantage, and to remedy competitive weaknesses, are complex and cross functional – they cannot be effectively addressed in siloes.  Superb collaboration across stakeholders is a prerequisite to moving the needle at speed in the most meaningful outcomes any organization is tackling.

Key collaboration limiting behaviors and proven best practices include:

  • Providing recommendations to each other centered on input metrics (dollars, people, time needed) rather than on measurable outcomes.  
  • Providing recommended actions without first showing the ability to predict current performance 30, 90, 120 days into the future – a fundamental test of how well any team understands their processes and actual capabilities.
  • Seeking to impress each other with scope of activity rather than doing the upfront work to identify root cause or systemic constraints before adding new activity or requesting assistance.  Best practice: use proven problem-solving techniques such as 5-Why’s and the Coaching Kata 5 Questions to probe for root cause, and/or effective experimentation to test for impact with discipline, in order to identify the most consequential (high leverage) actions that drive the outcomes being sought.  Focus the team’s resources on high leverage actions.  For deliberate problem-solving, spend 70% of your time on this Define, Measure and Analyze work before you act to Improve and Control.  
  • Not being transparent with other stakeholders – emphasizing the green metrics in your work, addressing issues/constraints largely within your own team, and viewing success in engaging others as not receiving any taskers.  These behaviors are in stark contrast to the proven best practices of finding and embracing your red performance in communicating with each other to drive improvement, elevating barriers to seniors with specificity and accountability rather than struggling to solve internally when beyond your control, and being radically transparent in working with others to engender strong collaborative problem solving.
  • Working complex cross-functional challenges by committee, without clear accountability, versus the best practice of assigning a single leader to serve as the supported individual accountable for delivering a time-constrained measurable outcome, with supporting leaders accountable for providing their outcomes to the supported leader.  This approach is often best facilitated with a driver-tree deconstruction of process and responsibilities.  Supported/supporting accountability is brought alive with a cadence of Operating Reviews featuring transparent, purposeful, respectful, and often uncomfortable conversations on the Driver Tree execution and constraints, enabling the team to hold each other accountable in stride, while testing their self-talk about what is being achieved and delivered.

Encouragingly, for every organization looking to move to consistent practice of these effective leader behaviors, we have learned that by challenging, illuminating and correcting the old behavior every time it’s seen, and role modeling, celebrating and rewarding this effective collaborative behavior, meaningful performance improvement consistently results.

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