Collaboration; the secret sauce for business success

What makes a company productive? Is it the rigid rules and procedures established by its managers? Or plans dreamed up and set in stone early in the project? No, none of the above! Team collaboration done correctly is the primary enabler of productivity.

I know everybody talks about the virtues of collaboration and how wonderful it is for all businesses. Everybody talks the talk but few walk the walk.

But how do you make sure your organization is a collaborative workplace and your team collaborates effectively?

The dictionary defines collaboration as “the action of working with someone or a group of people to produce or create something”.

This definition is exact when the work is manual labor, but how collaboration is defined as knowledge work? Two people can carry a heavy object with each holding one corner.

In knowledge work, each person needs to work on separate items and integrate the output with work of others to create a totally new thing.

Collaboration in knowledge work

The collaboration in knowledge work is defined as when people or teams working on many separate pieces to create something much bigger than the sum of all its parts.

Imaging the creation of smartphones. There are multiple disciplines involved in planning, designing and manufacturing a device like that before bringing it to the market.

Each component of the device like processing unit, display assembly and software are worked by separate teams, but all brought together to create something amazing.

None of the teams mentioned above could have created the smartphone by itself. A manager can create a plan, write the specification and give assignments to each team to do their part. But that is not efficient.

To be effective in bringing a product like a smartphone to the market, the organization needs to be Agile. To be Agile the organization needs to be highly collaborative.

Collaboration starts with communication, be it verbal or written. But communication alone does not make the workforce collaborative.

It is the sharing of ideas and evaluating different options to tackle a problem is what I call true meaning of collaboration in knowledge work.

When diverse teams share ideas and brainstorm together to solve problems and create new products and services the organization becomes collaborative.

This sharing of ideas and collective problem solving is the essence of collaboration and the magic bullet in achieving productivity.

By working together, sharing ideas and solving problems as a collective supper brain, these teams achieve the impossible. They do more and achieve more than other organizations.

The one million Dollars question is this; as an entrepreneur how do you create an environment when people brainstorm together and solve problems faster than any individual in the group can achieve alone?

How to create a collaborative workplace

The answer is in the DNA of the organization and it comes straight from the DNA of founder(s). If the founder believes in working as a team and actually work that way, the organization will be built around the same DNA.

So as an entrepreneur who proudly has founded a new startup how do you instill collaboration in your new company’s culture?

Simple, you do it by example. Everything you do is done collaboratively with your team. You make collaboration a work habit and a necessity.

Your goal as collaborative enterprise should be to keep everyone in your team on the same page. No secrets, no hidden information or plans. A collaborative organization is totally transparent.

Keep short meeting where everybody has a chance to discuss issues they have in mind or comment on other people’s work. Keep the conversation open and democratic.

Don’t tolerate people who like to go alone and hide what they know from others. Make sure everybody knows collaboration is valued highly at all levels in the organization and is demanded by all.

Make sure everyone knows what you do expect of them and understand what they expect from you. Publish the milestones and product delivery dates so all know it and have access to it.

When decisions need to be made, work with your team to come up with the right answers. When there is a consensus the job is easy. When the team can’t reach one, you as the leader make the final decision.

One of the best management advice I have known comes from Amazon Corporation’s founder Jeff Bezos.

When the group is debating an issue and needs to make a decision, if they can reach consensus then all is good. If not the person responsible for the product asks other to disagree and commit!

The decision should be made by the group when they have enough facts to make an informed decision.

But it is equally important to make decisions fast. To that end, the group should make decisions when they have somewhere around 70% the information they would like to have.

Waiting longer is a waste of time. Agile teams can adjust as more information comes in. The 70% rule is proven to be highly effective in reducing time to market of products.

Does technology play any part in effective collaboration?  Yes, the technology enhances collaboration but not replaces it.

Meeting face to face and working in the same room is always preferable but often not practical.

More and more teams have remote workers. Having people working far apart should not hinder team collaboration.

That is where technology plays a big part. From voice and video communication to tools that enable everybody on the team to see the same project information seen by others, technology is a huge enabler.

Collaboration is highly valued at the most successful companies in the world. Companies Like Google and Amazon have collaboration in their DNA from the get-go.

Lack of communication and collaboration cost businesses billions of Dollars each year. As entrepreneur your job should be to make sure your team is as productive as it can be by using the right productivity tools.

These tools should make the work easier and make deadlines and required action by team members visible and seamless.

A simple example is generating project reports. Nobody should waste time on creating project reports when the application can do it automatically.

Without collaboration, your team will never be as productive as it could be. 

David Robins


David Robins is the founder and CEO of Binfire. David studied at both Cornell and MIT, and was the Director of Software Engineering at Polaroid for 11 years.


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