Collaboration Yields Individual and Business Success

In recent years collaboration or the ability to work in teams is one of the skills that employers have listed among the top skills they need for their businesses. In a world where high-demand technical skills change as technology changes, the ability of employees to work together remains constant. Fostering collaboration among employees may be one of best things a company can do to create a positive business culture, develop employee satisfaction and strengthen its bottom line.

Collaboration is generally defined as a “soft skill” but there is hard data to show how important it is, says Heidi K. Gardner, distinguished fellow at Harvard Law School’s Center on the Legal Profession, lecturer on law and chair of the school’s Accelerated Leadership Program. Her research analyzes data that shows “when specialists collaborate across internal boundaries: companies earn higher margins, inspire greater customer loyalty, attract and retain the best talent, and gain a competitive edge.”

Collaboration offers individual employees the chance to work across departments with others who are experts in different areas. When employees step out of their isolated departments to work together, they have the opportunity to see things in a different way. Employees’ combined efforts can create solutions and profits, says Gardner. “Working across organizational silos to solve complex problems exposes people to surprising insights about how others facing a similar challenge can see such a different set of root causes and solutions. They can translate those new perspectives to help reframe problems within their own work; the enhanced creativity can save costs, increase efficiency, and generate much-needed adaptation.” Her data shows that when product development specialists teamed up across three different business units, customer revenue was 160 percent higher than the sum of individual sales the year before.
The benefits of collaboration go beyond percentages of sales increase. Many of the benefits are individual to employees, which in the long run can also contribute to company profit. “Don’t focus on the overall corporate value and benefit when communicating collaboration to employees. Employees care about how this will impact them on an individual basis. How will this make their jobs and lives easier?” says Forbes contributor Futurist Jacob Morgan. Collaboration develops a shared responsibility for work, project development and end result.

Shared responsibility connects co-workers to their jobs and each other. It can help develop a company culture where participation in setting goals, solving problems and seeking solutions is the norm. Shared work and responsibility increase employees’ sense of engagement in their work and with their co-workers. While this helps create personal satisfaction, it also is good for overall business. Researchers at the University of Alberta found that employees who were engaged in their work had a 60 percent drop in absenteeism. Businesses where employees were engaged saw a 75 percent reduction in turnover.

Businesses have the opportunity to develop collaboration among employees through their tuition assistance programs. Develop career paths for employees so they can reach their potential, and encourage them to share their knowledge in collaborative situations. This can be extremely valuable to both employees and business leaders as technology changes how work is done. “It’s important to remember that collaboration is perpetual,” says Jacob Morgan. “It’s a never ending evolution as new tools and strategies for the workplace continue to emerge. This means that it’s important for your organization to be able to adapt and evolve as things change. Keep a pulse on what’s going on in the industry and inside of your organization. This will allow you to innovate and anticipate.”

Of course collaboration comes more easily to some people than others, but it is a skill that can be learned. Through leadership, managers can show how shared knowledge and shared responsibility make jobs easier. Opportunities to work in collaborative situations, share new knowledge and skills, and take classes with cohorts as part of TAP are all ways that employees can practice these skills. Each of these opportunities develops a culture of collaboration that benefits all stakeholders.