There’s an often-repeated story about a janitor working his shift at NASA who, when asked what he was doing, responded that he was "helping to put a man on the moon."

From its very inception, NASA has been a mission-driven agency, with missions that require and inspire dedication within every level of the organization. The organization’s mission and purpose have remained constant to this day, nearly 60 years later.

The Value of a Company Mission

A compelling mission inspires employees: Purpose-oriented employees are more likely to be leaders, are dynamic, curious and self-advocates, experience their work as making an impact and grow personally and professionally at work, according to research Imperative conducted in collaboration with New York University.

A clear mission helps boost company performance. In fact, a Deloitte survey found 91 percent of respondents who said their company had a strong sense of purpose also said their company had a history of strong financial performance.

The heart of any organization is its mission. It mobilizes its employees in a way that pursuing profits alone never will. What differentiates a mission-driven organization is its authentic commitment to higher-order goals — you could say it pairs purpose and profit.

Creating a Culture of Collaboration

Mission-driven organizations represent a growing phenomenon among businesses — and so too does the need for strategies and tools to support a culture of collaboration.

The increasing prevalence of disparate teams around the globe (thanks in large part to an increase in flexible work arrangements and telecommuting) creates a massive challenge when it comes to connecting employees to the organization’s central mission.

So how do mission-driven companies bring together geographically distributed teams to achieve their goals?

Executives seek to foster a culture of collaboration that nourishes employees and supports the mission. Building a culture that truly supports the mission means getting a lot of things right. And while technology is a huge enabler, it’s just one piece of the puzzle.

3 Steps to a Better Collaboration Strategy

Three steps can help create an organization’s collaboration strategy and unite employees to achieve a shared vision.

Build a culture of transparency and knowledge sharing

Before any tool or technology will improve collaboration, management must encourage the practice of knowledge sharing by setting a strong example. Unlike simpler models of cooperation, in which tasks and deadlines drive teamwork, real collaboration requires transparency and traceability.

Consider setting up a system to reward employees who transfer and share knowledge, or developing a process for identifying and training subject matter experts. Institutional memory and traceability are important, and participation is meaningful and should be celebrated.

Organizations benefit when employees freely contribute their knowledge and skills to others, with far-ranging benefits. Studies led by Indiana University’s Philip Podsakoff found that the frequency with which employees help one another can predict sales revenues, creativity, costs and more, depending on the industry involved. When employees help each other, they are able to solve problems and get work done more quickly.

Streamline processes to improve productivity

Many mission-driven organizations embrace a culture of continuous improvement, in which processes are routinely assessed for their relevance and effectiveness. Being able to refine processes helps organizations stay true to their missions and adapt as conditions change.

Whether it’s a new technology or team configuration, the goal of collaboration is not collaboration itself, but results. Discover employees’ pain points through surveys and open discussions and address issues through your organization’s collaboration strategy. Develop success metrics that allow you to measure how well a program is meeting its goals.

If it’s a matter of needing a central place to store and access important information, consider developing a system of record to ensure that documents, events and project milestones are easily accessible in one central location.

The Accredited Standards Committee X9, Inc. (ASC X9), which sets standards for the financial industry, is one organization that has done so successfully, streamlining a paperless company-wide audit. This ensures that everyone — including tenured and new employees — can easily access information, produce faster results and spend less time on administrative tasks.

Develop an infrastructure that nurtures collaboration

With people and process components in place, successful organizations can then establish an infrastructure that will support and drive collaboration.

This requires a mix of technology platforms, governance and security measures in order to equip employees with the tools necessary to effectively get their jobs done. The infrastructure also needs to support various solutions in which teams can adapt the workflow or process based on evolving needs.

While email and file-sharing services, for example, are critical tools for everyday work, recognize the inherent limitations with these tools, such as lack of visibility and traceability.

Team members are unaware when, or even if, team members see a newly shared comment, document or decision. Data can end up siloed among different systems, each of which has a different login and varying levels of security. In addition, without a record of participation to track contributions, it is much harder to drive and foster active engagement among team members.

When my company surveyed attendees at the annual American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), limits in existing systems was cited as a top business challenge. Recognizing that different teamwork models require different tool sets will provide a strong foundation for an infrastructure that supports collaboration.

Each and every day, mission-driven organizations rely on strong cultures of collaboration to change the world for the better.

Whether it’s NASA seeking life on other planets or ASC X9 helping secure credit and debit card transactions worldwide, it’s time for business leaders to pay close attention to what sets these forward-looking companies apart.

Title image by Beverly Nguyen