4 Key Steps to Gaining Collaborative Advantage

| By TMA World


Three macro-environmental trends are impacting and rapidly transforming all organisations today.  They can be neatly categorised as; internationalisation, integration and innovation.


In an increasingly interconnected world, all organisations seek to broaden their influence beyond their domestic markets.  This is not a choice.   To remain sustainable and competitive, many businesses are having to expand their operations physically or at the very least digitally into new territories.


Turbo charged by digitisation; the drive towards increasing scale and scope, sees many global businesses enforcing ‘radical simplification’*1; integrating structures, processes, systems and technologies to support greater resource flows and operating efficiencies across the world. This transition happens fastest in organisations committed to embracing a ‘one enterprise’ cultural ethos.


Creating and sustaining competitive advantage is now hugely dependent on innovation. In a more transparent and scientific world, failing to continually innovate faster than competitors risks a significant loss in market share, particularly in a world where consumers are better informed. When drawn from a more culturally diverse ideas pool, innovative potential has far greater potency.  

These trends are not going to go into reverse although as time moves on they will become more nuanced and sophisticated.

Facilitated by technology, collaboration, literally doing ‘more with more’*2 is the crucial ingredient underpinning all of these macro-environmental imperatives, and of the three, strategic innovation facilitated by more effective cross company working is central to competitive advantage.  Recent research by McKinsey suggests that ‘value creation from collaboration both potentially within and across enterprises remains largely untapped’*3.

So what’s new about collaboration?
There is nothing new about collaboration, it’s as old as the hills, however new social media and collaborative technologies have provided an astounding and rich rejuvenative impetus to collaborative working, on a scale never witnessed before.  Internal collaboration is being made easier, primarily through the rapid adoption new technologies, in the workplace. In fact across all industry sectors, new technology adoption rates are exceeding all previously known rates of adoption, unleashing a tsunami of change unmatched in the history of organisational development.

In a borderless workplace, collaborative relationships multiply and intensify.   An enterprise that sees itself as ‘borderless’ can now with an enhanced digital infrastructure locate, connect, facilitate, generate and utilise new sources of potential knowledge and value faster than ever before. 

Even in 2012, research conducted by IBM, indicated that financial out performers are 57% more likely to use more likely to use collaborative and social networking tools to enable geographically dispersed teams to work more effectively together*4.    And there is a growing body of evidence indicating that focusing on creating what I call ‘collaborative fluency’, the smooth flow of collaborative energy in an organisation, has a very positive bottom line impact.   

This is particularly true for organisations with a large percentage of knowledge workers, home workers or with geographically dispersed workforces. McKinsey, in their report on ‘Unlocking value and productivity through social technologies’, estimate that a 25% rise in productivity can be achieved among knowledge workers where, the harmonization technology, corporate culture and leadership capability are appropriately calibrated in a business*3.

Collaborative advantage; idealism or realism?
Unlocking the strategic potential of collaborative advantage requires substantial internal change in many organisations. Certainly without the right corporate culture, support systems (for example rewarding collaborative activity) and visionary leadership, collaborative potential will remain the preserve of idealists rather that realists.

Today many businesses already have the technology to enhance collaborative working in situ, however often the skills, mindsets and capabilities of managers to exploit its potential is lags behind.  In short organisations are changing faster than the capabilities of the people within them.  

Virtual leadership is at the vanguard of change
Leading in a virtual environment is fast becoming central rather than peripheral to the leadership development agenda.  Whether its leading internationalisation with a geographically dispersed workforce, or integrating operations for better internal value creation, or leading innovation with more diverse contributors; a key capability required in delivering collaborative advantage are leaders who role model the virtual leadership mindsets, habits and behaviours of collaborative working.  

Focus on the fundamentals
Effective virtual leadership and remote working is still an uncomfortable new phenomenon for many managers. As you prepare your business strategy for the coming twelve months, it might be helpful to reflect on these questions in light of the shifts towards greater collaborative working.

How can I engage and encourage the most influential people in my business to get ahead of the curve, and push for great value creation through collaboration across our organisation?

How do I ensure that our leaders really know how to motivate, performance manage and harness the collaborative potential of remote knowledge and home workers?

How can I develop sufficient numbers of people in my business capable of using new technologies as if they were ‘second nature’ to support collaborative flows?

How can I enhance and support the virtual leadership capabilities of key people across my business?  

How do I prepare individual employees to meet the challenges of increasing collaborative remote and virtual working?
Borderless collaboration; liberating organisational energy from the narrow confines of local geography and functional silos needs a more evolved level of leadership capability. 

Find out the practical skills you need to leverage collaboration for increased business performance here

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1 – The Globally Effective Enterprise – McKinsey Quarterly – April 2015
2   ‘Pattern Hunter – Collaborative Intelligence and Social Networks’ – May 2009
3   ‘The Social Economy; Unlocking Productivity and Value through Social Technologies’ – McKinsey Global Institute – A survey and report based on 4200 companies – Aug 2012
4   ‘Leading through connections’ – IBM Global Chief Executive Study – 2012

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