Belief No. 3 for a High Performance Organisation

Individuals and organisations perform at their best when they work together, rather than against each other.

In previous posts I've looked at how people want to do the best job they possibly can, and that they can be trusted to do it. In this final part I get into the benefits of collaboration and working together.

So let's start by looking at the simplest (at least in terms of numbers) level of interaction, between just 2 people.

Take a moment and think about your experience of an intimate relationship, or perhaps watching two children playing together - when do these one to one relationships work best?

  • When both people are working together to achieve a common objective?
  • Or when they're arguing, fighting and trying to gain advantage over each other?

Now, expand that idea to a sports team, or a team at work, and ask the same question.
When do those teams perform at their best?

  • When they are clear about their common goal and are willing to give up individual self interest to achieve it?
  • Or when egos take over and the "superstars" are all trying to outdo each other?

As an example of how working against each other leads to worse overall results, let's take a quick look at the performance of the England national football (soccer) team.

When you add together the growing number of competing self interests in the game

  • The extreme greed and jealousy that can be generated when young men are paid an average £1.5 million a year, with top earners on almost 5 times that at around £7 million, plus product endorsements adding perhaps another £10 - 15 million
  • Increasingly self centred demands of clubs and their managers and owners
  • And, of course, other little incidentals like the Captain having an affair with another player's partner

Is it really any surprise that England have not won a major trophy since 1966?
Or that their best result in the last 45 years was a semi-final place in the 1996 European Championship?

At the risk of sounding like a cynical "old fart", I remember a time when it was considered an honour to both player and club to be selected to play for one's national side. From the behaviour of many players, and the lack of performance by the England team, I wonder if today the only "value" attributed to an England cap is how much extra it will add to income.

It would be interesting to see what an England manager who placed an emphasis on building strong collaborative relationships with clubs, and put integrity and long term performance ahead of short term financial gain, might achieve.

While I'm on this track of the unbridled pursuit of self interest, it might also be worth having a quick look at the Banking industry. Suffice to say, this world involves even more money than football; greed and selfishness at the highest level; and the apparently unfettered pursuit of risk - as long as someone else is going to foot the bill if it goes wrong!

Here too, it would be interesting to see what a senior banker who placed an emphasis on building strong collaborative relationships with customers and put integrity and long term performance ahead of short term financial gain, might achieve.

Quick side thought - Is it just coincidence that the use of Super Injunctions seems to be most popular amongst premiership footballers and senior bankers?

It is a constant disappointment to me that so much of life today is driven by adversarial relationships - politics, the law, business - and that nobody seems to learn that approaches based on pursuing common objectives and mutual self interest actually work very well.

We even have TV programmes like The Apprentice, that are built on the premise that the untempered pursuit of personal self interest is a good thing. And where the degree to which someone is willing to play for the benefit of the team is always moderated by their desire to be the "best" individual.

Don't get me wrong - I am an ardent supporter of free markets and fair, honest competition; I think that the move in some schools towards games where there are "no winners" is ridiculous; but I am also utterly convinced that the untrammelled pursuit of personal self interest is a disaster at all levels -  individual, societal and global.

So often, it seems, we only take the collaborative option when we are forced to by extreme circumstance - war; dire financial problems; cost greatly exceeding benefit - and yet time and time again, when we do adopt a collaborative approach, it demonstrates that the willingness to give up personal short term self interest for the "greater good" actually results in more long term benefit for all.

When I was running the foundry we held a unique position in our marketplace of architectural cast iron. We were one of only two or three manufacturers who also supplied direct to end users, and many of the generic cast iron street furniture designs were originally manufactured by us. In addition we had an unparalleled history, being able to directly trace our roots back over 400 years.

We also had a reputation for producing extremely high quality products and being innovative in our technical approach. As a result, many of our competitors wanted to buy from us.

We could have tried to shut out our competitors and refused to deal with them, as indeed we did before I became responsible for our commercial strategy. As a result, our competitors simply went and found other suppliers for our products. As we were unable, or perhaps unwilling, to protect our intellectual property, there was absolutely nothing to stop them, and as a result we lost 100s of thousands of pounds worth of business that would have been ours had we taken a more collaborative approach.

As I became more responsible for commercial decisions, I started to reconnect with some of our competitors, recognising that there was value in developing strong business relationships with them. The result was that we built a number of partnerships where a company could literally be a customer on Monday, a supplier on Tuesday, a competitor on Wednesday and a joint venture partner on Thursday. We ALL gained out of the deal.

This approach culminated in the Vauxhall Cross project, where we manufactured and installed all the external metalwork - railings, gates, seating and lighting - for the headquarters of MI6, the UK's Secret Service. We had 14 other companies working for us, some of whom were competitors of ours, and in some cases even competitors of each other. However, through a commitment to the benefits of collaboration, I was able to manage the relationships powerfully and lead the project to a successful, on time, on budget, and profitable conclusion for all concerned.

Managing those relationships, and the wider multi faceted business relationships with our competitors, really required 4 key things:

  1. Integrity
  2. Trust
  3. A clear awareness of the long term mutual benefits
  4. A willingness to give up individual short term gain in order to achieve the long term collective objectives

Once again, it's not rocket science, and, as I write this now, it occurs to me that it is really just the way that business used to be done back when I first started work in 1976.

This is the final part in a 4 part series:

3 Key Beliefs for High Performance Organisations

People want to do the Best Job they Possibly Can

People can be Trusted

Working Together is Best


2 Responses to Working Together is Best

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. It’s all about creating an environment where collaboration is valued over competition — and when you have that environment, amazing things will happen.

  2. Tim Douglas says:

    These are powerful arguments for collaboration and finding win-win solutions.

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