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Collaboration: Setting the right environment

January 12, 2016

Do you collaborate? Is your organization or business collaborative?

In surveys, most contracts, legal and procurement professionals say they prefer to be collaborative – but that their efforts are often frustrated by ‘the other side’. Clearly, since ‘the other side’ is included in the survey, something more fundamental is going wrong.

To what extent might that be because we have not created the environment for collaboration? Here are five fundamental factors that contribute to collaborative teams – whether internal or with major suppliers or customers.

  1. Do you communicate and reflect company expectations? Collaborative behavior should certainly be amongst them. But this is hard if roles and responsibilities are unclear or if team members do not understand what is expected of them. In the world of contracting, this is a frequent problem because there is often confusion over issues of ownership, leadership and authority. This can lead to confusing signals, avoidance and frustration.
  2. Are there clear team goals? Measurable goals are important for driving focus and gaining alignment across the team. Again, in the world of contracting, there are often conflicting goals or objectives and there is a tendency not to discuss those conflicts, not to seek reconciliation between them. This will lead to adversarial behavior.
  3. Is creativity encouraged? Teams that encourage and welcome new or different ideas are far more likely to collaborate than those which stick to rigid agendas and seek to limit innovation. Many negotiations and contract-related discussions become stuck on traditional battle lines around risk and its allocation. Often the participants lack authority and incentive to do anything differently.  This offers no room to collaborate or build trust.
  4. Does the working environment support cohesion? Teams are often virtual; they may be multi-cultural and operating across several time zones. Increasingly they depend on tools and software to ensure that everyone knows what is going on, to share ideas and ensure tasks are being performed. The world of contracts generally lacks such tools – often within an organization, frequently between organizations. This results in a lack of structure and poor information flows – and the consequence is a tendency for tasks to be missed or delayed and for a blame-culture to emerge.
  5. Have you structured for success? Individuals and organizations have strengths and weaknesses. Recognizing and planning for these is itself the framework for collaboration. It sets up an environment in which everyone is more likely to succeed and where there is a high probability of a successful outcome. Yet many contracts and negotiations pay little attention to who knows what, who has which resources, where skills or capabilities are strongest. This adds to the defensive nature of many teams and undermines the chances of success.

So reflecting on your experiences, might there be things that you could do to create a different environment and to stop blaming the other side?

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