Greater complexity demands more collaboration equals more value.

As the world becomes more complex, there is an increasing need to specialize in order to develop expertise. The more you specialize the more you must then collaborate in order to solve complex problems. However, the value such collaboration delivers is often hidden in traditional measurement models.

For years, scientists have become more and more specialized in their areas of study and research. But if they are to achieve anything of worth they must collaborate with their colleagues. In 1978, the average number of authors per academic article was less than two. By 2010, it was almost five. You can’t solve complex problems on your own.

Most organizations are organized and measured based on departments, countries, divisions, units, channels. In larger organizations you can have website teams that hardly interact with social media teams. In fact, they often see each other as competitors for budget and prestige.

The team that works on supporting web content often doesn’t talk much with the people who create the marketing web content. Even within support you can find teams responsible for documentation, communities, etc. And then you’ve got the IT team often managing the technology with very little interaction with the other teams that need to use it.

Why does this happen? Because it is functionally easier to manage and measure. Work that occurs within a clearly defined unit of a business has boundaries, budgets and staff. It’s relatively easy to track who is doing what. They say if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it. But many organizations find things that are easy to measure and only manage those.

Collaboration is hard. It’s messy. And it seems to be time consuming. Some believe that you get much more done when you don’t collaborate. But what is it you get done? One manager told me that he didn’t have time to collaborate. My reply was: “So, you don’t have time to do it right, but you do have time to do it wrong?”

Learning Opportunities

Collaboration leads to greater value and higher profit, according to Heidi K. Gardner in an excellent piece of research on professional services firms entitled "When Senior Managers Won’t Collaborate." When the specialists within these firms collaborated with each other, “their firms earn higher margins, inspire greater client loyalty, and gain a competitive edge,” Gardner states. “But for the professionals involved, the financial benefits of collaboration accrue slowly, and other advantages are hard to quantify.”

The Norwegian Cancer Society used to have 45 people contributing to their website who hardly ever interacted with each other, resulting in content duplication and 5,000 pages. Now they have six professionals who work very closely together. They have 1,000 pages and all of their key metrics of success are surging ahead. Less people, more collaboration, greater value.

“For a firm, the financial benefits of multidisciplinary collaboration are unambiguous. Simply put, the more disciplines that are involved in a client engagement, the greater the annual average revenue the client generates,” Gardner states.

The fit collaborate. The clever collaborate. The ambitious collaborate. The silo is the dinosaur. Yes, collaboration is more complex, messy and seems time consuming, but the more complex the world becomes the more the successful will collaborate.