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Collaboration Is the Backbone of Alignment

November 19, 2020 7 min read

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

This is the fifth in an exclusive series of articles from Total Alignment authors Riaz Khadem and Linda Khadem titled “The Alignment Factor.” Check back in every Thursday for new installments.

Everyone has an opinion, and we all have our own agendas. But how do you get people with strong opinions and their own agendas to work together for the benefit of the organization? Think of the mode of operation prevalent in many work environments. Think of all the efforts people make to influence others to follow their lead and even manipulate others to achieve their goals. This is exactly the orientation and behavior that causes misalignment. Collaboration is essential; in fact, it is the backbone of alignment.

If we agree that collaboration is good, is it possible to systematize it? Our answer is: Yes! We believe that what prevents people from collaboration is the systemic bias towards individual advancement and the absence of relevant information necessary for collaboration. If people don’t collaborate, it could be unintentional, as their resolve to advance their own agendas leaves them little energy to think about what other people might need. Or the way the systems are set up in the organization doesn’t allow the right information to flow to the right people and support effective collaboration.

There are basically two types of collaboration that are needed in any organization: horizontal and vertical. Horizontal involves collaboration between peers. Vertical is collaboration between each individual and their direct reports. The systemic change that encourages collaboration requires assigning accountability for collaboration in both cases. Here’s how you can do this.

Related: ‘The Alignment Factor’: The Map That Will Help You Sustain Alignment

Collaboration Across Functions

Consider any key performance indicator (KPI) in your company and ask your team who should be held accountable for the performance of each one. In other words, who is the person who has the greatest direct impact on the improvement of this indicator? When we say the person with the greatest direct impact we mean the person who has the authority and scope to do something immediately. This person would be at the lowest appropriate level in the organization. Once they’ve been identified, the next questions are: Who has indispensable influence on the performance of this indicator? And who are the key people who can also influence the indicator and are indispensable to its success? Several people from different functions will be identified. For example, if the KPI is monetary sales, the person who drives this indicator and has the greatest impact on it is the salesperson, and those who have indispensable influence are the marketing manager, production manager and shipping manager. All these people should share accountability for the performance of the indicator, with one person functioning as the driver and the others as indispensable influencers.

In this way, you identify the team that cares for the indicator, and therefore must collaborate. If the indicator is performing at the outstanding level, the entire team is congratulated. Whereas when the performance is lackluster, the entire team is expected to come together and develop and implement a creative plan of action. During implementation, they should come together in a regular rhythm of reflection and learning and make adjustments to the action plan as necessary until the desired outcome is achieved.

The same questions can be posed for every KPI in your company, resulting in a driver for each KPI, along with a few indispensable influencers. By the time you have finished this exercise, you’ll have defined accountability for the driver of each indicator and influencer, and defined the teams of people who are required to collaborate.

We recommend that you invite the participation of individuals from different functions. Ensuing conversations have great value in themselves. They will clarify the roles among your people, and that clarity is key to initiating a culture of collaboration in the company that encourages horizontal alignment.

Collaboration Between Levels

For companies with multiple levels of management, collaboration between them will also be important. The greater the number of levels, the more you should pay attention to vertical alignment. The way you assign accountability for vertical alignment is similar to the way we have described above. Take each KPI and, assuming you have already identified the driver at the lowest appropriate level of your organization, identify its delta influencers, ie whomever has the delta influence of a manager that complements that of the driver.

Suppose you are the driver of monetary sales. You probably have the most direct impact on increasing sales. Your boss has a higher scope and can add his additional influence beyond what you can do. When he sits with you to discuss how your sales figures can go up, instead of just pushing you to sell more, he should consider what he can do that you cannot. Managers at each level generally have delta influence in three areas: the resources they have access to; the relationships they have access to; and a broader decision power. By utilizing his resources, relationships and decision authority, he can assist you to improve your KPI. This is the type of collaboration we are referring to. Depending on the number of levels you have, there could be two to five persons who can exert delta influence, and among them, one or two would have indispensable delta influence.

There is a need for collaboration at each level of management, both downwards and upwards. The vertical line goes in both directions. The managers with delta influence assist the driver of a KPI. This refers to collaboration downwards. Collaboration upwards is when the drivers of KPIs help their boss to improve his KPI. The assistance could include providing creative input into the boss’s action plans to improve their numbers. Such input is valuable, as it emanates from the experience of the driver, who is closer to the front lines of operations. Encouraging the two-way collaboration between these levels assures vertical alignment.

The Role of Information

Information is power. It should not be the privilege of only a few. Collaboration requires the free flow of information to all those who have the need to receive it. The driver and influencers of the KPI must have access to the same information at the same time. In most companies, advanced data systems are available, but sometimes access is just theoretical. It is important to ensure that the relevant data is sent in both push and pull modes. In other words, in addition to giving them access, assuming that they will look for the information they need, you should provide them with the relevant information as notification without requiring them to extract it from the data systems.

Related: ‘The Alignment Factor’: Focus for Success

Opportunity to Implement Change

The world is learning new ways of working. The need for cooperation and reciprocity is heightened. You have the opportunity to implement a new mode of action in your organization that will greatly aid in reaching higher levels of success. The new way involves systematizing collaboration. It involves embedding collaboration in the accountability of each person working in your company and making collaboration more attractive than winning a goal solo. Just as in sports, teams with only individually minded players cannot win the game. Encourage people in your company to collaborate, and work as a winning team.