When should your business bring in a collaboration specialist?

It’s lazy of us to only deal with a known challenge after its knocked on our door. If we know the challenge is coming, why not be proactive, and prepare for it?

For example, if you run a small business, you know that as you grow your business, and/or face big change or opportunity, getting your team on the same page is crucial. Sometimes, though, getting everyone on the same page and moving forward, together, may appear more trouble than its worth. Don’t despair. Admitting my bias, a specialist in collaboration can help you take a proactive approach to the people and teamwork challenges ahead.  

Collaboration: hit or miss?

For leaders of many smaller organizations, getting everyone to work from the same song sheet can be a hit-and-miss proposition. New and/or promoted employees may not have the collaborative habit. A leader may be focused on near-term profit and results, at the expense of the long-term relationships vital to adaptation and sustainability. Organizational structures and practices that nurture collaborative teamwork may be inadequate or missing.

In the short-term, a few misses on the collaboration front might not appreciably slow progress down. Yet, people concerns, left unattended, can fester away, and may eventually surface, in ways that are harder to manage.

Bringing in a collaboration professional can take some of the pressure off you. Though identifying the right time to do that can be difficult, here are a three common indicators to watch for:

1. Your organization is growing  

Growing your organization can be exciting – and when things are going well, it’s easy to get caught up in the pace, and focus only on the moment at hand.

As you grow, there are more balls to balance, more people to deal with, and more problems to solve. Your world becomes more complex. Ideally, everyone will work from a shared vision, and values. There’s no guarantee. Though we are born social creatures, collaboration is a learned skill.

A collaboration expert can help your people develop interpersonal competencies (including: communication, conflict management), implement collaborative practices and structures, and mediate team dysfunction and/or silos. As your peoples’ skills grow, and teamwork improves, so too will your product or service delivery.

2. You are faced with significant change

It’s no secret that change management can be tough and time-consuming for leaders. By nature, people are quick to resist change. When organizations are experiencing upheaval, either from within or from external sources, normal routines can get disrupted, people can feel triggered and stressed, and unable to cope with the situation-at-hand.

If you are finding it difficult to maintain consistent, positive communications with your employees, spending too little time on workplace relationships, or avoiding difficult conversations, it might be time to bring in a collaboration specialist – to help mitigate the complexities of change, coach individuals and teams in constructive behaviours, and (as a neutral 3rd party) facilitate group conversations, ensuring safety and openness.

3. You are initiating a multi-stakeholder project 

Many of the problems you face may be systemic. It takes a system to change a system. Systemic solutions require collaborating with others, different people, different organizations, different stakeholders. Multi-stakeholder, or further multi-sector, collaboration is hard work. There is no one-stop road map on how to make it happen. It does, however, require many conversations on important topics, due attention to the quality of relationships, and supportive collaborative process and structures.

A collaboration expert, acting in a consulting capacity, can facilitate and organize conversations, help you and your partners assess the opportunities (and converge on the best), and co-create that innovation road map; formalizing shared expectations and plan, in the appropriate agreement format.

Take five

Take five minutes to reflect right now – name your biggest collaboration challenge and take an honest look at the time and energy it takes to manage it.

If some of your time would be better spent elsewhere, it might be time to retain a collaboration professional.

I’ve got a diverse of collaboration strategies, techniques, and tools, and am here to support you!

[Ben Ziegler is a collaboration and conflict management specialist serving SMEs, nonprofits, and local governments. Contact Ben.]

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