The Goal of Collaboration is Not Necessarily Collaboration

Slalom Consultant Carl Manello

Carl Manello is a Solution Lead for Program & Project Management based in Chicago who enjoys exploring how to tightly couple the art and science of project delivery with business operations.

Co-written with Jack Walser

“The purpose in life is to collaborate for a common cause; the problem is nobody seems to know what it is.”
–Gerhard Gschwandtner, international sales and marketing guru and CEO of Personal Selling, Inc.

Recently, Professor Morten Hansen of UC Berkley gave a fantastic snapshot of corporate collaboration in a Harvard Business Review IdeaCast in which he stated that it is very hard for an organization to succeed in the business world today–with its highly fluid, informal, and often non-traditional relationships–without collaborative leadership. In Slalom’s experience, we have found this to be very true, especially as it relates to the pharmaceutical industry and Pharma 3.0.

Pharma 3.0 represents a sea change to the industry with:

  • New market dynamics in healthcare reform;
  • Near-constant growth in health information technology;
  • The presence of emerging markets and their ability to produce generic drugs when patent protection expires; and
  • A more educated and choosy patient base.

All these changes threaten the competitive advantages of today’s Pharma companies. In the past, Pharmas focused on innovating and optimizing the manufacturing of blockbuster drugs. Now, however, the patent protection of said blockbusters is gradually expiring and new, emerging markets are introducing generic alternatives, eroding both the revenue and return on investment. The focus is now shifting more towards the patient, and Pharmas are managing neither for revenue nor return, but for the healthy outcome of a more educated patient base. To succeed in getting the patient base what it needs to make the right decisions, Pharma companies have to collaborate not only internally but with their competitors as well. For this well established and regulated industry, these changes pose real trials. Working across silos within a single company is often a test; Pharma 3.0 has presented a more complex challenge addressing the full supply chain and the competition.

Where is the Struggle?
In one case, Slalom is supporting a global Top 20 pharmaceutical company that recently made collaboration a key strategic priority. While everyone at the company appears to agree that collaboration is extremely important for success, they also realize that it is very difficult to implement. The question on everyone’s mind is this: Why is something as apparently straightforward as collaboration such a challenge?

Slalom Consulting - Jack Walser

Jack Walser is a management consultant and continuous improvement expert in Slalom’s Chicago office focusing on Lean Six Sigma and Agile Project Management initiatives. Walser is a certified Six Sigma Black belt and father of four.

It is a challenge because collaboration is one of those things that is hard to do well and very hard to do without creating waste. We find that teams may get together in the spirit of collaboration, but may find themselves awash in endless meetings that yield multiple opinions and result in zero decisions. They may begin to collaborate, but instead over-collaborate, or create too many meetings in the name of cooperation.  A meeting with no decision is a meeting that yields no execution, and no execution usually means poor performance. This is certainly not the desired outcome!

Culture Change
In practice, we have found that collaboration requires an organization to take a step back and reflect on its culture. Consider the following two coaching points that can help make the organization become more results-driven and focused on execution:

  1. Develop a leadership style that includes both engaging others and implementing good collaborative processes. All meetings should facilitate good, constructive debate in order to drive a decision. The key point here is that meetings should be engaging and collaborative, but must end in decisions. Otherwise, these same meetings may inadvertently become an impediment to execution. Leaders must work to ensure broad participation, but at the same time they must ensure that accountability is not lost and decisions are made.
  2. If necessary, organizations need to force a culture shift! If an organization does not have a culture where teams can argue/debate constructively in an environment of transparency and accountability, it should work to foster this atmosphere. Building this culture requires leaders to model collaboration at the top. Collaborative behaviors cannot be put in place by executive dictum. They must be demonstrated. And, if an open, collaborative environment cannot be fostered, the organization runs the risk of having teams that are not teams at all. They become just groups of people who get together to meet.

These culture changes are not easy. However, one can begin to foster a collaborative culture by starting small. First, work with your team to identify goals that are common to all stakeholder groups within your organization or team. Next, engage your team to recognize that the goal of collaboration is not necessarily collaboration itself, but the achievement of positive results that meet shared goals by working together. Achieving positive results will be encouraged by engaging diverse opinions, but will be realized through decision making and shared accountability. Follow the wisdom of Cyrus the Great and strive for “diversity in counsel, and unity in command.”

While you and your team may not become gurus of collaboration with followers around the world like Mr. Gschwandtner or Prof. Hansen, you can help to make a dramatic change for your organization. If implemented correctly, a collaborative culture will help to drive change and achieve positive results. For our Pharma clients specifically, if they can do the right things right now, “Pharma 4.0” won’t be an issue.

Slalom Consulting’s Chicago office
Learn more about our Chicago office Learn more about Slalom Consulting Collaboration

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About Carl M. Manello
I am Slalom Consulting's Practice Lead for Delivery Effectiveness. I work to support organizations' capability and delivery maturity -- not just IT organizations -- so that their initiatives run more predictably, efficiently and provide the best results.

One Response to The Goal of Collaboration is Not Necessarily Collaboration

  1. Phil Pickman says:

    The two Coaching Points are very good for any type & size of organization.

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