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Collaborative Insight July 2017 - ISSUE 42

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Discussion Corner:

Collaboration and Combating Bias

A couple of reports from Mckinsey recently prompted some thought about the challenge of introducing collaborative working. So when you ask any one does collaboration make sense the response is generally "of course" but frequently that's where its stops. People will pay lip service if it's the CEO's ideas but in reality it has limited effect on the day to day operations.

One company giving some back ground on their approach to introducing a more collaborative approach indicated that they eventually had to replace a significant number of middle management before the penny dropped. They are today one pf the benchmarks for harnessing collaboration. Similarly at a recent conference the perennial question was asked: "how much will I save if go the collaborative working route?". I have to say my answer was "I don't know because I have no idea ho2 much you are wasting or risking right now". A while back a high flying corporate lawyer argued for some two hours about the risks involved in collaborative alliances, but when challenged on the success rate for their traditional contracting models they admitted it was low. So what was the bigger risk - doing nothing or trying something new?

Bias is something that pervades all our lives in multiple ways but in terms of adopting collaborative working it seems to undermine many organisational initiatives. One can of cause understand the CFO view "what does it cost and what we get back?". Any investment needs a sanity check. The problem is perhaps however more ingrained within the structure and traditions of an organisation. Despite how rigorous our systems and meticulous our evaluation processes the results are frequently interpreted by inbuilt historical biases.

Changing the rules of the game is not easy when dealing with engrained perceptions and fear of failure. This becomes acute when you start to consider changing the nature of relationships with clients and suppliers. It is not uncommon for long past issues to influence how organisations engage differently today even though in some case the owners and people have changed over time.

There is equally an issue that traditional thinking clouds the evaluation of potential collaborative benefits justified by an assumption that it's 'soft and fluffy', which could not be further from the reality. Collaborative working can deliver significant value whether directly or indirectly but it should not mean throwing out commercial common sense and accountability. It is in the main just a better way of developing successful strategies and handling issues when they arise.

For CEOs who see strategic advantage in collaboration the challenge is not simply to authorise policies and systems changes but to focus in on ensuring that people understand the game plan, putting the right personnel on the bus with the right guidance and support. But, most importantly, combating historical bias through clearly defined objectives and reasoning.

Bias prompts caution in many cases and tradition is not a bad thing but as voiced by Einstein "the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome". It's all about balance.

David Hawkins.

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