Collaboration: An Essential Element of a Winning Formula

Leading companies like Pixar, Google and Zappos are known for their employee engagement and collaborative work settings. The management team at Pixar, for example, placed such an emphasis on collaboration that it even designed its headquarters to foster cross-departmental interaction in hopes of inspiring staff-member collaboration.

Further, Tony Hseih announced at Zappos’ most recent annual employee symposium that he was instituting a “Holacracy” (self-governing, team-based work structures) that would flatten the organization and weave collaboration into the way the firm conducts all of its business. If the success enjoyed by these companies is any indication, there is something to be gained by all of us in the institutionalization of collaborative behaviors.

As senior leaders, we can expect great things from our organizations when we focus on and emphasize collaboration, including:

  • An Enhanced Workplace Profile: A collaborative work environment is very attractive to potential new hires. Your staff will create a buzz in the marketplace when they feel involved and appreciated, which will position the organization to never want for qualified candidates to satisfy its employment needs.

  • Better Operational Decision-Making: Stronger collaboration generates better solutions for the enterprise. Staff members will go above and beyond when working in a business they believe in. And, new and diverse solutions are more readily brought to the surface within collaborative organizations.

  • Improved Performance: Businesses perform better when they recognize the importance of employee buy-in and understanding. Staff members of collaborative organizations gain a better understanding and appreciation of the “big picture” than employees of less-collaborative concerns, which tend to conceal information and spin the facts. Consider the example of what happened at JCPenney when Ron Johnson took the helm and nearly drove the firm to bankruptcy because of a closed-communication and non-collaborative management style.


Here are five fundamentals for becoming more collaborative:

  1. Decide to Collaborate: The leadership team must spearhead the shift to collaboration. If you do not make collaboration a priority, it will likely not happen to the degree necessary to garner expected results. So, establishing focus on a collaborative work environment right at the top is a necessary first step.

  2. Promote the Culture: Google publicizes its collaborative nature on its website. Here’s one of the thoughts presented in a section describing its culture: “We strive to maintain the open culture often associated with startups, in which everyone is a hands-on contributor and feels comfortable sharing ideas and opinions.” I suggest we all follow Google’s lead and promote the collaborative culture we want to create.

  3. Inspire Early Adopters: The thought of increasing collaboration in the work environment will appeal early on to a specific set of staff members. It’s our job to inspire that subset of employees to quickly embrace the proposed changes and enthusiastically volunteer to assist us in forging a more collaborative setting. We can do this by getting them involved in the initial collaboration projects and programs.

  4. Leverage Gen Y: The next generation of workers wants to collaborate with others— supported by the social media they have become famous for, Gen Y employees have been collaborating with each other for years. We need to foster that habit to keep it going in the workplace by leveraging their interest and including them in the process.

  5. Tie Collaboration to Measurement and Reward Programs: Tying measurement and reward to collaborative behavior is a terrific way to entice collaboration within an organization. People will modify behavior if incented to do so. Therefore, it is in our best interest to forge a strong linkage between these programs and the collaborative outcomes that we seek.

When it comes to designing a winning enterprise, it is not always easy to solve for “x.” However, by making a conscious effort to establish a collaborative work setting, we enable our organizations to better leverage the unique strengths and capabilities of its entire workforce—positioning the enterprise to achieve great things by fully capitalizing on its talent.

James Kerr is a partner at BlumShapiro Consulting. He specializes in corporate transformation, strategy formulation, business process redesign and Internet and technology management and planning. He is the author of The Executive Checklist (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014) and three other business books. Contact him at


James M. Kerr: James M. Kerr ( is a partner at Blum Shapiro Consulting located in West Hartford, CT where he heads the strategic planning and organizational behavior practice. In his latest book: The Executive Checklist: A Guide for Setting Direction and Managing Change, there is an entire chapter dedicated to this subject.
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