Published in “Project Times” website, April 6, 2015
Collaboration has come into vogue. In my experience working with clients ranging in size from $4 million to multi-billion dollar enterprises across a multitude of industries, spanning building products to aerospace to consumer products, the more collaboration is valued, the better the company has performed over the long-term. Certainly, project results are directly tied to collaboration as the vast majority of projects are cross-functional and cross-company in nature.
Collaboration will drive bottom line business results. If you look at collaboration as a way to combine 1+1 = 99, you’ll achieve dramatic improvements and happier employees and supply chain partners.
For example, at PaperPak, we collaborated with customers and suppliers in order to design new materials and new products that achieved a “win-win-win” – better product performance for the customer, better cost structure for us, and an innovative new material for our supplier. It led to over a million dollars in savings.
There are a few strategies to ensure success with collaboration: 1) Avoid the project leader as a “know-it-all” 2) Seek out diversity. 3) Look for the “and”
- Avoid the project leader as a “know-it-all”: Since I work with a diversity of clients, it dictates significant project diversity. It’s interesting how much more successful the project results are for those projects where the leader believes in collaboration than those where the leader “thinks they know it all”. Even good, smart people fall into the trap of thinking they already know the answers, and devaluing input from those who might be in lower positions. A key to the dramatic results I help clients achieve is to listen for and find those people with good ideas who are being ignored. Fortunately, it is easy to find multiple opportunities of undervalued and overlooked goldmines.
For example, I remember one medium-sized manufacturing client who wanted to fire one of their only experts with knowledge on a few topic areas because he didn’t have an effective communication style. As important as communication is for leaders, it is also important that a leader recognize the strengths of their team and search for hidden value. Look for untapped value beyond how something is communicated. In this case, the employee had at least one million dollars of cost savings ideas and strategies that would support increased sales and customer satisfaction. This project leader would have been significantly less successful if he ignored this communication-challenged employee.
With another client, there was an undervalued employee with significant ideas on how to dramatically improve service levels. Improved service levels would directly contribute to bottom line results and an enhanced collaborative environment with key customers. Even if you think you know the answer, do not voice it. Instead, ask your team members for ideas. Collaborate with customers, suppliers and other supply chain partners. Results will follow.
- Seek out diversity: Look for people with different strengths for your project team. It might be more natural to look for people more similar to you and who you prefer to spend time with; however, if you find people who can add value in areas where you are weak and vice-versa, you’ll deliver substantial results. The bottom line is to get out of your comfort zone and seek diverse ideas. Given them a chance. You’ll be pleased with the results.
For example, in a middle-market, value-add distributor client, we developed a cross-functional team with participants from all sites. There were several different personalities with conflicting goals who saw different solutions for reducing inventory levels. However, by getting the diverse group together and providing common expectations of collaborating as a team, we found ideas that resulted in a 30% reduction in inventory, freeing up millions of dollars of cash flow.
- Look for the “and”: One of the best ways to create a collaborative environment is to provide typically “either” “or” situations and ask the project team to look for a way to achieve both. I find that stretch goals spur out of the box thinking and interactive discussion.
For example, on several client projects, I’ve helped my clients find ways to reduce inventory levels by millions of dollars while improving service. Typically, this can be thought of as an either-or equation: if you have inventory to cover potential sales, you will likely increase service levels; however, we created an “and” by freeing up cash and improving our service levels by having the “right” inventory in place at the “right” time.
Collaboration is no longer a fluffy concept; it will drive accelerated cash flow, improved margins, increased business value and sales growth.