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Today's Economy Requires Collaboration for Growth

Brad Lomenick, Catalyst

Brad Lomenick, President of Catalyst and author of "The Catalyst Leader: 8 Essentials for Becoming a Change Maker," contributed this article to BusinessNewsDaily's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

Every leader of a startup shares at least one desire: to grow.

In order to grow, today's economy requires collaboration for trading equity and value. It is the norm, not the exception.

There are three positive effects of collaboration.

  • Collaboration creates innovation. By surrounding yourself with various perspectives, your team will be introduced to ideas and systems they might never encounter otherwise. This will often lead to fresh thinking and better solutions within your own company.
  • Collaboration reduces unnecessary risk. In a partnership, the success and credit are shared with others. But the risk is, too. There is a joint investment of time, resources and brainpower that reduces risk.
  • Collaboration amplifies success. A simple rule drives collaboration: more input leads to more output. When you convene more innovators and leaders, you'll gather more ideas and have more hands to have a larger pot to propel the project forward. As a result, partnerships often amplify success beyond what a single team might otherwise achieve, resulting in a win/win.

Collaboration could lead you to partner with competing organizations. This sounds risky, and it is, but it will allow you to take the energy you would have spent on protecting your turf and reinvest it into making your company the best it can be.

You don't have to blow out someone else's candle to make yours shine brighter.

If you desire to advance your level of leadership, one of the best things you can do is to build bridges between two kinds of organizations. The first should be an entity that is in the same life of work, but not a direct competitor. The second should be an entity with whom you have a profound philosophical difference. Set up a collaborative meeting between their team and yours. Share best practices and brainstorm together about projects on which your respective teams are working. When the meetings conclude, I bet your team will thank you and you will all be convinced the time was well spent.

One word of caution: collaboration requires clarity. Make sure expectations are explained and agreed upon on the front end. As a collaborative friend has reminded me, "Good contracts make good partnerships." Outline boundaries, responsibilities and what a win looks like. You may love the idea of a handshake agreement, but the hand that shakes can also slap. It's easier to outline expectations of collaboration at the outset than in the midst of a disagreement.

Generosity Wins in a Social World

Collaboration is built on generosity, which is a new currency in our culture. The most influential platforms today revolve around sharing and generosity.

For instance, the power of Twitter is generosity, sharing and providing value to others. According to Jack Dorsey, its founder, many of the revolutionary aspects of Twitter were invented by leaders outside the company from the larger Twitter user community such as the @ symbol, hashtag, retweet, trending topic and even the word "tweet" itself.

Dorsey believes in the power of a team and a community working together for something significant to happen. According to Dorsey, "Technology is a tool. And it's only great when it makes us more human. Being human means doing good things."

Those who have the greatest influence within social media channels are the ones willing to put others above themselves and collaborate well. Leaders today have tools and resources that make constant sharing and partnering readily available.

Collaborate on the Inside

Before you can build a culture of inter-organizational collaboration, you need to build a culture of intra-organizational collaboration. Organizations need to open up communication lines and learn to share information with each other across departments. Lew Platt, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, once said, "If HP knew what HP knows, we would be three times more productive." Often an organization's greatest limitation is its inability to connect its employees with other employees working within earshot of each other.

In years past, many American companies and nonprofits were organized in a strict hierarchy. As more employees were added, the organizational chart grew longer, not wider. But that trend is shifting as emerging leaders are looking to work with others, in addition to working for others.

Some leaders are scared of implementing a flat organizational structure because it would mean a loss of control. In fact, that is exactly what it would require. But such a corporate culture best focuses a team on organization-sized wins rather than on small personal gains. It promotes "us" and "we" over "you" and "me."

Additionally, when individuals achieve a win, the entire team celebrates. This creates an open-source environment, where individuals feel comfortable giving away ideas rather than protecting or hoarding them. An organization with closefisted employees who are always trying to climb a hierarchical ladder will never be as healthy as a collaborative one in which ideas are freely shared. This partnering mentality is catching on across industries. Many of the new-economy companies create environments where everyone is working in the same room. No corner offices, no plush closed-door environments, just open, collaborative workspace that encourages everyone to work together.

Do you want to grow, improve, and expand? Then seek to rid your organization of internal and external selfishness. Don't merely look out for your own interests, but rather find partners in whom your team can invest. You will encounter problems along the way, but the dividends you'll reap by nurturing a collaborative environment will far exceed any price you have to pay. We can do far more together than we can alone.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher.