The Importance of Collaboration – Breaking “Tower Vision”

Author: Sean Fletcher 

Elected Members From The Avon Region


Have you ever asked yourself “what things can I do to assist my team work together better?” In answer to this question, today’s post is all about how to use the third element of the Engagement Diamond: Promoting Collaboration. In particular, we look at what collaboration is, why it’s important and how you can use it as a key strategy to engage employees. 

The Third Facet – Promoting Collaboration

As stated above, promoting collaboration is a key consideration regarding the development of engaged employees. So, that being said, what is collaboration?

AIIMS explains collaboration as the working practice whereby individuals work together to a common purpose to achieve business benefit. Collaboration enables individuals to work together to achieve a defined and common business purpose. It exists in two forms:

Synchronous – where everyone interacts in real time, as in online meetings, through instant messaging, or via Skype, and

Asynchronous – where the interaction can be time-shifted, as when uploading documents or annotations to shared workspaces, or making contributions to a wiki.

In summary, the concepts, context and tools with examples regarding how to go about promoting collaboration in your  organisation are shown in the following graphic: 

 The Concept – The Main Themes

Employees need to be encouraged to work together and not against each other – to be a team. This is whether as a project team established for a specific purpose, or those grouped together in permanent arrangements to undertake the more routine elements of the organisation, or those key leaders from each part of the organisation when brought together can discover ways to turn what you do on its head.

The Context – The Problem With Silos
Silos are still very much in existence (Cartwright, 2015; Govindarajarn, 2011Montadon, 2015). Neil Smith in his 2012 article To Build Your Business, Smash You Silos describes the problem with silos is that they create “tower vision.” Managers tend to look up and down only within their own silos—never looking around or across—so all they see, and tend to think about, is their own silo. They don’t know what is happening elsewhere in the organization or how their actions impact other areas. They act primarily in the interest of their own silo.

Smith goes on to comment from a company point of view, silos need to work together. But too often that doesn’t happen. Problems arise when departments do not share the same priorities, knowledge, or information, and when managers work in an independent, entrepreneurial manner—in short, when people are operating with tower vision.

To identify, and then develop strategies to mitigate the effects of silos, Smith poses five questions:

  1. What priorities do you or your department have that are not aligned with another’s?
  2. Put yourself in the place of the other silo—what would make that silo realize that your need was a priority?
  3. What information do you or your department have that could be useful to others?
  4. What information or assistance do you need from another silo that you are not getting?
  5. In what areas would increased collaboration and giving up some autonomy be more beneficial for the company than maintaining your individuality?

In my experience, the advantage of teams is clear and simple. Teams work. More can be done together using the same resources than behaving as individuals. Of course, the proviso is this: teams need to develop, grow and perform (A topic for another time!).

Sure, not everyone wants to be a team player. That’s okay. But, they will need to consider their options.

The Tools – How To Make It Easier To Collaborate

The tools regarding how to promote collaboration are endless. They range from the simple and cost effective actions e.g. having an open door policy, promoting conversations between colleagues, and walk the talk through to serious resource investments including collocation strategies (key employees put together in the same workspace) or using key technology to mimic the same.

Open Door Policy (Yes, I am Acessible!)

My door is always open. Well, yes it is 95% of the time. Staff can come and go as the situation dictates wether to seek advice, request an approval or pitch proposals. However, sometimes an appointment is required!

Promoting Conversations 

Jasinski (2006) comments that in many workplaces the focus is on ‘doing’, often to the exclusion of spaces for conversation and creativity. A new balance is needed in the workplace, one that supports not only the ‘doing’, but also the creativity and innovation that often comes through conversation. In otherwords, you should encourage staff to talk to each other through creating an open environment.

Walk the Talk or Talk the Walk

Taylor (2014) explains that one of the most generally accepted truths in business is that the best leaders understand the need to “walk the talk” — that is, their behavior and day-to-day actions have to match the aspirations they have for their colleagues and organization. But Taylor has found that  the more time he spends with game-changing innovators and high-performing companies, the more he appreciates the need for leaders to “talk the walk” — that is, to be able to explain, in language that is unique to their field and compelling to their colleagues and customers, why what they do matters and how they expect to win. 

The simplist way to walk the talk as the leader: attend the various staff or project meetings from time to time. And the simplist way to talk the walk: take the opportunity at those meetings to reinforce what the organisation is all about.

Invest in Technology!

In today’s world it is important to give your staff the tools to enable more immediate collaboration. This includes investing in the right type of technology for your organisation. Interestingly enough, IDEO a design firm does not rely on collaborative software tools or other technologies other than email and video conferencing (Amabile, Fisher & Pillemer, 2014).

  • Meetings On-Line and Webinars – As already mentioned previously regarding staff meetings, webinars clearly contribute to the collaborative process. Mikogo (2014) whitepaper on how to run successful meetings on-line considers the advantages of a well executed on-line meeting include increased productivity, sales closed more efficiently and significant savings in travel expenses. Key tips for running a successful meeting include: doing a test run of the meeting, ensuring the invite includes the agenda, holding it in a quiet place, greeting and introducing participants, opening up the virtual floor for questions and discussion at the end, and transferring meeting files to the participants at the conclusion.
  • Meeting Managers – An emerging trend is the creation of apps and on-line software to support executive and board (and council) meetings. This includes applications that allow the management of meeting times, distribution of agenda papers, governance and compliance matters and even voting. Examples are Meeting Booster, Strategic Meetings Management (SMM), and NovusAgenda to name a few.
  • Social Media and Apps – The different social media platforms (Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr etc) are not just communication tools. They engage the user. Along with apps such as Evernote, Dropbox and One Drive they can serve as the basis of interactive collaboration across the globe! The key is to have a framework (or policy) in place that allows such open feedback to occur. This revolves around an appropriate etiquette i.e. the type of comments that are, or are not, acceptable.
  • Emails, Blogging and Internet Spaces – These electronic tools have been with us for a while now. In many respects social media and mobile apps are superseding these tools. However, they are reinventing themselves and a dedicated internet page, blog and the like (e.g. Wikis) is a great way to make information available as well as seek comment. 
  • The Intranet – Like the internet, the intranet is an organisation’s internal webpage that can provide information, advice and the opportunity for feedback.

Case Study – IDEO And The Culture of Collaborative Help

IDEO, a design firm in the United States has developed a culture of helping. Amabile, Fisher and Pillemer (2014), surveyed and mapped the staff at one office revealing a dense network of mutual assistance. This led them to conclude that if you want employees to keep finding ways to improve what they do, serve your customers better, more effectively execute your strategy, then you need them to be engaging in collaborative help. In particular, they found that helpfulness must be nurtured, not forced. Discretionary behaviour must be inspired! 

Amabile, Fisher and Pillemer also outlined key steps towards implementing this change:

  1. Start by being very clear that helpfulness produces better outcomes than internal competition.
  2. Use your influence as an organisational leader to establish expectations.
  3. Work hard to foster high levels of trust across the organisation.
  4. Create opportunities and spaces across disciplines and functions to interact informally and frequently.
  5. Use meetings and training sessions to encourage staff to seek help from others.
  6. Establish regular practices such as internal reviews.
  7. Finally don’t overload people to the point where even if they are willing to help, they simply do not have the time to do so.

Till Next Time…

In my next post on engagement, we will explore the last part of the Engagement Diamond: Support and Development. As we will discover, it’s not about performance management but what true support and development means.

In the meantime, if you have any comments you would like to share regarding staff engagement, please comment below 📥


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