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How to Increase Your Organization’s Collaborative Intelligence

Collaboration is a word that has become a prime contender for boardroom buzzword bingo. Chief executives often speak to its need and demand it of their employees, but few have a real grasp on how to systematize it within an organization nor how to measure its application and effectiveness.

Around the world, almost universally, organizations have set themselves up in such a way that they are not only siloed, but structured so that individuals, departments and even complete lines of business that have KPIs set up in opposition with each other.

In other words, for one department to succeed, another has to fail—often catastrophically. So we don’t always play nicely with others in the same sand pit. Why does this matter to CEOs? After all, surely a little internal competition can be a good thing?

“Set metrics that measure collaboration, not just performance.”

The problem is, we end up with organizations that are characterized by contextual blindness. We have people who might be brilliant in their roles, but as a result of knowing how things should be done, they lack a capacity to see how things might be done. This robs us of opportunities for innovation, but also leaves us unprepared for risks we simply cannot see.

Consider the case of the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. When faced with a critical error rate in transfers between the operating theater and the recovery ward that seemed insurmountable despite having some of the best medical staff on the planet, the head of the hospital decided to call in an outsider.

The expert he called in had no medical training, no background in hospital management and no preconceptions of how an operation should be conducted. But this is precisely why they were valuable.

Breaking with tradition and precedent, they engaged the Pitt Crew Boss for Ferrari’s Formula 1 racing team. Someone who, though they had not attended a medical school, was in fact a globally renowned thought leader in performing rapid, accurate transitions under extreme pressure.

Within the year, error rates had dropped. Principally, because the hospital’s leadership had an awareness that they were suffering from contextual blindness and were willing to be open to outside points of view.

This behavior is seldom replicated in business, as the CIO is frightened of the CMO seizing a shadow IT budget, the CFO is ignoring Operational concerns and Customer Service Managers are disconnected from the Sales Directors.

So how do we encourage a high collaborative intelligence throughout our organizations? Here are 4 suggestions.

1. Set metrics that measure collaboration, not just performance. While human beings talk about the importance of collaboration, this is not echoed in our behavior. Salaries and performance reviews are typically only linked to the individual’s performance, not to that of the team. Consider setting Co-PIs as well as KPIs—metrics that reward the combined performance of the team. If there is something in it for your staff, they are more likely to engage and value collaboration.

2. Don’t tolerate tolerance. Tolerance is one of those words that sound like a good thing to do but is, in fact, quite awful. In place of tolerance, encourage understanding. This might be achieved by rotating staff through different roles to develop a true empathy for the demands of other departments, but it can also be achieved through environment design and the construction of multi-disciplinary project teams.

3. Be open to outsiders. Spend more time with people outside your industry and primary areas of interest. Often, solutions to the issues you face as CEO have already been tested and implemented in an industry that is completely disconnected to your own. Build a network that is truly diverse and challenging.

4. Learn to appreciate the direct reports that irritate you (just a little bit). Of course you want to hire staff you respect and that fit within your organizational culture, but just as important as these considerations is a willingness to surround yourself by those who challenge you—the executives and managers who had an irritating habit of revealing your weaknesses and blind spots are incredibly valuable. Too often, we hire based on likeability. Consequently, executive teams are often carbon copies of the cognitive biases of the CEO. Diversity is more than just a gender and ethnicity issue, it is critically an asset to our own thinking.

Collaborative intelligence is not simply a function of a harmonious workplace. It is a critical bottom line asset that every CEO needs to factor into their business strategy. Use these steps and you can improve your company’s CI rating.


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