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Effective Collaboration Requires More Than Just Communication


Mike DePrisco is Interim President & CEO and COO of Project Management Institute (PMI), a global association for project professionals.

From its inception, project management has always emphasized communication as an effective enabler to optimize project outcomes, and our own research has continued to confirm it to be an essential team skill. To ensure the product or solution being developed will meet the customer’s needs, it is critical that project leaders create space for stakeholders to provide input and shape strategies.

But establishing communication channels is only the first step in effective collaboration. The harder part is gathering, synthesizing and actually acting upon multiple perspectives and insights — and that’s where many companies fall short.

According to our organization’s recent report, “Narrowing the Talent Gap,” collaborative leadership (the kind that prizes diverse contributions across organizational boundaries) is one of the top five skills required of project managers today. And high-performing, “front-runner” companies, those that face the fewest hurdles attracting and retaining talent, were much likelier to say their project managers are strong in this capability when compared with average organizations.

Forward-leaning companies focus on outcomes rather than processes. They set collective priorities across the business and create robust feedback loops to gauge progress. As requirements change, they make quick course corrections, shifting resources around global networks. And they maximize opportunities for their people to learn, question and contribute. Together, through effective collaboration, employees can deliver impact far greater than the sum of their parts.

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Average-performing companies may aspire to collaborate this way but don’t. Instead, their employees lack visibility into cross-functional performance metrics and goals. They rely on manual processes and obsolete technology to share information. Their people react to problems rather than jointly anticipating issues and developing action plans. In short, these companies rely on ineffective ways of collaborating and don’t reap the full potential of their employees.

There’s no one-size-fits-all way to collaborate effectively, but organizations that do it well generally share these characteristics.

They have enterprise alignment. Good collaboration starts with a clearly articulated vision. All C-suite leaders agree on how work will be planned and executed, who will be responsible for doing what and the implications for stakeholders. Once priorities are set, business and function heads freely share information (often via digital tools) beyond traditional silos, so managers and teams across the organization operate on common assumptions. This, in turn, helps clarify accountabilities and make faster, better-informed decisions.

They put the customer first. If you are looking for a North Star to align collaboration efforts, make it the customer experience. Be customer-obsessed! Intimately understanding customer needs, wants and pain points is key to the success of any project. Here, virtual technology can simplify the process of gathering input. It’s now relatively easy, for instance, to convene an online focus group and ask customers to weigh in on your project.

• What potential benefits and drawbacks do they foresee?

• What insights can they offer based on their prior experiences?

• What do they wish you would do differently?

The findings of this discussion provide a roadmap not only for strengthening a project’s results but also for pinpointing where the organization needs to boost collaboration. Most importantly, customer feedback sessions that take place virtually can be easily recorded and shared with others within the organization, ensuring everyone is on the same page when it comes to meeting, and exceeding, client expectations.

They achieve true diversity and inclusion. The power of diversity lies in leveraging the unique backgrounds, perspectives and skills of each employee. The inclusion part is more difficult for companies to get right. To innovate and win in highly competitive markets, high-performing organizations strive to give every voice the space to be heard, creating forums for people to connect, share ideas and debate strategies and tactics. They also make it explicitly clear that employee feedback is always welcome and their viewpoints will be respected and considered. This type of collaboration is best achieved in small group settings where all participants have ample opportunities to speak up and express their opinions.

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Collaborating effectively across global enterprises is rarely smooth and easy. Cross-functional goals may conflict, operating procedures might differ throughout the business and individual leaders can have personal agendas. But the benefits of good collaboration are enormous, as is the risk you face when you ignore all that your people have to offer.


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